The Summer Search for Silver

Herts baseball fans, you can now plan your summer. The hotly anticipated BBF league schedules are out, and the club’s five adult teams now have the roadmap they must follow if they want to bring a championship trophy back to Hemel Hempstead. Hopes are high that after another winter of strong recruitment — and an experience of “oh-so-nearly” last year — Herts can claim silverware in 2013.

From April 7 through to August 25, a total of more than 600 regular-season games will be played across the country at all levels. They range from the top tier, the National Baseball League, to what the BBF refers to as the “feisty” teams of the Single-A divisions. Herts will be there at all levels. And the finals are set for Farnham Park in September. Keep your diary clear.

Falcons at the NBC in 2012
Herts Falcons in action at the 2012 playoff finals (photo: Will Baxter)

The top level of British baseball, the National Baseball League (NBL) is the first to get going.  On the 7th of April, Herts Falcons will open their account at home to the newly renamed South London Pirates. The Croydon club is a veteran presence on the British scene and is hoping to bounce back from some disappointing seasons. However, Lee Manning and his side will be aiming for a winning start.

Fans don’t have to wait long for the juiciest clash. Just two weeks later, on April 21st, the Falcons travel to the defending champions the Harlow Nationals, who beat Herts in last season’s deciding series. The Nationals come to Grovehill for the return fixture on the last weekend of June, by which point the hierarchy for this year will be well established. What will be at stake at that match-up? Could it be decisive?

Of course, there are plenty of other strong sides challenging for the NBL title. At either end of the season, the Falcons will take on the Lakenheath Diamondbacks, who featured in last year’s playoffs. And the final regular season fixture is at home to the newcomers to the NBL, the Essex Redbacks, who last year challenged all the way to the AAA final. Who knows what they will bring to The Show?

The Herts Ravens are the club’s new team, giving a presence in AAA for the first time since the Eagles lost controversially in the 2010 playoffs. They start off at home on April 14th against the Richmond Knights. The first road trip is two weeks later to Finsbury Park to take on the London Metros, while the London club will also be providing the final opponents on 25th August, when the Mets II come to Grovehill.

The Hawks reached the final weekend of the 2012 playoffs, losing to the ultimate victors, the Nottingham Rebels. The co-managers Andy Cornish and Greg Bochan are looking to take the players all the way this year. There are 13 teams in the AA South division, and the Hawks will kick off at home to the London Mammoths on April 14th.

Herts Hawks at Daws Hill Spitfires, 2012

They have a long home-stand to begin the year — facing opponents incuding the freshly promoted Hove Tuesday and last year’s regular season elite the Guildford Mavericks — and they don’t have to leave Hemel Hempstead until June when they travel to Enfield to take on the Sidewinders. The last scheduled game is on August 4th, against the Poole Piranhas.

And so on to Single-A, which this year features 12 teams split into three pools of four, and also features the mouthwatering prospect of two Herts derbies. The club once again fields two teams in this division, with the Raptors and Eagles both building on good years in 2012.

Then, Arnold Longboy’s Raptors narrowly missed out on the postseason while the Eagles secured an excellent .500 record in their first season in the division. Bragging rights went to the Raptors when the teams met up, with Duncan Hoyle’s Eagles going down 14-5. This year the first face-off is on 12 May, with the return a month later on 16 June. Both promise to be classic matches.

Of course, there are some other teams in the division to be faced, too. Raptors open up on April 21st at the Leicester 2Sox, the first time for years that the southern clubs have taken on the Midlands clubs in league play. The Raptors head off to Milton Keynes to play their new Single-A side the Coyotes on May 19th, while they face last year’s top league  side the Essex Archers on June 30th.

The Eagles make their trips north on Opening Day, April 21st, when they play Milton Keynes, and on June 30th, when they head to Leicester. The 2Sox will also be the final visitors to Grovehill for the Eagles, when they play on August 11th. By then, the height of summer, everyone will be thinking seriously of the playoffs. At this point, we can only speculate and dream.

As Herts knows perhaps better than anyone, British baseball is not just about the adult game. Grovehill Ballpark has become the home of one of the most powerful youth movements in the country, with a national championship being claimed in 2010. Players from the Little League are feeding through into the adult sides with great success, and this season the youth leagues will be watched as closely as ever.

The Herts Harriers — the newly named Under 17 Pony team — are scheduled to play 7 double-headers. They start on Saturday April 27th, against the London Mets at Grovehill. Their regular reason finishes with a trip to the Forest Glade Redbacks on July 6th. The Herts Bronco team, now known as the Cardinals,  travel to the defending champions the London Mets for their opener. They host  the Redbacks as their closer.