Friday April 25th 2014

Big season ahead for little leaguers

In 2012 the Herts U17 and U14 teams will be wearing the same baseball jerseys as the senior Herts teams
by Rob Jones, hertsbaseball.com

Herts baseball club has had a busy off-season, but one of the most important elements of the club gets going again this Sunday – the youth leagues. In the past couple of years, the Herts All-Stars have been showing the way for the adult members.

Players in the Under-17, Under-14 and Under-11 categories all get their first chance to pull on a baseball glove this Sunday. Spring training takes place at the indoor facility at Berkhamsted Sportspace.

Some of those taking part in the session will already be veterans of two runs deep into British baseball’s post-season. Brodie Caress and Jose Morillo were part of the team which won the 2010 Under-14 National Championship, and also finished runners-up in 2011. The Herts All-Stars have made a huge impact on the national scene, and many of the players saw their first ever baseball action on Grovehill’s diamonds in Hemel Hempstead.

Graduates of the Herts Little League also made a big splash in the adult leagues in 2011. At the top level, Liam Green made his debut for the Falcons in the National League. In two games on the pitcher’s mound, he did not give up a single earned run. He is an exciting and maturing prospect, who only took up the sport when Herts began its programme for kids in 2008. When he began, he admits he thought the sport was “rubbish”, but he soon changed his views!

For the Raptors, Zack Longboy claimed the Best Pitcher Award in his first adult season, which was a just reward for his calm and technically superb work on the mound. This year he will be helping his Dad manage the team. Jose Morillo was also a regular in the Raptors team and made great progress during the year, so much so that he won the coach’s award.

But the impact and importance of the youngest Herts players went beyond mere results and awards. It was about setting an example. When Zack Longboy caught a fly-ball deep in left field at Cambridge, his excellent technique was noted loudly by the home bench. One of their veterans stood up and shouted to his team-mates to watch and learn how you should catch a fly ball. His was not just any old voice — Cambridge went on the win the national Single-A title.

Opposing managers were frequently “gobsmacked”, in coach Ken Pike’s evocative words, to find out how young the Raptors’ young stars really were. They felt that once power was added to their formidable skills, these would be dangerous players. In training, the Little Leaguers could often teach their adult counterparts a thing or two, passing on tips and techniques.

Liam Green is just one of the young Herts players who has already had a call-up for the GB team. He went with the Cadets squad to Sweden in 2010. Late last year Morillo, Caress and Callum Vangundy were successful in trials for the Under-16 British squad, while Jake caress, Jonny Compton-Weight and Kyle Lloyd-Jones – who are all jumping up an age group – are in the mix for the Under-19 programme. The ever growing list of Herts youngsters playing baseball for their country shows how far young talent can progress.

And, of course, all of this is perhaps ignoring the true heart of the programme. Which is that on summer weekends, scores of boys and girls between 6 and 16 can come along to Grovehill and play baseball just for the love of it. There are cheering crowds of parents, superb donuts, and great baseball played at the Herts Little League. Anyone can try it. And everyone should. Any kids interested in playing should get in touch with the Herts baseball club, where they can expect a warm welcome – and maybe one day a call-up to the British team.

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