They came, they saw, and no, they didn’t conquer, but they played hard, and they had fun. This was the Raptors second year in existence but there were only a handful of players from last year’s roster still in place – and many of those had changed positions — so it was a genuine band of rookies. There were personal triumphs — Jeff Witter was one of three first-time pitchers to record a win; Paul Curtis hit more RBI's than any other rookie in the entire Herts club. And the team as a whole came within a couple of whiskers of a .500 record, which would have been an amazing achievement.
The rollercoaster nature of the season was typified by the first game, at home to the London Marauders. The Raptors built up a substantial lead and looked on course for a comfortable win to kick off their year. Instead, a meltdown allowed the London side to score 16 runs in one inning and, improbably, overhaul the Raptors. Yet more improbably, the home side then came from seven runs behind to win in the bottom of the ninth. The game ended 35-34, in near total darkness.
Throughout the year the team would usually try to make a game as difficult and as exciting as they could. In Guildford, the Raptors raced out to a big lead which they held until the bottom of the ninth, only to be finally edged out 21-20. It was here that Jon Lewys hit two 3-run homers, and Steve Nippress took six catches in the outfield, but all to no avail. The second game against Marauders threatened to go awry several times. And the final loss to the Old Timers was a see-saw game – after finally holding the visitors scoreless, then putting up 9 runs in the sixth inning to surge ahead, the Raptors promptly surrendered 14 runs and went behind again. It was a miracle that the manager, Andrew Slater, had any fingernails left by the end of the year.
There was unwelcome drama during the season, too. Shortstop Ken Pike pushed his Iron Man credentials just a little too far at one training session, and got a really nasty injury which ruled him out of the rest of the season. Those players who were there will never forget what they saw. Just a week earlier, Iwan Evans had made his latest attempt to break himself apart with a steal of home plate. His back survived this audacious leap over the catcher (thankfully), and it didn’t put him off stealing everything which wasn’t nailed down for the rest of the season. The defeat at Richmond was so bad-tempered that the club’s top officials had to smooth things over with the game’s ruling body. The Raptors might be rookies, but they would not lie down and die for anyone.
That’s not to say they didn’t take a few poundings. Richmond visited Grovehill a week after the legendary win over the Marauders, and instantly burst the new boys’ bubble . They won by twenty runs, thanks to their aggressive base-stealing and some basic errors from the home boys. Bracknell’s team, peppered with GB players, also overpowered the Herts rookies, despite what many saw as the team’s best performance so far. The nadir was perhaps a thirty run drubbing, at home, in the drizzle, by the Essex Arrows.
And so what can we say about the Herts Raptors now it's all over? First of all, they came. Rain or shine, thick or thin, they came and they kept coming. The enthusiasm was there from the first moments to the very end, and the team spirit was superb, which was a tribute to the manager. Secondly, they saw. By which I mean, they learned, and they improved. Rookie errors were far less common by the end of the season. Some players could point to the statistics to show their progress — Slater and Lewys were the other two first-timers to master the pitcher’s mound; Ilya Dimitrov developed patience at the plate to claim an extraordinary 19 walks.
And thirdly, yes, they did conquer. Not only did they conquer the London Marauders three times, but also the Dragons of Richmond, one of the other premier southern clubs. They were within inches of conquering Guildford. And they conquered any notion that the lowest of four teams, full of novices, could not perform admirably in a competitive league. The Raptors came of age, and showed the way to other members of the club and the baseball world.