It feels like an eternity since the Falcons were last in the Premiere League.  The 2006 season started well enough as Herts took an early 3-1 record – good enough for second place in the standings.  What followed was nothing less than disastrous.  The Falcons failed to perform week after week, and a precipitous 13-game losing streak saw Herts slide to 11 games under .500.

No one thing was to blame.  Rather, a combination of weak offence, lackluster pitching, error-laden defence and managerial turnover meant that every Falcon donned his pessimism at some point between buttoning up his jersey and lacing up his cleats.  We simply could do no good.

September brought closure to the losing season… but also a crucial relegation playoff game against the lower division's second place team, the Burgess Hill Colts.  In a dramatic (and all-too-predictable) finale to 2006, Herts took an early lead only to see it squandered by sloppy defensive errors.  In the bottom of the ninth-inning with the game tied at 12, Herts loaded the bases (for the second time that inning), but the Gods were not smiling on Hertfordshire that day and the game-winning run was stranded just 90 feet from home plate.  Burgess Hill's Gary Davison struck out 16 in his complete game win… Herts lost the game 13-12 in 10-innings… and the Falcons were relegated to BBF Division 1.

Defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory.

2007 became a rebuilding year.  Under new management the Falcons retooled, retrained, and recovered from the embarrassment of their demotion.  Weaker opposing pitching and immeasurable defensive strides led to an 18-2 record, a Division 1 Championship, and automatic re-promotion to the newly-christened BBF AAA (formerly the Premiere League).

But the lessons of 2006 have been drilled into our skulls with the force of a 90-mph heater.  Nothing has been taken for granted… and complacency has no quarter.  From mid-January 2008 the Herts Baseball Club has been conditioning, training, and emphasising player development.  Club President Aspi Dimitrov manufactured a Spring Training League – akin to its Cactus and Grapefruit cousins in America – so the Falcons could flex some muscle well before Opening Day.  Dimitrov even invited Herts’ onetime nemeses to take part – the Burgess Hill Colts.

The teams clashed horns in vintage style. Again with Colts hurler Gary Davison on the mound, the Falcons played tug-of-war ushering an 8-8 tie into the final inning.  But this was a new year… and a new team.  The Falcons connected for five runs in the 7th and walked away from the diamond with their heads high and their newfound optimism soundly intact.

Now comes the test of time – the great equaliser in baseball.  Will the Falcons maintain their control and confidence week-in and week-out…?  Can they keep their players healthy and off the disabled list…?  Will they roll with the inevitable punches that undoubtedly lie in store…?  Or will the bitter taste of a single defeat send the squad into an all-too-familiar tailspin from which they cannot recover…?

Yogi Berra said, “If you don't know where you're going, you'll end up somewhere else.”  Ask any Herts player, and he'll tell you that – this year – all roads lead to a winning season.  No bags are packed.  There's no need.  The Falcons plan to stay put.

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