Back to the ballpark

It was a cold, grey and wet Monday morning as I took the children to school. It was like many other days for the past month (not all of them were Mondays, though a disproportionate number felt like a Monday!)  But I was sure that just hours before, I had been playing baseball at a sun-dappled Grovehill ballpark. Was that just a hallucination? A mirage?

Maybe not… The evidence is there to back up the mental images. There is the uniform, smeared with red dust, piled in front of the washing machine. There are my aching legs and arms. And there is the typical collection of bumps and grazes. Yes, it was real. Finally, for the first time in 2012, I had played baseball.

After a cancellation and a couple of washouts, this was –in effect — Opening Day for the Raptors. The resurrected south coast franchise, Hove Tuesday, was coming to visit Hemel Hempstead. And Arnie Longboy’s men were ready to meet them. So prepared were they, that most of the players had chosen their own songs to boom out of the PA as they walked up to bat. This was Major League, baby.

Rob Jones archive
Rob Jones pops one up in his younger days

I started my tenth season of baseball positioned out in left field, amid the daisies and buttercups which still festooned the playing field.  It started pretty quietly, but in due course an arcing fly ball came my way. The alert centre fielder shouted me back, but part-way through my retreat I slowed, thinking I had gone far enough. I had not. When I headed backwards again it was too late and the ball went past my despairing glove.

A frustrating start, then, and I hope that my weeks of inactivity don’t do too much damage to my rusty “skills”.  Not long afterwards I was able to securely catch another hit to the outfield which, as a line drive, was probably much harder to judge. But there you go — this game doesn’t always make sense.

I hadn’t got as far as choosing an At Bat Anthem for 2012.  When Arnie suggested it I thought jokingly about “He’s Not There”, or “The Invisible Man”, since I had never showed up to training or pre-season. But instead I left it, so against Hove I came up to bat listening to someone else’s random selection of heavy rock.

And I made my traditional start by getting a walk. In fact, my batting season started by receiving eleven straight balls — adding up to two walks and a 3-0 count. After the pitcher finally grooved a strike, I then made an error by swinging at the next offering, which would probably have been ball four high and away. I had put myself in a hole which I duly finished digging by striking out. Respect to the pitcher for his recovery, but as I said earlier, baseball doesn’t always make sense — and neither did my batting line of two patient walks, and then a flailing strikeout.

This was an odd game. The Raptors started badly, giving up a stack of runs. But they immediately got them back, with both starting pitchers giving up a lot of walks. Raptors were ahead after the first, but bit by bit Hove took control. The Herts bats were unusually quiet, and there were some unwise choices on the base paths. Perhaps the weeks washed out by rain had affected other players too, and I fully expect the machine to click into gear as the season gets going.

I had to leave before it was over, but it had been an enjoyable start. There were some good points, both for me and for the team. There is a lot of will to win, a lot of creativity in how to achieve it, and I think this will be a very interesting year.

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