By Rob Jones, still Going Through the Change

You don’t need me to tell you that baseball is a game of inches. But at least the next time I think about it I will have a few frustrating examples to offer, all from half a game at home to the Southampton Mustangs. I was back at third base as a substitute, after missing the top of the game due to being asleep after a night shift. And the hot corner was to give me a very hot day.

A close play at first base for the Raptors in 2010
It all comes together in a close play at first base

The first chance came quickly, I think the first batter of the second inning I played. I fielded the ball cleanly, took a step, then sent a throw sailing about ten feet wide of the first baseman. I felt the smooth part of the ball slip from the fingers as I threw it, but that doesn’t help me get it back.

The second throw, in the next inning, was in the first baseman’s reach, but it was still between him and the onrushing runner, and he couldn’t hang on. Having played a bit of first myself, I realised I had rather hung him out to dry.

The third one went … I remember not where, but I know the guy wasn’t given out! And the fourth throw, with runners on base, was there and safe and sound – but to my surprise the runner was also given safe and sound. Four chances, one clear error, and no outs.

Somewhere in the midst of all this I made what was nearly a spectacular play. Leaping at a line drive which even I thought was about to go over my head, I got the meat of the glove to a ball. But just not enough, or I started landing a fraction too soon, I don’t know. The ball flicked back up in the air, out of reach of a flailing second attempt, then fell to ground. Almost a web gem, but in the end just another runner aboard.

So where does the inch come into it? Well, I’m not a big guy and I don’t think it’s giving too much away to any future opposition to say I do not have a “Big Arm”. But the throw from third base is a “Big Throw”, and there’s a simple conclusion here that I just didn’t make it. That inch might have got those outs. An inch might have secured that catch, too.

All of this might spell the swift end of my third base career, though I hope not! I have played two stints there and I really enjoyed it. Chiefly because those stints have been busy, and that’s exactly what you want when you step on the field – “hit the ball to ME!”

I was really pleased that against the Mustangs I picked up every ball cleanly and surely, despite all the rust- and sleep-related excuses I am keeping in reserve. But the throws need to be that bit sharper and stronger to make sure I get the guy, and I am keen to work on that. Unless someone conjures me an inch…

While I am on the topic of being “sharper”, I should note that for the second time in two games I found my uniform spattered with blood. In the HSL it was, I think, just a rotating seam that scuffed skin off my hand. All rather feeble, and when it happened this time around I started to think about seeing a ‘weak skin specialist’ or something. So I was slightly reassured to find once I cleaned up my hand after the game that it was a bona fide cut. And I duly found a shard of broken glass near my fielding position at third. A note to all, I think, to check a public field carefully when you set up.

My cut throwing hand
The red badge of courage

A quick word about my batting is that just half an inch might have done, to make my first at-bat a hit. On a 2-2 count fastball I swung but just missed making really good contact. It became a fairly routine ground ball to the third baseman. I was out by a step, but I was out.

I think most Herts players can take solace in the quality of the Southampton defence. As you may have read elsewhere, Mustangs pitcher Dave Wrigley recorded the club’s first no-hitter. But that was not because he was so overpowering or bamboozling. Large part — and I’m sure he would agree – was down to his defence. Take for example, the scorching Raptors hit to lead off the ninth. It was an excellent pick-up by the fielder, then made even better by the first baseman digging it out. We must doff the cap to a really good performance by the visitors.

And what of the Raptors’ all-round experience? Whilst it may not have started well, when I got there it was a tight game. The home team threw up zeroes, and made good plays. New guys seemed pretty confident and comfortable. It’s hard to look back on lots of glaring errors, barring my own decision to airmail a routine throw to first. So there’s always stuff to learn, and with a rookie team a lot of it is still drilling on basics. But there’s a lot to look forward to as well.

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