The video, if you haven't seen it, is amazing.
Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria is talking to a television reporter along the first-base line. The two are standing with their backs to the baseball diamond, about 125 feet from home plate — where another Ray is taking batting practice.
The teammate sprays a line drive directly at them. Instinctively, Longoria wheels around his head and torso, extends his right arm and catches the ball.
The television reporter gasps, Longoria shakes off the pain and tosses the ball back toward the pitcher's mound. "Keep it on the field," he says, nonchalantly.
The 24-second clip was first posted on YouTube May 6 and has since been viewed nearly 4 million times.
The biggest question: Is the video real? Or is it fake?
PolitiFact Florida decided to take a break from politics to put the now viral video — and the Rays superstar third baseman — to the Truth-O-Meter.
At first glance, the catch seems improbable. And to baseball fans, maybe even impossible. But baseball players have made amazing barehanded grabs before. In 1989, San Francisco Giants outfielder Kevin Mitchell snared a fly ball with his bare right hand. And New York Mets third baseman David Wright made a memorable barehanded catch in 2005.
Longoria detailed his catch — which he claims is authentic — to the St. Petersburg Times' Marc Topkin and the Tampa Tribune's Roger Mooney.
He said the clip was filmed near the end of spring training, after Longoria spent nearly six hours filming a commercial for Gillette. Longoria said the video was shot at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, the spring home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The video — "It's still real, by the way," he said — was shot with a handheld camera in one take after the Gillette commercial wrapped.
"Unbelievable, huh?" Longoria, a spokesman for Gillette who has filmed other ads, said. "It's funny when you talk about things going viral; it really does once it gets on things like Twitter and YouTube. It goes from a small snowball to an avalanche quickly."
That's Longoria's story. But we're not buying it.
In the video there are four Gillette logos visible — two behind home plate and two on a roof facade over the third-base bleachers. But those logos aren't part of McKechnie Field in real life, Trevor Gooby, the Pirates' director of Florida operations, told a reporter for Patch.com. The logos were added digitally and included in the final video that was posted on YouTube.
Further, the person who posted the video, MrSprts12, didn't create his YouTube account until May 4 and didn't post the video until May 6 — at least a month after Longoria said it was filmed. Why would someone wait so long to post video so sensational?
And then there's something about the TV interview footage that's missing. There are no television station symbols or letters on the graphic at the bottom of the video, and the reporter is holding a microphone without a "flag" that identifies the station where the reporter works. Stranger yet, we could not find the video posted on any news site.
Need more proof?
Topkin, who has covered baseball for the Times since 1987, said he believes it to be a well-crafted fake and noted several things that aren't typical during a batting practice session. There is no cage surrounding the batter to catch foul balls or stop pitches that aren't hit. There's also no screen protecting the batting practice pitcher. There are no coaches in the video hitting ground balls and no other fielders on the baseball diamond to track down hits.
And if you watch the video, take note of the batter right after he hits the ball.
He doesn't yell for Longoria and the reporter to get out of the way. And though Longoria makes the miraculous catch anyway, the batter doesn't even notice — he's already back in his batting stance like nothing even happened.
A slowed-down, frame-by-frame analysis of the video offers more evidence. If you watch closely enough, the ball is falling toward the ground as it approaches Longoria and the reporter. But in the last frame — right before Longoria catches the ball — it appears to move upward again.
With the evidence overwhelmingly suggesting the video is a fake, we asked Gillette spokesman Michael Norton if the company would put the mystery to rest. "The video was filmed while on location for a Gillette Fusion ProGlide commercial," Norton told us. "We'll leave the 'is it real?' debate up to the viewers."
Times readers overwhelmingly voted it a hoax in a tampabay.com poll.
From computer-added Gillette signage, to the reaction of the batter, from the way major-league teams conduct batting practice, to the video evidence, this viral YouTube video is a clever piece of advertising. And fiction. Longoria is a good sport — and spokesman for Gillette — for saying the catch is real. But don't be fooled. We say Pants on Fire!