2007 Falcons Manager Bruce Dullea – now with the Sidewindersorganisation – has been following closely the on and off-fielddevelopments at Herts Baseball with the unique interest of anoutsider/alumni.  He offers his wise and candid perspective into theFalcons chances for success in the National League, some skepticismabout the future of the Herts franchise, and some praise for the club's”meteoric rise” of late.  Does this renewed interest in his formerfamily foreshadow Dullea's return to the fold… the prodigal son comehome again?  Or is it, simply, a message in the proverbial bottlewashed up from distant shores?

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by Bruce Dullea

Forthose of us who didn’t sleep through our Greek mythology class, weshould remember the story of Icarus.  Deciding not to heed the adviceof his Father, he chose to fly too close to the sun, thinking that thehigher he flew, the more God-like he would become. Tragically, hisfeathers, which were made of wax, melted, and he fell into the sea.

Someof the more erudite members of the Herts Falcons may be aware of thelegend of Icarus.  Analogies do exist.  Their recent history is trulyfascinating, and is a lesson in perseverance, tenacity, and overcomingadversities.  After examining what they have endured, and where theyhave come from, it is apparent that the club has made a remarkableascent through the ranks of the British Baseball Federation.  (Givenwhat they’ve gone through, perhaps they should rename themselves thePhoenix).  After languishing for two years in the bottom of the premierleague, and then being subsequently relegated, they have made ameteoric rise.  Initially promoted to the then premier league in 2005,they found the competition very arduous.   In 2005 and 2006 theyfinished near the bottom of the league, and in September of 06 wound uplosing an epic extra inning relegation playoff game to the Burgess HillColts.   This meant that in just two mere years after gainingpromotion, they were then forced to take a major step back by beingrelegated to the division that they formerly had conquered.  At thetime, they more resembled the legend of Sisyphus than Icarus.  Ratherthan wallow in self-pity, the club made it their personal mission toretool, improve, and once again attain promotion. 

Since thatepic defeat, the club has experienced nothing but success.  In 2007they finished with an 18-3 record, won the Division I Southern pennant,and were the National runner-up in the Final 4.  They were thenrewarded with a promotion back to the Premiere (now called AAA)division.  Their performance in the 2008 campaign surpassed everyone’sexpectations.  The club finished with a 21-3 campaign, clinched aplayoff spot, won their division, and ultimately brought home thehardware by winning the AAA National Championship.  Perhaps what iseven more astonishing is that their accomplishments off the field haveexceeded their success on the diamond.  While baseball clubs have beenfolding all over the country, they have been a model for consistency aswell as how to develop the sport in the UK.  In 2007 they founded theirown Little League, which has prospered and proven to be verysuccessful.  They have the most impressive website and the most mediasavvy club in the UK.  They have grown to three teams with over 50members, can boast of a multitude of corporate sponsors, and haverecently received permission to build a second field at Grovehill Park,which has been their home since their inception in 1996.

Thecoup de grace came last Monday, when the BBF announced that the Falconshave accepted a promotion to the National League, the top tier leaguein the country.  To those of us who have followed British Baseball andin particular the trials and travails of the Herts Baseball Club, thisis a truly unbelievable accomplishment, and they must be commended.

Whatdoes the future hold for the HBC?  Since accepting the invitation tojoin the National League, they have announced that they are forming afourth team (the Eagles) which will take the place of the Falcons andcompete in the AAA division in 2009.  Are they growing too soon, toofast?  How much of a risk are they taking?  It is readily obvious thatalthough the club is capitalizing on their recent successes, they havemany challenges and questions in front of them.

Sources havesaid that the Falcons benefited from a “watered” down 2008 AAAdivision.  They no longer had to compete against the CambridgeMonarchs, the perennial power that had folded once their Americanmilitary base closed.  They didn’t have to play against any of theNational League clubs.  One club (Milton Keynes) disbanded during theseason and another (Bristol) was an expansion club.  The last time theteam was in the premier league they regularly faced pitchers who threwin the 90’s, including Glen Goodrich, Bob Runyon, and Derek Kelly, twoof whom pitched professionally in the US.  Long time observers feltthat the team benefitted from facing weaker pitching in 2008.  Evenagainst the diluted pitching, the team suffered a prolonged battingslump during the course of the season.    Their team batting average of.308 was more than 100 points lower than their previous (AA) season,and their home run total dropped from 14 to 4, even though GrovehillPark is very accommodating to right handed power hitters.

How will the Falcons hitters fare against the London Mets, who were 23-1 and gave up an average of 2.2 runs per game?

Will the club be able to hit against Richmond’s Cody Cain, a hard throwing right hander?

Theclub’s 21-3 record was impressive, but on closer inspection, 3 of thewins were by forfeit and 6 others were decided by one run.  Two otherclubs scored more runs and matched their run differential.  Are theyreally a legitimate NBL team, or do they need more time to grow andprove themselves?

The Falcons pitching was very strong in 08,and carried the team when they weren’t hitting.  Their top two pitchersare master craftsmen who rely on control rather than power.  It remainsto be seen how they will fare against National League batters.

In2006, the last time the club faced National League teams, they went 0-4and were outscored 66-9. Granted, the team struggled throughout theseason, and it was a totally different environment, but many of theteam’s nucleus were a part of that club.

The biggest questionmark is how the club will fill the roster for the newly formed Eagles. They will need a massive recruiting effort to ensure that the club iscompetitive and the talent from the three existing clubs aren’tdiluted.   Their two other clubs (Hawks & Raptors) will need tokeep the core of their rosters intact to remain competitive.  TheFalcons will need everyone to help them compete in the NBL.  In thelast three seasons, clubs have folded in Shropshire, Brighton,Liverpool, London, Windsor, and Cambridge.  There is also a rumour thatthe Northern National Baseball League will disband.  Baseball in the UKis dying, not growing.  Where will they find the extra players?

Ithas been reported that the HBC Executive Committee voted unanimously toaccept the promotion invitation.  However, a published report fromtheir website indicated that there was some internal trepidation aboutthe move.  What was the mood in the boardroom, and how much internaldissent was there?  Are there expansion plans overly optimistic, ordoes the club truly feel that they can field 4 competitive teams oneyear removed from AA ball?  Did they feel overly compelled to go forbroke, or should prudence have won out?

Another question to askis the BBF’s rationale in extending the invitation.  It is obvious thatthe sport is declining in the UK.  In 2004, there were 6 clubs in theNL south.  Three of those clubs (Windsor Bears, London Warriors, andthe Brighton Buccaneers) no longer exist.   With the recent disbandmentof the Liverpool Trojans, there are now only two remaining NL northclubs, and in all likelihood there will not be a Northern Division in09.  Given the current state of the NBL, something had to be done, butit remains to be seen as to whether the Falcons will be competitive,and what impact their promotion will have on the HBC.

In anyevent, the Falcons have made their decision.  It is risky, but you haveto give them credit.  They are ambitious and are one of the trulypositive stories about baseball in Britain.  Everyone is pulling forthem.  They are also now in the same position as Icarus.  Their wingswill take them up, up, and away to the NBL.  There will be no goingback.

Was Daedalus around to warn them of the perils of flying too high, too soon?

Are their wings made of wax?

Next year, we will find out.

I wish them all the best on their journey.

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