There are two reasons why I play baseball. One is that it is a great game, requiring hand-eye coordination, technique, strategy and a smidgen of athletic prowess. The second reason is the geographical accident that I play for Herts Baseball Club.
When I first considered taking up the sport eight years ago, it turned out that Hemel Hempstead was the easiest diamond for me to get to. And what I found there was a club which was welcoming, relaxed and fun — and yet serious about doing its best on the field of play. Never did I feel anything but welcomed by the guys there, some of whom had already forgotten more than I would ever know about baseball.
And it is that spirit of friendship which reaches its apotheosis in the Kyle Hunlock Series, our post-season intra-club tournament which throws all the players into a melting pot and creates something new. The competition is bigger and possibly better than ever this year. Four sides, evenly matched, playing a round robin for the final title.
There is a dwindling band of Herts members who actually took the field alongside Kyle Hunlock, the former player who died in an industrial accident back home in the USA. I won’t pretend that I knew him well at all, but I did share a diamond with him when he wore the Falcons uniform, and I can vouch that his effervescence was of a type that can lift a team, a club and an event. I think he would have enjoyed the atmosphere at the first day of the 2011 Series which now bears his name.
The games were mostly pretty tight, with several one-run differentials. National Leaguers were alongside and against Little League players, and Raptors rookies. It’s great fun to play. I can’t say I have ever actually performed that well in a Hunlock Series — too rusty, too cold, or some other excuses — but I have never really minded. I’m not saying that I didn’t try hard — when I beat out an infield hit in our game against the Roosters I was running as fast up the line as I could. But winning isn’t what this is about.
There were some great plays by other guys, though. There were fantastic outfield catches by Ilya Dimitrov, diving to his right, and by Ken Pike, sliding in to grab a shallow bloop. On the infield, Reagan Wood and Kyle Lloyd-Jones both showed their soft hands to snare ground balls which looked as if they were about to dart past them… in fact they were just watching like a hawk for their moment to scoop it up and make the play.
The morning after, I am aching. And I am already sad that baseball is over for another year, as I can’t make weeks 2 and 3 of the competition. But I am happy that I was there for a last hurrah to my season and for an event which always affirms the beauty of the game.