The Opening Day of the 2012 Herts Spring League got off to a thrilling start with high quality baseball on display, but after just one hour and forty minutes heavy rain halted proceedings.
The Harlow Nationals had the most to shout about at the end of the day as they find themselves at the top of the HSL Majors standings. The 2011 NBL Champions overcame the London Mets in a close game. Nationals starting pitcher Brendan Cunliffe had a solid outing and the run support from the Nationals’ batting lineup. Marty Cullen Sr. came in to close the game and pick up the save to squeeze out a 4-2 win for Harlow just before play was suspended for the rest of the day. Luis Goncalves went 3-for-4 for the Nationals with 14-year-old Marty Cullen Jr going 1-for-1 on his debut for the Nationals.
The London Mets can feel disappointed as they had the opportunity to win the game, but found two of their runners thrown out at home plate ending their offensive rallies. Were the London base-coaches a bit too eager after a long winter break? Perhaps credit should be given to the Nationals defence for executing the plays.
At the same time on the new diamond at Grovehill Ballpark in Herts the Lakenheath Diamondbacks and the Herts Falcons produced a high quality game for the fans who braved the weather. The Falcons started the game with a lineup featuring some of the star-signings which they unveiled recently. Mike Osborn started on the mound and pitched with the control and effectiveness which fans of British Baseball have become accustomed to in the last 14 years. Cris Hiche and Jake Michels started at first and third base respectively, with Kevin Niedringhaus and Kimiyoshi Saionji as the middle infielders. Louis Hare came in as short stop later in the game. Starting catcher was the longest-serving player of Herts Baseball Club and Falcons Manager, Lee Manning. In centerfield was the reliable glove of 2011 Falcons MVP and leadoff batter, Mahendra Prasad. In left and right field were two new players the identity of which remains something of a mystery. The club has indicated that more roster announcements are expected to be made shortly so we hope that the identity of these players will be made public in the next few days.
The Falcons took the lead after a two-run double by Niedringhaus. The Dbacks gradually came back into the game and going into the late innings they tied the game 3-3. The fans may have come out to see the new Herts arrivals, but it was the Herts veteran, Kimiyoshi Saionji, who stole the show with a two-run home run flying over the right field wall.
With a 5-3 lead and a solid defensive performance up to that point, Herts seemed in control going into the sixth and final inning, but then the heavens opened turning the ballgame into a water-polo match-up. The rain clearly affected Osborn’s previously impeccable control resulting in four consecutive walks.
Lakenheath took full advantage of this and drove in four runs to take a 7-5 lead at which point the game was suspended in the top of the sixth inning due to the rain, with the Falcons unable to bat in the bottom of the inning as the home team.
To resolve the outcome of this incomplete game, the HSL Commissioner had to refer to the MLB Rules and Regulations. The MLB Rules indicate that suspended games should be resumed the next time the two teams meet, but as the HSL schedule does not have any more games between the two teams, the rule indicates that “any suspended game not completed prior to the last scheduled game between the two teams during the championship season shall become a called game.” It further states that “If such game becomes a called game and has progressed far enough to become a regulation game, and one team is ahead, the team that is ahead shall be declared the winner”, regardless of the fact that the home team has not had the opportunity to bat in the bottom of the inning.
This meant that the game was to be declared a 7-5 win for Lakenheath, however in an act of sportsmanship the Diamondbacks offered to resume the game and complete the sixth inning on Saturday, March 24 after the end of the other HSL Majors games scheduled on that date.
With the rain wiping out the remaining games of the day, the four teams involved in these two games managed to have game time against closely-matched opponents which will be valuable for those teams as they prepare for Opening Day on April 1st. The Essex Arrows were the unlucky fifth team which unfortunately did not see game time and they were visibly disappointed waiting for a long period of time after play was suspended in the hope that the standing water would disappear.
The Grovehill Ballpark grounds crew felt that they “should have suspended play earlier and covered the critical areas with tarpaulin”, however that may not have solved the problem as unlike MLB clubs Herts do not have a tarpaulin large enough to cover the whole infield. In any case the rain returned later in the day, which would have made it impossible to play any of the subsequent games.
The action continues next weekend with the AAA and AA divisions staring their HSL campaign, which means that all 20 HSL teams will be in action at the baseball diamonds in Herts and Guildford, weather permitting.
For more pictures from the Opening day of the 2012 HSL visit: britishbaseball.blogspot.co.uk
See full 2012 HSL games schedule