Double-A Altoona and Harrisburg were knotted in a tense scoreless Eastern League game in the seventh inning when Curve manager P.J. Forbes called on reliever Bryan Morris to start the frame. A leadoff single by Chris Rahl put the go-ahead run on base for the Senators, but when Morris faced the next batter, Tyler Moore, he made a mistake. Home plate umpire Andy Dudones stepped aside, pointed at Morris and called a balk.
Forbes had seen enough, and what happened next was captured in perfect detail by local photographer Will Bentzel. His image of a livid Forbes going nose-to-nose with the umpire easily won the fan's vote as the MiLB.com 2011 Photo of the Year on Tuesday.
Forbes, who was ejected during the incident, saw the popular image and quickly showed it to his wife.
"I didn't realize I get that angry," he laughed. "To tell you the truth, I was shocked at how vexed I looked. I let my wife see it, and her first thought was, 'You're going to have a heart attack some day.' I knew I was [perturbed] but didn't know I looked that angry."
Angry? Yes. But why did fans overwhelmingly pick that image over ones showing acrobatic fielding plays and unique Minor League moments and players? Forbes said he thought fans, who picked the image by a landslide 56 percent of the vote, identified with the scenario of a manager standing up for his team and fans.
"Umpires are human and fans see that -- they see there are missed calls, and when they feel like there's something done against their team -- an umpire gets blown up -- they feel like the manager is taking care of them also," said Forbes. "It was the heat of the battle. We had some tough calls go against us from that crew, and it came to a head that night."
Bentzel, a Harrisburg native who lives nearby and works for the state, snapped the photo with a Canon 50D digital SLR camera and 70-200mm f/2.8L telephoto lens.
"I don't like to spray-shoot, but I did with that -- I was trying to get something, and once I saw him coming out and in [Dudones'] face, I just shot until it was over," he said of the rapid succession of photos. "It was actually one of the first two or three shots I took, and [Forbes] came back at him and he was pretty pissed."
Dudones, a 28-year-old umpire from Uniontown, Ohio, is one of many umps working his way up through the Minors in search of a Major League position. He majored in communications at Walsh (Ohio) University and aimed to become a sports writer after working part-time for a local newspaper, but after attending some Akron Aeros games, he got the itch to be an umpire. He graduated from the Harry Wendelstedt Umpire School in 2006 and has since worked his way up to Double-A.
According to the Akron Beacon Journal, Dudones had a huge incident during a game in 2007 when he "called three players out for batter's and runner's interference and for stepping out of the batter's box with two strikes. He also ejected the Asheville manager and made a game-deciding call on catcher's obstruction. Citizen-Times reporter Jason McGill labeled Dudones 'an umpire with a penchant for taking center stage.'"
"Looking back at the first year, I was so clueless," Dudones told the paper. "Even the little details like shaving, having a clean haircut -- looking the part is very important. It's a lot easier to command respect. This job has definitely helped me mature into a man."
Umpires, of course, try to avoid any confrontations and aim to remain largely unseen most nights.
"Usually when something like that happens, there's a trigger, a prior play or plays, some history, whatever," Forbes said. "It's usually not instantaneous that a manager will lose his mind over one play."
Of course, fans are always curious about what gets said in such confrontations. Forbes, who is pictured inches away from Dudones, his mouth agape and his fingers clenched, couldn't remember the exact words he used that triggered the ejection.
"I think some of [what I said] had to do with letting the kids decide the game, and previous calls that, for lack of better thought, I felt a lot of that crew had gone against us, right or wrong," he said.
Indeed, the game was decided in the 10th inning when Harrisburg's Alex Valdez hit a walk-off two-run homer off Anthony Claggett for a 2-0 win. Valdez, incidentally, was released by the Nationals the following day.
Forbes then saw the image this month -- fans had several weeks to pick their favorite on MiLB.com -- and couldn't believe it was him.
"I don't know, I was surprised, I checked it out, I was in the lead and I was shocked by the amount," he said. "Especially with [Derek] Jeter and other photos. It's one of those nights you look back on and think to yourself, you're glad there's only a few of them."
"I have no idea why it was a big winner," Bentzel said. "I looked at the other pictures and technically, they were better images. I read some of the comments and a lot of people liked the coach, so they voted that way. [The photo of Bryce] Harper was good because he was knocked for not signing and it shows him signing and from a different angle. Rudy [Jones'] photo of Jeter, that was a big thing this year, and I personally voted for Jesse [Piecuch], his photo of [Cesar] Valera mid-air."
And if Forbes' wife was shocked by her husband's anger, Bentzel's wife was equally surprised.
"I sent it to my wife and she said, 'I'm not going to vote for you -- I don't like that photo. There's no way that photo is going to win,'" Bentzel recalled. "Later she said she voted for me once."
Results for Photo of the Year voting:
|K. Altoona skipper gets close||54%|
|F. Jeter lunges to his left||18%|
|E. Valera's leaping double-play turn||8%|
|H. Leaping Machado eyes his throw||3%|
|N. Collins eyes diving catch||3%|
|G. Trevor Bauer unwinds||3%|
|M. Dening reaches behind fan||2%|
|A. Bryce Harper with fans||1%|
|J. Yelich is greeted at home||0%|
|C. Hernandez's batter's box acrobatics||0%|
|B. Double layout in Frisco||0%|
|L. Reading's Hernandez breaks bat||0%|
|I. Dolenc's chin music||0%|
|D. Matt Moore delivers||0%|