Honestly, you’d think I’d have learned by now.
After, what, three seasons of taking my sons to Hemel Hempstead to play baseball, I should be used to the unusual climatic conditions to be found at Grovehill Ballpark.
But on Saturday I stepped outside my front door in North London, sniffed the warm spring air, glanced at the boys in their Herts T-shirts and we drove north. We pulled up at the ballpark, under menacing dark clouds, in temperatures fully fifteen degrees lower than when we left. All around me were better-prepared families with puffa jackets, skiing gloves and thermos flasks.
Aspi gathered us together for the Opening Ceremony, sound system at the ready. In truth, Aspi serves as Herts Baseball President solely so that he can play at being DJ to large crowds. Move over Fatboy Slim… Aspi’s in the house.
The massed ranks of the newly-renamed Herts Harriers, Herts Cardinals, and the two Herts U11 teams assembled on the first base line. With them stood the visiting London Mets U17 team, exchanging puzzled looks. On the horizon, it looked grim. Those dark clouds drew nearer.
The National Anthem was played. Caps were doffed; Americans amongst us placed hand on heart and sang lustily, while the Brits kept quiet and looked vaguely uneasy. It always seems incongruous to hear “God Save the Queen”, rather than “The Star-Spangled Banner”. Yet, given the approaching precipitation, a better choice might have been “Hail to the Chief”.
After taking refuge in the changing rooms, we headed off to play the U11 season opener. The under-14s had a practice session, so we had the unusual privilege of playing on the old diamond.
The transfer market has been active during the off season. The Giants traded Alex Trautman in exchange for Nicholas Durer, while Noah Haines also made the switch to the Dodgers. Both teams have benefited from a number of draft picks. For the Giants, we welcome Sebastian Bohn, Lenny Flavin, and the Zneimer trio of Lily, Lexi and Leo. The Dodgers are also proud to announce their new signings – Chloe and Callie Amsterdam, Amber Chisholm and Joe Gipple.
The game was a rain-shortened four inning affair. This season we will have players pitching; after four balls a coach will pitch until the batter is out or gets on base.
With the Dodgers as the home team, Ozan Martin opened the pitching with an impressive display of control, striking out the first three Giants batters.
Christian Lynch pitched first for the Giants, and drew Alex Trautman into flying out to Oliver Durer at shortstop, before William Morillo fell to a 4-3 ground-out, and Jonathan Wakelam struck out swinging. So 0-0 after the first.
After another two strikeouts, the Giants got bat on ball in the second inning; Nicholas Durer and Lexi Zneimer hit singles, leaving Nicholas on third, but alas Lily Zneimer hit a flyball to Ozan as pitcher to end the inning.
Joshua Jones now took over pitching duties for the Giants. With Ozan Martin and Thomas Garton on base, Noah Haines doubled on a wild throw to bring home Ozan for the RBI. Chloe Amsterdam then stepped up to hit a line drive double for a second run, and her sister Callie singled for another RBI, making it 3-0 to the Dodgers after two.
Alex Trautman now pitched for the Dodgers. With one out, Noah Lynch, Leo Zneimer and Lenny Flavin each hit singles to load the bases. Lewis Auchterlounie drove home one run although Leo was forced out at third. The Giants were denied a second run as Lenny Flavin was tagged out at third base.
With Ben Jupp now on the mound, the Dodgers batters hit their groove, with singles from Joe Gipple, Alex Trautman, Jonathan Wakelam, Ozan Martin, Thomas Garton, Rory Vangundy and Noah Haines. Five runs were scored, which automatically brought the inning to an end. The scoreboard showed 8-1 to the Dodgers after three, and the Giants had a lot of ground to make up.
New signing Lucas Lebrato pitched the last for the Dodgers, an inning characterized by some strong hitting from Ben Jupp and Joshua Jones. But Lebrato managed to find the strike zone with some good accurate pitching, and finally struck out Nicholas Durer to end the inning as the rain returned. With the score at 8-2, that was the ballgame – no need for the Dodgers to bat again.
All the pitchers on display showed great promise – there will clearly be stiff competition for the coveted All-Starts starting pitcher slot.
Players, coaches and supporters alike deserved three cheers and a warming cup of cocoa (available at a very reasonable price on the concession stand). They call baseball players the “Boys [and girls] of Summer” for a reason – it’s a tough game to play in the cold. We should reassure new players and their families that the sun sometimes shines at Grovehill. But whatever Tomasz Schafernaker may say, always throw a coat in the back of the car.