A ball in the hand

If you want evidence of how hard this game is, look no further than the fact that I managed to pitch two scoreless innings for the Raptors last Sunday. Think about it. The Southampton Mustangs, unbeaten so far this season and powering through the Single-A league, were faced with my medium-paced unwavering strikes, and they still couldn’t get a run. Sure, they could hit the thing. But putting a round bat on a round ball and depositing it in a space where no fielder was standing? That’s much harder.

A proper pitcher in action
The Hawks' Nick Russell, a proper pitcher in action

I doff my cap to Theo, who comfortably hauled in two fly balls to centre field, and to Zach, who was equally sure-handed with a pop-up to second base. I also thank myself for improving on the fielding performance I turned in when I pitched against Guildford. This time two hits came my way. I caught the first one, a pop-up in foul ground. Then when a batter mis-hit a dribbler just a couple of feet in front of the plate I picked it up cleanly, cycled through my potential plays in my head until I found the right one, and threw to first for the out.

My experience of pitching was once again a complete blast. In the absence of our usual starters, stand-in manager Arnie very sensibly went for an open-house approach — anyone who wanted to have a go was invited. Arnie himself pitched the first three innings, before giving way to Theo, and then me. Theo throws a harder and heavier ball than me, and it moves more, but I guess I got luckier with the fielding!

I felt a little more comfortable on the mound this time around, and heeded my own advice to try to mix it up a little bit. Any Southampton batters reading this might laugh (please do it quietly) but there was a curve in there somewhere. It felt good to have a pristine match ball in my hand, with proper seams so you could feel what you were doing. I need to throw all my pitches with a bit more conviction, but you can’t beat the feeling of getting up there on the mound and getting results. If I ever hit a home run I will let you know how it compares, but so far pitching a scoreless inning is a winner!

I recorded a less welcome first for the season by striking out in my first at-bat. It had to happen sometime, especially since I started this article by saying how difficult it is to get a hit. At least it was a swinging strikeout on a full count. Southampton’s pitcher is not overpowering but the ball has some zip on it, and a little bit of slide, and he is pretty accurate. I think he gave up 6 walks in the end, but he struck out 6 of the first 8 batters and you can’t really argue with that. I got a single later, and a couple of walks to nudge up my averages, but we need to string together some more good at-bats to get runs against teams like this.

This was an odd game for the Raptors, as we stood little real chance of winning. But it was all played in a pretty relaxed atmosphere and I think we had fun. Jose and Zach, two of our talents for the future, selflessly took turns as the umpire and did a fine job. They also ribbed each other mercilessly about it. Everyone had a good crack at the game, with some good hits and good catches. Don’t get me wrong — we all want to win! I look forward to the blog when that happens.

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