Greetings from Wilderness Park

My aching muscles and joints — including those in my typing fingers — have finally recovered enough from my outing a fortnight ago against the Richmond Dukes, writes Rob Jones, that I can now share a few thoughts on the game. In fact, since I have now begun a forced month-long break from the game due to work, it’s a good time to reflect on the year so far.

Let’s start at the end, with the defeat by Richmond. It was a frustrating game for us all as, despite a good start, we didn’t ever lay a finger on them. We knew we had to try to get a good pitcher out of his rhythm and out of the game and we never did that. Instead, he stayed in charge. We hurt ourselves with some bad base-running which killed rallies – twice we were out trying to steal third. Fundamentals can help you win games, and also save you from losing them.

Mike Cresswell
One of the Eagles stars, Mike Cresswell, keeps up morale

My own batting was disappointing again. In my previous outing — another two weeks ago — I had started to get the better of things with some good drives. I felt that I was the baseball equivalent of stainless steel – I was rust free. Not perfect, by any means, but after a good run of games there were no flaws which could be blamed on a lack of action.

However, now I  made more clunky contact off the tip and handle of the bat, escaping with just one infield single (I reached base twice, but I assume one was scored as an error). I think my average for the season thus far is .458 (depending how you interpret a couple of plays it could be as high as .608, but I try to be firm and fair!) with my OBP at .608. So it’s certainly respectable but it’s the mis-hits that bother me. There’s nothing you can do about solid hits which find a glove, but little dribblers on the infield are never going to get the job done.

In the field, I am much more happy with the way the year has gone so far. I’ve played mainly second base which is fine by me, it suits me well. But I have taken decent outfield catches too, and even threw out a runner from shortstop this week. It wasn’t exactly text book – I managed to dive in the dirt towards third base to grab a ground ball , and fired off the throw as quickly as I could. Therefore it seemed to bounce about four times, but either the runner was slow or he had set off slowly because he thought it was through — either way, we got him! While my muscles may have stopped aching, the skin I tore off my arm to make the play has not yet grown back.

And I have to say a quick word about my two innings of pitching, too. It’s my second outing of the season, and was a lot of fun. I actually felt that I threw the ball better against Tonbridge, even though I made just 2/3 of an inning that time. This time two infield flies helped, and two strikeouts — only the second and third of my pitching career!

I also managed to hit the front edge of the plate twice, making the ball pop straight up in the air and into the catcher’s waiting glove. Remarkably, Slater had pulled off the same trick in his innings. Tell me honestly, have you ever seen that three times in one game?? Anyway, enough about pitching for now. It might demand a whole article in the near future!

Rob Jones
Rob Jones in one of his better at-bats

Instead, let’s talk about the Eagles. Sitting pretty at just one game under .500, with more than 140 runs scored, is more than anyone could surely have hoped for a team with so many genuine rookies. As a new boy to the team — if not to much else — I am really impressed by the enthusiasm, spirit and camaraderie on the Eagles. Games have been fun to play. A lot of the credit goes to the manager Duncan Hoyle. He has led from the front, taking pitching duties, hitting well, and using his resources cannily to help win.

There have been many moments to remember:

• The mobbing of Will Belbin as he scored the winning run against the Raptors in the rain. Great drama in a walk-off, no matter whether it is British Single-A, or the US Major Leagues.

• Five of us gathering comically at the third base coaches box to shout at Adrian Smithers to hold up as he ran enthusiastically for home. He said he didn’t hear so well in the batting helmet, so we were there to help.

• The self-same Smithers coming through time and again with the bat, and limping desperately round the bases to help the cause. For those of you old enough to remember, it was reminiscent of England’s Terry Butcher in the famous World Cup qualifier against Sweden.

• MVP candidate Mike Cresswell going half way from third base on a fly ball, returning to the base once he realised it had been caught, then loudly declaring “F**k it”, tagging and sprinting for home anyway. Gung-ho. He made it.

• My closest moment yet to a home run, at Essex. Not sure I will ever hit one but it seems this was my best effort so far! I wasn’t looking, as I had my head down going for two once I knew it was clearing the left fielder, but as I pulled up they said “You were robbed”. A ground rule double, then *sad face*

And so, I trudge off to the baseball wilderness for a few weeks as the Eagles surge on without me. Hopefully the English summer will hold off just enough to allow for a few more games and a few more wins. Though not so many that they don’t want me back!

I have managed to get in a little private training — which amounts to throwing a ball against the wall in the local park – and hopefully I might make some sessions at Grovehill. Either way, I will hope to build on what has been an enjoyable season so far, and one which still promises much more.