To celebrate his son Landon's ninth birthday, Shaun Cunningham took him to his first baseball game.
It was a spring training match-up between the Atlanta Braves and the Pittsburgh Pirates, at a stadium in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Pirates outfielder Danny Ortiz was swinging when he lost control, letting the bat slip from his grasp and hurtle toward the stands.
@BiertempfelTrib The two frames showing just how close the bat was to the boy's head. pic.twitter.com/7VwnfWp8L1 Christopher Horner (@Hornerfoto1) March 6, 2016
At the same time, Landon was texting a photo of the game to his mother. "Look how it turned out!" he typed into a cellphone.
The ensuing seconds could have ended in disaster.
As the errant bat flew towards them, seemingly zoned in on Landon's face, the 37-year-old Cunninghim went into "dad mode."
"I didn't have a whole lot of time to think about it," he told WFTV on Tuesday. "It was dad mode, you know, protecting my son. So I just did what I could."
Thrusting out one arm, Cunningham deflected the bat's trajectory. It hit him, leaving a deep bruise, then continued flying over Landon's head.
Down went the arm. Up went Landon's gaze.
The boy was safe.
The sequence of events took place within seconds, and could have been lost to history if it had not been for the equally quick shutter speed of Pittsburgh Tribune-Review photographer Christopher Horner.
In back-to-back photos posted to Twitter, Horner captured the gripping precariousness of the situation - and with it, Cunningham's essential paternal instincts.
The snapshots were immediately shared all over the Internet, as observers noted how a serious injury was narrowly avoided.
Speaking with WFTV, Cunningham shuddered as he considered the gruesome possibilities.
"It could have been as minor as a broken nose or knocked his teeth out to a skull fracture," he said.
His wife and Landon's mother, Angela, "had a hard time" when she saw the images, Cunningham said on the TODAY Show. "She got a little nauseous."
According to the Tribune-Review, the nimble father is a firefighter who played baseball in high school. Meanwhile, the professional baseball player wasn't aware of the stir he'd caused until he arrived home.
Ortiz told the Tribune-Review that his wife, who saw the pictures online, said to him: "You almost killed that kid!"
Fortunately, both father and son escaped (mostly) unharmed. Cunningham has been widely heralded as a "superhero dad."
"It was a pretty memorable birthday for Landon," Angela Cunningham told the Tribune-Review. "Dad's really a hero in his eyes."
Having been shielded from the trauma, the young baseball fan had nothing but positive things to say about the experience. Landon told CBS Pittsburgh: "I feel like I'm gonna be famous."