Euphoric house: Eagles walk off as winners

In more than a decade playing baseball, I have been walked off on many times, writes Rob Jones. I can easily think of two occasions within a few weeks of each other, when first Braintree and then the Old Timers snatched a victory from my team in the bottom of the ninth. And yet it took much rummaging in my brain to find an instance when I had enjoyed the euphoria instead of the deflation of a walk-off.

That just shows how rare and special Sunday’s Eagles victory was over the Raptors. A rain-soaked, see-sawing four hour epic of conflicting emotions. Anticipation. Concern. Confidence. Frustration. Jubilation.

I had a lot invested in the game. For one thing, I had used up a day of my annual leave from work to be able to take part! And the weather was threatening to scupper it all. In the end, the heavy rain never really materialised, more a steady drizzle. And us in the British baseball community… well, we laugh in the face of steady drizzle.

Reaching high: Rob Jones at bat on Sunday

The Eagles as a whole had invested a lot too. After two heavy losses, you want to win. I don’t think there was ever any question of a grudge match, but you do want to do well against your most direct rivals — and what could be more direct than the Raptors, the other Herts Single-A team, and the one which is built for greater success?

When we started badly you feared the worst. Rookie errors made by rookies are no surprise, but that didn’t make Duncan any happier about them, and it didn’t make us any happier. The Raptors can hit well, and they didn’t need our help to do it. When we got our own bats out, that led to the confidence and some satisfaction. And we tightened the defense considerably.

I have not hit particularly well so far this season, but managed better contact in this game. There were a couple of ground balls from the tip of the bat, but at least one of them allowed to reach base on either an infield hit or an error (I couldn’t entirely see which). And other hits, including a double, were more solid. I was less than an inch away from a perfect triple down the right field line, too – frustratingly, that was just another strike.

But at that point it didn’t seem to matter. We were well in control. Not much came my way in the field, that I can recall. But when I was removed along with other starters I didn’t mind too much.

That was when this really became a game of two halves though! The Raptors made a remarkable comeback, and I tip my hat to them for that. Not only the 13 runs they scored in one inning, but the way they fought to use that as inspiration to actually go on and win. Watching from the sidelines as the runs came in, and as Eagles rallies were snuffed out, was a nervy experience.

The biggest triumph of the day was for the team spirit of the Eagles. Because everyone really wanted this win, and refused to crumble even when it would have been far easier. Momentum and confidence count for a lot in baseball, and seeing a 17-run lead eroded doesn’t make you feel good!

But the ending was the storybook one — for the Eagles, at least. A pinch hit single, stolen bases, the walk-off hit and the mobbing at home plate. Whilst I did finally manage to conjure up a walk off win from my memory (from 2006 – you can even watch that one on YouTube) there was no home plate party that time. This time, we had our act together more.

So there was the euphoria. The first Eagles win of 2013, a clear upset victory, and a fitting finish to a great game. An experience which defines why we turn up on a rainy Sunday. Why we turned up for so many rainy Sundays before we got to this point. A lot of laughs, some really good plays, and a good competitive ball-game from which both sides should take a lot of heart. I speak as an Eagle this year, and the players on our roster should definitely be proud of that win.