The first cracks of the bat

It was a bright, cold and sunny Monday morning. I had slept like a log, but another four hours of sleep wouldn’t have gone amiss. That’s what a couple of weeks of baseball can do to you. My arms ached and my pride was wounded but I had certainly had an interesting start to the 2013 season, writes Rob Jones.

The two games could hardly be more different. In the first, I was with the Raptors as they ran up a football score against Leicester 2Sox. In my second game, I was on the receiving end of a similar thumping as the Eagles were undone at Hemel by the Tonbridge Bobcats.

There was a consistent thread in both games — and that was my bat making lousy contact with the ball. I hit infield dribblers, comebackers, pop-ups and all sorts of rubbish. Horrid. It was crowned by a strikeout in each game, which is galling as two strikeouts is usually my total for a season, not a fortnight! Both were on third strikes which I considered high — especially the first of them — but I guess you live and learn.

Rob Jones
Your correspondent Rob Jones hits a sac fly in the closing stages of the Tonbridge game (pic: David Ames)

The bat-on-ball contact did get better as each game went along, so I take solace in that. I hit one decent single at Leicester, and then a single, double and sac-fly in the run-fest against Tonbridge.

My overall performance in the field was of a better standard. OK, yes, I dropped a pop-up on the infield against Tonbridge, and yes I should have been slapped for it. It was a classic lesson in not thinking about the people around you, and not thinking ahead to the impending double play. I failed to close my mind to these things, and paid the price. Duncan, who was pitching, also paid the price, as he had to go through it all over again. A lesson for us all.

Otherwise, I fielded all the ground balls which came my way, and I had put away a couple of outfield catches in my first-week outing. It feels good when you can slip back into baseball smoothly, after a long winter break. Training both indoors and back on the Grovehill diamond really help, but it is satisfying when any good work continues during a competitive game.

I felt that the fielding performance of both Raptors and Eagles was actually pretty good. There was some sloppiness which could be put down to rust, particularly with the Raptors, and to the first “game-time” situations of the year. But there were few howlers. The Eagles are fielding a lot of genuine rookies, who will learn fast, and Raptors eked out a tough win against the Old Timers in week 2, so must have improved!

There is just room for a quick word on my pitching debut for the year. I haven’t taken the mound since 2011, but I felt quite comfortable up there. Apart from walking the first batter, I did stick to my usual mantra of not giving away free passes. At this level, I have often seen walks eat away at a team and while I know I can’t blow away hitters, I also know that I can throw strikes. Unfortunately a hot-hitting Tonbridge team rather teed off on me.

I did get two outs — one thanks to a good stop by Mike Cresswell — and nearly got out of the inning. But we made some fielding errors, and missed fly balls. This isn’t a grumble against my team-mates, as one of the errors was by me when I picked up a bunt cleanly but threw high and wide to first base. But you do really feel the effect of those errors when you are the man on the mound.

I threw one or two curve balls that I was happy with, but probably stayed away from it too much for fear of walks. If the coach lets me get back up there, I must try to work batters more.

So that’s how 2013 opened for me. Barely days after becoming a big money transfer to the Herts Eagles, I found myself all suited up for Opening Day with the Raptors. Life’s full of surprises. And I headed up to a new venue for me, Leicester. Western Park is a nice little diamond. As undulating as most British ballparks, and with its batting circle and bases having the consistency of a slightly pebbly beach. But with a permanent backstop, a decent amount of cover from trees, and an overall good feel.

Milton Keynes and Haverhill will also be new experiences. And I am still looking forward to the year. Although I still need more sleep. It’s hard to tell what the season will be like, or what the story will be when summer fades away. But I like the opening chapters.