OP-EXTRA: OLD TIMERS’ RESPOND (Letter to the Editor)


Herts Baseball legend and current Old Timers' ace, PAUL RAYBOULD, gives his vews on umpiring, field standards and other topics raised in the “Welcome to the Show” Column in the wake of the clash with the Raptors on '08 Opening Day.

With reference to “Newswire Game 1 Recap”, although I understand the criticism made of the umpire and the field conditions at Enfield for the Raptors game against the Old Timers, unfortunately these limitations have to be accepted as a part of the British game.


During my 23 years playing for a variety of BBF teams, I’ve been to some quite scary baseball fields around the country. The field in Tonbridge in Kent backed onto an archery range so you took your life in your hands when retrieving a foul ball. Meanwhile, the Tonbridge outfield had deep tractor treads gouged across it so attempting to gather a ground ball was something of a lottery. At the home field of the Leeds City Royals, I remember having to take great care when trying to catch a fly ball to deep right field. The flimsy plastic fence was little protection from the steep ravine on the other side. The Sutton Braves field in south London had a nice level infield. However, once past second base, the ground sloped downhill. From home plate, all you could see on the horizon was the caps of the outfielders!


Many members of the Herts Baseball Club know of my feelings in respect of the Grovehill field. Although Kal, Aspi, and others go to great efforts to keep it in shape, when the cut-out area gets dry, every footprint leaves a giant crater in the soft sand. I’m surprised that nobody has been seriously injured by a hard hit ground ball bouncing up out of one of those divots.


The Enfield diamond that the Old Timers share with the Sidewinders was once one of the best in the land. This was back in the days of the almighty Enfield Spartans. The majority of Spartan players lived locally and regularly maintained the field. None of the Old Timers live anywhere near Enfield. We come from all over the country. I don’t think the Sidewinders live local either. So, we have to rely on the uneducated and disinterested Enfield Council ground keepers to look after the field. They cut the grass and that’s about it.


There are several rolls of that orange plastic fencing in the changing rooms behind the Enfield diamond. The Old Timers should have erected it as a home run fence before the game and I will have a word with the old gits before the next home game. That doesn’t mean that I will be able to get them off their lazy asses.


Very, very Old Timer John Thomas umpired the game on the day. John is a lovely character with a great Liverpudlian sense of humour and in terrific shape for his age. He tells some wonderful stories including playing ball with Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown. I know he didn’t but he’s nearly old enough for it to be true.


In the top of the first inning of that game, I was playing second base. Being left-handed, it’s not a position I’ve played very often but as we say in the Old Timers, we are all utility players which means we’re not very good at any position. I was looking over our pitchers shoulder towards home plate (as you do) and noticed that the umpire was calling some very low strikes. When we came in to bat in the middle of the inning, I mentioned the low strike zone to Mike Harold, our shortstop. He agreed and called to our other players to watch out for the low zone.


I was batting sixth in the order and came to bat in the bottom of the first with the bases loaded and nobody out. Jacob’s first pitch to me was on the inside corner and I fouled it behind. I then took a couple of balls before swinging like an idiot at a pitch that was high and inside. With a 2-2 count, Jake threw a fastball over the plate but at my ankles so I left it. “Strike 3!” shouted the ump. Sometimes I should listen to my own advice.


The point I am trying to make is that John Thomas may not be the greatest umpire around but at least he is consistent and that’s what really matters. He may be a member of the Old Timers club but I didn’t notice any bias on the day. He got many calls wrong for both teams.


When the Old Timers requested to join the BBF league, we also asked for some special conditions. We asked for a reduced Membership Fee as many of the players are pensioners. We also asked if we could continue to use metal bats and a “runner” if any of our less-able players got on base. The BBF kindly agreed to all of our requests.


Although our games count as far as the standings are concerned, the Old Timers cannot get promoted. We will try to win but don’t want the stress of playing in a higher division. And when teams play us, we don’t mind if they want to use their metal bats or break any other stupid BBF rule. We just want to play baseball and poke fun at each other.


I started this contribution by saying that British baseball has to accept the limitations of sub-standard umpiring and field conditions. I don’t actually agree with that statement but over the last 23 years, I have not seen any great effort by the governing body to make things better. Don’t criticise the teams. Ask BSUK why they don’t spend some time and money on umpiring, coaching, player, and field development. Rumour has it that they’ve got loads of money.

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