Vince Lombardi was right — winning isn’t everything. But he was wrong when he said it was the only thing. Two of the Herts baseball teams showed that an enormous amount can be gained from commitment, and heart, and even from just having fun. Herts did everything except win, but still had a lot to show for their day.
The Hawks and the Raptors were both in action Grovehill on Sunday 19th June, and the AA side was involved in two titanic battles against the Essex Redbacks II. Both teams have struggled to get results this season, and this was an evenly-matched contest. The first game was always close, and ended 12-8 to the visitors, with Nick Russell taking the tough loss.
The second game looked as if it was going to be a disappointing blowout. The Redbacks scored ten runs in the first inning, and led 16-4 at one point. By their own admission, they had visions of a mercy rule victory. But the fourth inning suddenly saw the Hawks offense blossom. Andrew Slater got things going with a hit. Ilya Dimitrov stepped up behind him and slapped a confident line drive to right field, before speeding round to second base. He challenged the defense and won, taking third before scoring. Ali Hall and Ralph Bartholomew got aboard, too, and Essex seemed not only rattled but overwhelmed.
As for Herts, they seemed to well up with self-belief. Matt Johnston, whose playing time has been cut by a move away from the area, burst out of a batting slump to notch a hit, one of two on the day. Paul Auchterlounie clouted a textbook sacrifice-fly to bring home Kal Dimitrov, and when the Redbacks finally managed to get Andrew Slater out, he still brought in a run when he grounded out. By the end of the day he had got on base 7 out of 8 times and was acclaimed as the MVP.
However, all offensive explosions come to an end, and with the lead cut to four the Hawks now took their fielding positions. Essex were not cowed by their experience in the fourth, and they battled back. Runners got aboard as Nick Russell’s extraordinary arm finally began to fall off. Slater helped limit the damage, throwing his body in the line of fire to tag a runner at third. Ilya Dimitrov made athletic saves at first base, and the sky high morale looked as if it could carry Herts all the way. That man Slater came in as relief pitcher in the sixth, and registered back to back strikeouts, and later a scoreless seventh. The tying run for Herts came to the plate in the nail biting finale — but it was not to be. The game ended 25-22, but it was clear to all involved that this had been a great team effort and a great performance.
Earlier on Grovehill’s other diamond, the Herts Raptors had an experience which was similar in many ways, and yet utterly different. They faced one of the league leaders in Single-A, the Southampton Mustangs. The Raptors were fielding a patchwork team, because the game had been rescheduled at the last minute, and so they had little hope of beating their powerful visitors. The final result of 21-3 was definitive. And yet the Raptors played with verve and tenacity.
The first inning was unusually quick for a Raptors game. Three of the Herts batters struck out, with no runs scoring, but then when spot-starter Arnie Longboy took the mound he also limited the Mustangs to just one run. Shortstop Liam Green secured all three outs, flashing both leather and his impressive arm.
Longboy’s honeymoon ended quickly. In the second inning a series of walks and doubles helped Southampton score 8 more runs. Arnie did help his own cause in the third inning with a triple to left field, bringing in Rob Jones from first base. He then scored himself on a single by Theo Scheepers. The Raptors loaded the bases, but by then there were 2 outs, and the Mustang’s Dave Wrigley struck out Jose Morillo to end the threat.
With Southampton 12-2 ahead and cruising after three innings there was little hope of a rally, but Herts kept fighting. Jones scored another run on another Longboy hit — and the pitcher/manager ended the day going 3-4 with the bat. Senna Ashida, who had not played at all this season due to college commitments, reached base every time he came up to bat, and also put away a fly ball in left field.
Raptors had a satisfying end to the game by putting up donuts in the sixth and seventh innings. Excellent defense backed up the second relief pitcher of the day, Rob Jones — Zach Longboy and Theo Scheepers made solid catches, and the pitcher handled two of the plays himself. Everybody would have preferred a win, but this was a fine effort against a formidable opponent.