Five things in two weeks

There’s plenty to muse on today, as it’s been a busy and tough couple of weeks for the Herts Raptors. Before I do that,  I have to clear up a couple of points for recent converts to the joys of this blog. First, the long-forgotten purpose of the title “Going Through the Change”. It’s not actually meant as a glimpse of my deepest biological secrets — it’s about switching from years of outfield play to become an infielder! Since that first change happened, I have also been drafted as a pitcher and an umpire, so there have been plenty of changes to keep up the theme.

Will Belbin looks to drive in Arnie Longboy

For those of you who are concerned that I beat myself up in public about my mistakes, don’t worry – my indefatigable ego will always be convinced that I have a talent for the game, even if it’s a struggle to find it sometimes. Also, I like to think of this blog as a sharing exercise for other small-time ball players who wish they could turn it on like the MLB guys they see on TV.  Finally, I need only ask – would you prefer it if I spent all my time telling you how fanastic I was?!

So, on to this week’s blend of boasting, hand-wringing and acute observation. Here are five things which we have either learnt, or been reminded of, in the past two weeks.

1. You’ve gotta throw a curve. I made my first pitching appearance of the season against Guildford. And it was a good reminder that pitching is really tough, and we should not underestimate the task facing our starters every week. We have given up a lot of walks, and my appearance was an attempt to throw strikes and stop the bleeding of runs. The first bit went fine, as I walked only one of the 9 batters I faced. But it didn’t really stop the runs, as I didn’t get a single out. After a few days mulling, I decided I really should’ve thrown a curve ball in there somewhere. I was focussed on throwing strikes, the main thing we needed at that point of the game. But I’m not sure I threw a curve at all, and that allows the batter to just wait for the meaty one in the zone.When the hits came, we missed at least three chances to get the final out we needed. I was one of those misplaying a ball, so I share guilt at not helping the pitcher out of his hole.

2. The double play is the pitcher’s best friend. In eight years playing this game, I don’t think I have ever turned a successful double play. So, chalk up another new experience. It happened in the third inning against Guildford. The first batter was on base with a walk, and when the second guy up hit a sinking liner to short I was just able to catch it, then throw to first base where the runner had taken off, and secure the simple double play. The next batter flied out, and the inning was clean. The double play is such a punch to the guts of an offense. I can think of an occasion in each of the last two years when the same sort of double play has been turned against us, but overall it’s pretty rare at our level. And it is nice to have members of the opposing team come over to you to say “nice play”. That’s what so-called recreational sport should be about.

Oz Kemal at bat
Rookie Oz Kemal on the end of high heat from the Royals

3. Single A can mean different things to different people. Now, this is not meant as a grumble as such. But members of the Raptors, the Herts development team, could be forgiven for wondering when they are ever going to play another set of comparable rookies. Each member of this week’s starting line-up against the Cambridge Royals had an average of approximately 1.4 prior years of baseball experience. And that figure is only so high because I have played for 8 years – 4 players had no previous taste of adult baseball. The Royals had ex-GB players and plenty of experienced guys. I had an odd empty feeling on Sunday evening, as if I hadn’t really been in a game, and I wonder if that’s because we never really laid a finger on Cambridge. It’s hard to keep your head up in mismatches, but Herts Raptors showed great spirit against Guildford, where we had a proper chance to compete.

4. Ball first, play second. My most annoying error of choice in each of the past two games has been failing to cleanly pick up a ball which was, essentially, just laying on the ground. The first was the dribbling comebacker which could have made my pitching numbers look a whole lot better, the second was when playing second base at Cambridge. On both occasions I was caught in two minds about which play to make, and so I muffed picking up the ball, and failed to make any play. Cardinal sin. Know your play, be decisive. And make sure you have got the ball before you try to do anything with it!

5. We look good! Every week you have to admire just how cool the Herts players look, with their white uniforms and now a growing range of extra branded gear. It’s still pretty obvious that whoever chose white doesn’t do their own washing, but I accept they made a good choice nonetheless. We win the style battle every week. The only other team that I think comes close is the Milton Keynes Bucks, I like their grey outfits (so would my washing machine). But somehow Herts manage to look better even than, say, Sidewinders who play in the same colours. So let’s take that victory on to the field before we even start!

PS. Having banged on about how rare double plays are, I later remembered that we turned one against Cambridge as well. One out, runners on second and third, and the batter flied out to Ken in centre field. The guy at second tagged up and took off but then found the runner at third stationary, so he had to turn back. Ken made a strong throw to second and we (I think it was me) tagged the guy out. I still stand by the fact that double plays are relatively rare in single-A (the San Francisco Giants ground into 3 in every game!) but I’m pleased to know that the Herts Raptors are turning some.

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