The baseball bonus: the Hunlock Series

It’s one of the moments in life that you rarely know about as it actually happens. It is not until later that it all becomes clear, writes Rob Jones. And, so, only now can I confirm that my final baseball activity of 2013 was lining out to the first baseman as the Blue Dogs went down to the Black Widows in the Hunlock Series.

You always want that moment to be a walkoff home run, or something similar, but as in much of life it is usually prosaic. During each season you notice the little milestones – I still remember scoring the first Raptors run of the season one year, and catching the ball for the final out in another — and together they build a bigger picture.

Hunlock Series action
Blue Dogs' Ben Marques grounds out in the battle against the Black Widows

I had hoped to be part of the final weekend of the Hunlock, the extravaganza of single-inning games, but rain washed it out and now I am back at work. So it’s over. And that lineout-cum-failed-flare was the final full stop.

The Hunlock Series is the club’s now traditional coda to the baseball season, fought between rejigged rosters of all the Herts teams. Also traditional is my peaen to its charms, and 2013 should be no different. The sun shone kindly on the second round of games, the one in which I took part. It was relaxed yet competitive, fun yet serious. And there was good baseball on show.

Perhaps most notably, pitching ace Ryan Bird got to show off his famous fastball in a series of great moments. There were match-ups with batters from the youth leagues and from the Single-A Eagles, who got a taste of what they are striving for. They probably heard the ball go past rather than actually seeing it, but you still learn the lesson. There was the gloriously even contest against slugger Andy Cornish, the Hawks co-manager, who defiantly won by ripping a double down the left field line. And there was the pitching duel against Liam Green — of which more later.

Old faces are welcomed back for the Hunlock — such as Andrew Fulford, a hero of the Hawks 2012 post-season, and Simon Langton who now plays his baseball in Hull. And these are mixed up with players who are brand new to the game, such as Mike Green of the Blue Dogs, who showed both power and poise in his first at-bats.

The spirit is always great and perhaps that comes from the feeling that you are getting a little something extra, a baseball bonus, by playing into October.

Hnlock Series action
Darrin Ward in action on the pitching mound

So how was my Hunlock playing experience? Actually pretty decent, considering it was my first baseball action in five weeks, and only my second in about nine weeks. I made some plays at third base — tagging out a runner on a throw from Carlos Velasco-Caruz, and even fielding a grounder and throwing out a White Lightning runner at first.

I also felt that I had made one of my best ever plays from the position to secure the final vital out of the game against the Red Roosters. Remember that pitching duel I was telling you about? Well, at the bottom of the final inning, with the go-ahead run on third base, and two men out, Liam Green chopped a hit into the hole towards short. I roved to snare the ball, and with no chance to get Kimi Saionji racing home I hurled it as hard as I could to Rod Naghar at first.

Bang. Bang. But I was sure the play had gone in our favour and the Dogs started to celebrate a job well done when the umpire called Liam safe. The Roosters instead celebrated a walk off, while complaints about the call were added to earlier complaints about the controversial balk call which had put Kimi on second and ultimately into scoring position.

But this being the Hunlock rather than a big league playoff game, the controversy faded quickly. We are all still talking to each other. No helmets were thrown. On this occasion, I have the satisfaction of knowing I am right, and that is enough!

With the bat, I went 0-3, but got good wood on it every time. I grounded out against Mike Cattermole, but moved the runner over. Against the heat of Liam Green, I thought it would be best to try to go the other way. I hit the ball almost exactly where I wanted it, just about two feet too low, and it was caught by Kyle Lloyd-Jones at first base.

Then there was that final out, against the Black Widows’ and Herts Falcons’ very own pitching Yoda, Darrin Ward. His main trade is not exactly high heat but I was still determined the get that hit to right field. Instead, Gilberto Medina’s glove was the recipient of my final gift.

The baseball year was over. The Blue Dogs hoped for a big comeback in the final round of games, but a double-rainout meant the Widows took the title.  But maybe the result is not what is important. Maybe it’s about the fact that the baseball family which has been built in Herts is still so strong, so deep into the year. And that it can once again hope for even better next year.