Watch out for the hustlers

Mike Wakelam (right): "I love where the facilities have got to, and I think that the fans facilities need to catch up a little bit."

With just days before the British U17 and U14 playoffs the deciding games in the Herts Under-11 Championship Series we had the opportunity to talk with the manager of the Herts Dodgers, Mike Wakelam, about the games this weekend, the season so far and look into the future of Herts Baseball’s youth programme. Over the last few years you have played a key role with the Herts Baseball youth programme with focus on the Under-11 teams, which is the youngest age group. This year in particular you and the other U11 coaches have made some changes in the coaching approach. Is this starting to pay off already in terms of player development and enjoyment?

MW: The changes this year have certainly started to pay off. At this age, games aren’t worth playing if the fundamentals aren’t being taught. We’ve implemented an approach that sees the kids spend about 90 minutes on drills and mechanics, helping them to grasp some of the fundamentals of the game, so that when they step into a game situation they do so with more confidence and enjoy the game more. The impact on the games has been great, with everyone contributing. At such an early age it is difficult to forecast how a particular player will develop. Are the U11 coaches starting to notice players making improvements and showing the promise of becoming a star player for Herts or perhaps even representing Great Britain at the Olympics in the future?

MW: The best thing about coaching at this level is seeing how much a player can progress in one season. Sometimes you think you know where a player is at, and then something just clicks and they surprise you. I often remember when I was a skinny uncoordinated 9 year old, I was at the bottom of the talent list, but everybody develops in skill and coordination at different rates, so what looks one way now could be completely different in 5 years. The main thing to look for is the desire to play and to practice, and hustle. The ones who are there early and stay late and hustle after every ball, they’re the ones to watch – and we definitely have a few potential stars based on that scale. Ahead of this Saturday’s final games in the 2012 Championship Series between the Herts Dodgers and the Herts Giants, the Dodgers were on the losing side last year and they have been on fire this year showing so much desire to win the trophy this year. What has been the reason behind their success so far?

MW: To be honest, the season has been extremely close, despite the difference win/loss columns. We’ve been hampered by a few too many rainouts this year, but each time we’ve played, they’ve been back and forth affairs, including extra innings, so I’m hoping for more of that this Saturday. Who are the Dodgers’ and Giants’ players to watch out for this Saturday?

MW: The hustlers – Nicholas Durer and Ben Jupp. The big bats – Josh Jones, Cameron Manning, Thomas Garton and Christian Lynch. The sure glove of Alex Trautman. And I’m sure many surprises from the other talented players. This is also Katie’s last game in Under-11s, so I’m sure she wants to leave a mark. The Dodgers have a 2-game lead, so the Giants have no room for error. They need to win both games this Saturday to force a deciding final game. Do they have a chance?

MW: As I coach the dodgers, I’d like to think they don’t. But they certainly do, especially with Paul, Max and John coaching. Herts has invested heavily into upgrading facilities over the years to create arguably the best facilities in the country. Looking ahead over the next few years, what should the club invest in next? Further facilities improvement, team equipment, coaching aids, or should the club look to improve facilities for fans such as toilets, seating for fans, kitchen and other facilities for concession stand operations?

MW: I love where the facilities have got to, and I think that the fans facilities need to catch up a little bit. I’d also like to see the fields mowed a little more often, as in our age group, the length of the grass helps determine how far a hit will travel. The U11 age group includes players as young as 5 and as old as 10. If the rate of new young players joining club continues, Herts may be able to introduce an Under-8 age group soon. Would this be a step forward or would it be better to keep the U11 age group and simply create more teams for a more vibrant U11 regional league?

MW: I’ve thought about this a lot. Obviously it’s great experience for the younger ones to play with the older group, but I’d have to suggest that if we continue to grow in the number of under-8s, it would be beneficial to have a separate under-8 age group. This could be either coach pitch or tee ball. What I think this would do is allow the older kids to start facing kid pitching at a younger age, readying them for under-14s. Until the time we have enough kids to do that, I’d advocate taking a team of older kids out to play other clubs. We could do that on a few weekends every year, or have a weekend tournament or two throughout the year. You have previously played for Herts at the NBL and AAA level and are one of the most feared hitters in the league. You are about to undergo a knee operation. What is the likelihood of you making a comeback and putting on the Herts jersey after the operation?

MW: Haha. On a scale of 1 to 10, the likelihood of me playing again is probably a 1. Maybe a 2.

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