The Herts Falcons put on a performance this weekend which almost resembled Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” of the 1970s. The team battled through two days of gruelling baseball action to come out with an overall record of 2 wins, 1 loss and 1 draw (time limit).
The International London Tournament has been Great Britain’s biggest baseball annual event for many years. This year there were 16 teams taking part from all around the UK, France and Ireland. 12 of the 16 teams were either in the National League or the Premier League so prior to the event it was fair to say that the Falcons were ranked outsiders. They were also drawn in the most difficult group with the reigning British National League Champions, the Richmond Flames, 2004 and 2005 Champions, the Croydon Pirates, and the 2003 Champions, the Windsor Bears.
The Herts team was a combined squad of Herts Falcons and Herts Hawks players, the two Hertfordshire teams.
In the first game, the Falcons faced the Richmond Flames, and despite a valiant effort, were overwhelmed by Richmond’s pitching and hitting.
The second game proved to be the main event of the day – the Falcons hosted the Windsor bears at the Central Field. The game was played in front of a large audience and had the added benefit of the field PA system, which gave a “Major League” feel. The actual game met and exceeded the fans’ expectations. The Falcons took a firm 4-0 lead, which they took into the 5th inning. However, starting pitcher Aspi Dimitrov was visibly running out of steam, despite leaving the game with a no-hitter for 4 and a 1/3 innings.
Reliever, Lee Manning, came in at a very short notice and performed magnificently to minimize the damage of the two runners left on by Dimitrov. Despite his efforts, the Bears fought tirelessly, driving in 6 runs in the 5th and 6th innings to take a 1-run lead and set up a “grand finale” in the bottom of the 6th. Two singles from Lee Manning and Yuji Endo put both the tying and winning runs on base. Up stepped slugger Marty Cullen, with the eyes of the crowd agog with anticipation. His massive line drive to the left field fence brought the winning run in to end this “classic”, and the crowd erupted.
This win earned the Falcons the coveted 11 o’clock start, avoiding the often (and with good reason) maligned 9:00 am start (under the stringent disciplinarian regime instituted by caretaker manager Jason Greenberg, that would have meant reporting for duty at the field at 7:30 am).
The razzmatazz culminated in the Home Run Derby on day one, which involved sluggers from each of the participating teams. The Falcons representative was hard-hitting Kimiyoshi Saionji, the Falcons’ very own Hideki Matsui. He was able to go through to the second round, and only some sudden wind gusts and dodgy last-minute manipulation of the home plate positioning (to favour righties), robbed him of a place in the final round of the 2007 Home Run Derby. The Falcons management are mulling over submitting an official complaint for the loss of the substantial sums that could have been generated from potential (however unlikely) t-shirt sales and other commercial opportunities.
On the second day, the Falcons faced the Great Britain Juniors (Under 18’s National Team) and the Great Britain Cadets (Under 16’s National Team). In the first game the Falcons held a good lead to the end, only for some clutch GB Junior hitting to tie the game and, due to the time limit rule in force in the tournament, the game ended in a 6-6 draw. This was the worst possible scenario for both teams, as they damaged each others’ chances of winning the trophy.
In the second game versus the GB Cadets, manager Greenberg was able to deploy a squad made up predominantly of Herts Hawks players. The future stars of Great Britain baseball performed creditably and were able to pull back from trailing at the beginning of the game to tie it up in the 5th. However, an astute managerial decision was made to bring in closer, Yuji “Lights Out” Endo, who came in and ended all hopes of a GB Cadets come-back. He struck out 5 batters in his 2 and 1/3 innings of pitching.
The Tournament Final was between the Richmond Flames and the Milton Keynes Hurricanes, with Richmond ending up as the 2007 London Tournament winners. The Frank Brady Trophy went to the Essex Arrows, mainly due to the masterful performance of former Falcon, Paul Raybould.
All in all, this was a great tournament for the Herts Falcons, who now have to put their minds back on the vital remaining League games of the season with promotion to the Premier League at stake
Disclaimer: Any resemblance between the Herts Falcons and the Cincinnati Reds, whether implied in this article or otherwise, is purely coincidental.