2013: A New Hope

Rob JonesThe Herts club’s occasional blogger, equally occasional player, and former Chief Correspondent Rob Jones has returned for another year of baseball. Here he offers his random views, glimpses and hopes for the coming year.

The sound echoed around the hall. It was of a loud slap, a loud snap, not unlike the report of a gun. It was a baseball hitting a leather mitt. Baseball season had begun.

Fifty or so players were there on the first week of indoor Spring Training, and the fact that a cavernous sports hall seemed crowded showed how far Herts has come in the past couple of years in expanding its reach. By the time I was there — barely even a few minutes late, which is excellent by my standards — there seemed hardly room to throw. On the second week there were slightly fewer of us, but still dozens of players, all turning out on a cold Sunday morning. The first excellent result of the season.

Never fear, though, about the apparent lack of space.  Once the session had got rolling and the coaches had stepped in to organise, every inch of the hall was well used. At the second session, the club’s new strength and conditioning coach made his first appearance and worked the players into submission. Crouching like crabs, jumping like grasshoppers, lunging like refugees from Python’s silly walks sketch. The Herts media department kindly used a photo of the event which showed me as the only player bent double trying to recover from the exertion!

Spring Training
Your correspondent (centre) working on his drive with Kimi Saionji

It was the sort of excellent targeted work-out that I would never have come up with for myself. It left me aching for days — in fact, my calves and thighs were so dumbstruck that every time I got up from my desk on the Monday I had to re-learn the art of walking. However, it felt great! And I have already used some of the drills we were shown when working out in my local park.

I am by no means a hardcore devotee of exercise. But I do love to play, and the last thing I want to do at a session is stand around waiting for stuff to be sorted. And that doesn’t happen here at Herts. It hasn’t for years now, and we have reaped two benefits from that. Number one — passionate, hard-working club staff. Number two — better players.

Those players include some of the top names in British baseball — Robbie Unsell, Ryan Bird — who now turn out in a Herts uniform and helped take the club to the NBL final in 2012. It also includes some excellent youth players who have begun to pull on the jersey for our adult teams, and who could take us even higher in the future. Guys who already had great talent going for them — Kyle Lloyd-Jones; the Caress brothers — seemed to have grown a foot taller over the winter and to have filled out. They will be an imposing presence on whichever diamond hosts them this season.

Carlos Casal in action in 2009
Caros Casal argues his case during the Hunlock Series in 2009

There are plenty of new faces, as well as some which have returned from the past. The Casal family, who always play with fire and passion, will be a shot in the arm for the club on the field after a successful sojourn at the Harlow Nationals. A return is also on the cards for Ross Asquith, the King of the Bunt, the Fastest Thing in the South from the early days of the Herts Hawks, I think it was. Because we now have a fifth adult team, we will need a deep bench, but that seems to be a luxury we are developing.

Last weekend was the first of many sessions which I will miss this year. Work often keeps me away from Herts baseball, but like so many others I keep coming back. Last season was a bit of a low ebb for me, in terms of playing time. I only made it to five games, I think, and one of them was incomplete. I never really got my swing together and batted only about .440, disappointing after previous seasons. But my OBP remained high, and I felt I was contributing to the team and to a few victories.

Who knows what 2013 will hold for me, and for Herts. But that is one of the great things about Spring Training. Anything seems possible. Everything is out there to be worked for, and aimed at. The grainy photos of Herts part-timers in a cavernous sports hall are the equivalent of those sun-dappled pictures from the MLB’s Spring leagues. But although the visual image is rather different, the spirit is the same. It is about hope, and about what it can bring.

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