If you build it, Herts will come

In the United States, there are baseball diamonds in most parks and at most schools. In the UK, you find them in the strangest of places. Such as the Essex Redbacks new field in Billericay. Yes, it’s next to a football club, so that’s not so strange.

But it is in fact in a farmers field, bordered on two sides by rapeseed crops growing so high you fully expect the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson to emerge from them at any moment. The recent weather and its farming heritage combined to make the surface look pretty lumpy and threatening, but once the game got started there were absolutely no complaints about it. It’s great that Essex, just like Herts, have been able to expand their facilities and provide more chances to play ball.

I blame rust

I can’t blame the surface for any of the fielding mistakes I made, certainly. The most glaring bonehead play was dropping a routine pop-up in foul ground having called off Theo, who had been playing a blinder. I can’t find any reason for that one. More generally I will blame rust, and a lack of baseball this year.

Rob Jones at bat
Rob Jones, poised at the plate. He doesn't actually look TOO skinny in this picture...

Definitely I am going to blame rust for me missing out on a sliding catch in the outfield. I had started in right field, and had a pretty quiet time. Essex got very few big hits, and those that did make it to the outfield headed for left and centre. But finally a batter shanked a ball into the air in my direction, and it was time for action…

I think it was always going to be a tough one, falling in the in-between zone that separates infield and outfield. But at first I thought it was carrying pretty well. Then, maybe held up by the wind, maybe by its spin, I realised it was dropping very short and I was nowhere near it. At least that left me in no doubt that I had to run hard. So I did, and slid at the last moment in a way which has produced catches in the past. Not this time, though – it got away.

Huffed from a pea-shooter

It wasn’t my only “nearly spectacular” moment of the game. Having moved over to third base, I attempted a goalkeeping dive towards a line drive which came through at a good height. I think I was just a bit too slow on that one, because it felt like I got close. I did finally manage to get something to show for my diving around — in the eighth inning, I think, I slid to my left to snare a sharp ground ball. It was one of those where you aren’t sure the ball is in the glove until you look but, when it is, you feel pretty satisfied.

From a position on my backside, I alertly looked to second to force out the runner who had been on first base. Somewhat bathetically I capped off this moment of athleticism by giving Duncan a throw which bounced three times before rolling the last distance like a pea huffed out of a pea-shooter. But the runner was out, so I am looking on the bright side.

The big pluses

My batting showed perhaps a slow improvement on last week. It all started off with another walk, predictably enough. But after that there was sometimes too much enthusiasm to hit. The umpire had a pretty big strike zone, so I felt it would be risky to count on getting the calls you want  – and I also came up with men on base quite a lot, when a walk is of more limited use.

I popped it up twice — once to the catcher and once to the pitcher — which might suggest I was swinging at high stuff. But I got a couple of  hits, and scored a couple of runs. My best contact was a fly ball out to centre. I got on base, but since it was clearly dropped by the outfielder I really have to admit that I reached on an error.

There were many things I should have done better, but once again I felt good for having been in the game. Even if I was not crucial – Adrian’s home run and Theo’s pitching were the big pluses — I felt that I had helped the team win. I won’t be able blame rust for much longer! There is a good spirit in the Eagles, relaxed but competitive, with constant ribbing and a good chatter to keep guys focused. And that makes it fun to show up. The aches and pains — even my fingers ached, for heaven’s sake — did little to encourage me back, but I am definitely looking forward to the next game.

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