The best of rivals

The Raptors are expected to deploy their young pitchers against the strong-hitting Eagles lineup

It’s an experience which few British baseball clubs can even contemplate. But this Sunday, for the second year in a row, Herts will see two of its teams go head to head in a competitive league match. And there is little question that it is one of the choice Single-A match-ups on the baseball calendar for 2013.

The Herts Eagles and the Herts Raptors will play twice this year, and the first contest is arriving early in the season with both sides having something to prove. They are both feeling their way into the year, and will want to use their club rivals as a springboard to greater things.

The Raptors have the upper hand, having started the year 2-0. They beat the Leicester 2Sox by a football score, after a game which had started evenly matched, then came from behind to beat the always tough prospect of the Old Timers.

But the Raptors manager Arnie Longboy is looking for further improvements from his players. “Going into this game we’ve done okay”, he says, “but we still need to overcome mental errors if we want to compete in the post season.” He adds that he will tell his players to be ready for a close game and “not to let up.”

Much will depend on the outstanding young pitchers such as Zack Longboy and Will Zucker, as well as on catcher and compulsive base-stealer Ken Pike.

“The Eagles are especially hyped up to do well and it can get very competitive”, says coach Longboy.

His opposite number on the Eagles has an idea why that might be. “There will be a bit of extra spice”, explains Duncan Hoyle, “as several of last years Eagles will be with the Raptors this time around.”

Theo Scheepers and Sonam Lama are just two of the players who switched rosters to the Raptors in the off-season, while veteran Rob Jones went in the other direction to add some depth to an Eagles line-up which includes many novice ballplayers. All of those who have experienced both camps will want to show their old team-mates what they can do.

“It’s an exciting prospect to help the large numbers of new players who are coming on board”, says Jones. “We have guys with great arms, great bats, and they are learning the game very fast.”

Of course, Duncan Hoyle was a Raptor himself once, before stepping into managerial duties. He says: “I’ve seen enough from our batting to know we can score well at Single A, so I’m looking forward to the occasion and I know we can give a good account of ourselves.”

The Eagles have indeed scored 33 runs in two games, despite suffering defeats in both, so there is clear ability there. Mastering the fielding could make the difference — “I want us to focus on our game”, says Hoyle, “we need to start bringing down our error count and look to cut out the mistakes.”

Mike Cresswell and Will Belbin are two of the Eagles who have already done good work with both the bat and the glove, and the team will be looking for big performances.

The first ever Herts derby clash in 2007 was surrounded by hype as the Falcons took on the expansion Hawks for the first time “in anger”. The club has come a long way since then — now fielding five adult teams as well as strong youth sides and a Little League — but there is still something special about a derby.

As Raptors’ coach Arnie Longboy puts it: “I think this is the Herts baseball fixture of the season, because the club knows that Herts will come out on top! Play ball!”

The Eagles are the nominal host team for the fixture at Grovehill Ballpark, Hemel Hempstead, on Sunday May 12th. First pitch is at 1:30pm.