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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. Their backs are facing the baseball diamond, and the two are standing about 125 feet from home plate -- where a fellow 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 barehanded.
The television reporter gasps, Longoria shakes off the pain in his hand 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, 2011 by MrSprts12 and has since been viewed more than 3.8 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, then San Francisco Giants outfielder Kevin Mitchell snared a fly ball off the bat of St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith with his bare right hand. And in 2005, New York Mets third baseman David Wright dove over his shoulder to catch a pop fly barehanded. Mitchell and Wright were in the middle of games, we should note, and saw the ball coming. Longoria had almost no time to react.
We know several details about the video's origins, as explained by Longoria himself to the St. Petersburg Times' Marc Topkin and the Tampa Tribune's Roger Mooney.
Longoria 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. He claims it's authentic.
The video -- "It's still real, by the way," he said -- was shot with a handheld camera in one take in about five minutes, 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."
Let's go back to the tape.
Because there are several things that don't add up.
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.
Next, there is the user who posted the video, MrSprts12. The user created his YouTube account May 4 and has only uploaded the Longoria video. The user lists his company as Gillette.
Then there's the reporter and the video graphic identifying Longoria. There is no television station symbols or letters on the video, and the reporter is holding a microphone without a "flag" that identifies the station where the reporter works. Perhaps even stranger, we could not find the video posted on any news site. (Surely, a TV station would love to claim the video as theirs.)
A strong circumstantial case that the video is doctored.
But we wanted to keep looking. We asked Topkin -- who has covered baseball for the Times since 1987 -- what he thought of the video. From Detroit, where the Rays were playing the Detroit Tigers, Topkin said he believes it to be a well-crafted fake.
Topkin 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 any hits.
And there's more. The batter, after hitting a ball right at Longoria and the reporter, isn't heard yelling for them to get out of the way. And though Longoria makes a miraculous catch, the batter returns immediately to his batting stance like nothing even happened.
The cameraman doesn't warn the reporter or Longoria either.
And there's the frame-by-frame analysis of the video. 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.
"Simply put, once the ball has started into a downward trajectory, it cannot then again head upwards without an external force," wrote YouTube user meltingsmoke, one of several thousand people to comment or question on the video's authenticity. "That clearly happens just before the ball is 'caught.' (It's) not the same ball and (its) trajectory is all wrong."
The Times has been asking readers online if they thought the catch was real or fake. The vast majority, though not all, say it's a hoax.
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."
At PolitiFact, we're ready to make the judgment call for you. From computer-added Gillette signage, to the reaction of the cameraman and 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 we're not buying it. We say Pants on Fire!
Evan Longoria catch YouTube video, posted May 6, 2011
Evan Longoria frame-by-frame video, posted May 13, 2011
E-mail interview with Gillette spokesman Michael Norton, May 23, 2011
Patch, Evan Longoria's Viral Video Filmed at McKechnie Field, May 20, 2011
Tampa Tribune, Longoria clip already a YouTube sensation, May 19, 2011
E-mail interview with Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times, May 23, 2011
Snopes.com, Evan Longoria Amazing Catch, accessed May 23, 2011
St. Petersburg Times, Tampa Bay Rays news and notes: Evan Longoria video, May 20, 2011
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