David Wegiel was about to pack up his camera gear and call it a night on Aug. 1 after Indianapolis' extra-inning, walk-off win. He'd already taken a great photo of the team celebrating the comeback.
But something kept him on the field.
"Out of the corner of my eye, I see Diaz running with the Gatorade," said Wegiel, a freelance photographer from West Lafayette, Indiana. "I was in the third-base photo well, and got up and I thought, 'If this is water, I'm going to get wet."
Diaz -- that's Indianapolis Indians catcher Elias Diaz -- did indeed run straight toward Wegiel with an orange cooler, which he dumped over the head of Pirates prospect Josh Bell after the first baseman won a 13-inning game with a walk-off single in his Triple-A debut. Wegiel, who was shooting his first game of the season for the Indians, managed to snap a few frames of the moment.
"Luckily, it was just ice and it kind wrapped around him, I think it was pretty interesting," Wegiel said. "And I didn't get wet -- I lucked out. But the idea of that, for a split second in my head, I thought, I live an hour away from Indianapolis. I was already thinking, 'Where's my change of clothes?'"
Wegiel's timely image of Bell's walk-off celebration was voted by fans as the best photo of the 2015 season, earning the MiLBY Award for Photo of the Year on Wednesday. The humble photographer was stunned to hear the news.
"To start off, there were 12 really good photos, so to win, that is kind of mind-boggling," he said. "To hear you say that, I'm almost speechless. It's kind of crazy -- there were some really great pictures."
Indeed, fans again had a tough choice when it came to picking their favorites this year. The 2015 finalists included scenic views of ocean sunsets, fireworks and pink clouds over sprawling green outfields. A pair of mid-air diving catches made the cut, as did some well-timed cracked bat images, a play at the plate, an outfield wall collision and even a bird photo-bombing a sliding catch.
Joe Territo's image of Twins top prospect Byron Buxton slamming into the outfield fence finished second in voting, earning 12 percent of the votes to Wegiel's 51 percent. Bobby Stevens' sunset vista from Colorado Springs finished third in voting.
For Wegiel, who often shoots for Purdue University in West Lafayette, the recognition was a welcomed surprise months after making the image.
"It's one of my most memorable photos this year, just because of the time and the place and who it was," he said of Bell, Pittsburgh's No. 3 prospect. "That was my first game shooting for Indianapolis, and it kind of happened by chance."
Wegiel said he went to the game to take photos for Charlotte, the visiting club, but ended up filling in for the Indians as well when they asked for help. One of his missions was to get some photos of Bell in his International League debut.
"I was kind of excited when he did it in the 13th inning -- this is my guy, the one out of there I needed to get something of," he said. "Just the shear luck of it is pretty amazing."
Wegiel said he captured Bell's teammates celebrating at second base with a longer 400mm lens, but he quickly switched to a wide-angle 17mm zoom to get some frames of the outfielder's postgame interview on the field. He said he tried to shield his camera with his body once Diaz dumped the icy mix just feet in front of him.
As for the voting, Bell himself helped spread the word on Twitter, as did the Indians. Wegiel enlisted his friends, family, connections and, with some debate, his step-daughter, to vote for his image.
"As soon as I saw it was nominated, I went on Twitter and Facebook and asked everyone to help out," he said. "Indy did a great job tweeting out links and Josh Bell himself did it several times. I do a lot of work at Purdue and several departments there. I was asking for help to get the votes out. It was really a lot of hard work. I have two parents who wanted me to win very much, so I'm wondering how much of the vote total was them. It's good to have two parents who are retired."
Wegiel said he had to campaign for votes within his own home, when asked if he thought his image was indeed the best one.
"If I was an egotist, I would tell you, yes. I voted for myself, but there was one I went and voted on that, in my mind, it was better," he said. "It was a straight-on shot of a player in the outfield diving for a line drive and the shear difficulty of getting that shot that clean -- that's beautiful."
Wegiel was describing Shari Sommerfeld's well-timed photograph of Everett outfielder Braden Bishop, who dove to catch a ball on June 28. That image finished fourth in voting with eight percent.
"For all of that to come into place is just amazing. That's a great shot," Wegiel said.
"The Coney Island sunset stood out, that was my step-daughter's favorite. She wanted to vote for that. I took away her Internet privileges for that," he laughed.