from Newswire special correspondent, Rob Jones
“Spring Training”. It always has to go in those inverted commas — “Spring Training” — because the disparity between the sun-kissed Major League experience and the often rain-soaked British version is stark. An American friend of mine always goes to watch pre-season games in Florida and often sends me smug, if well-meaning, text messages from the stands. I send him back little black clouds of jealousy. But in many ways spring training is the same on both sides of the Atlantic.
Ball-players emerge from months of hibernation to revive aching limbs and slowing reflexes, ready for another summer on the diamond. It's exciting, but also frustrating as you try to pick up where you left off. Baseball is a game which really repays your time – the more you play, the better you get and, to be honest, you can only ever be so good when you’re a casual like me. Last season, I was lucky enough to win the Raptors batting title – and so far this year my hitting has been going pretty well. Chalk one up in the “plus” column.
But in the field, I am trying to convert from an outfielder to a shortstop, and realising that things happen much quicker on the infield dirt! I always try to have realistic expectations, and so I am content with steady and unspectacular progress. But you still want the spectacular! It is so galling when a player is safe at first by just a step, or when you make a good stop then get the ball trapped somewhere in your glove. And in the “minus” column I’ve already had one bungled rundown, and one truly absurd fumble of a simple pop-up. But maybe that’s what “Spring Training” (remember those commas) is for.
For a second year, we have been taking part in a spring league, the HSL, and clubs from all over the region have taken part. The games have a spirit all of their own. There is banter between the two teams, and a tolerance of unusual behaviour – on Sunday, an opposing player shouted out “’Have it!” as he connected with a line drive to centre field, and nobody did anything but laugh. But in the same game a player who had just been called out on the base paths exclaimed “Bo****ks!” and nearly squared up to the umpire. Yes, it’s an exhibition game, but why play if you don’t want to win?
The spring league actually saw some sunshine this year, and some good baseball. The team known as Herts 3 for this tournament even won its division. I think the club is very optimistic entering another big year for us. The Raptors have a big intake of rookies, but they have showed great promise in the HSL games and if they show the same mix of fun and determination as they did during “Spring Training”, there will be no problem. Here’s hoping that the “summer” weather doesn’t need those inverted commas!