Over the last few weeks the Herts Baseball Club front office has been opening mailboxes with trepidation in anticipation of bad news. A final confirmation of that news came a week or so ago. During the winter period the big clubs in Europe have been holding negotiations with the Herts Falcons 2013 MVP, Xavi Gonzalez. The paperwork has been received and the Falcons shortstop will be wearing the colours of the Stuttgart Reds in 2014.
The 24-year-old Venezuelan joined Herts 12 months ago and played a key role in the very successful 2013 season for the Falcons which saw the team finish top in the regular season standings for the first time in the club’s history, with a winning percentage of .857. His outstanding fielding ability was recognised by the league awarding him the NBL Gold Glove at shortstop. There aren’t many 5-tool players in the world and Gonzalez is one of them. His batting average was .411 and slugging average .712 with 3 home runs which made him the joint-team leader in that category. Defensively he committed only 2 errors. We can add his speed to that with 13 stolen bases.
As one of the best players in the NBL last season it will be difficult for the Falcons to replace a player like Xavi Gonzalez, but this means that there is an opportunity for someone to take his spot in the lineup and become a star just like him. The Opening Day clash with the London Mets is just a few days away so it will be interesting to see who will play in the shortstop position this Sunday.
“Everyone in the club will miss Xavi not just because of his baseball ability, but we will also miss him as a person and because of what he brought off the field” said club president, Aspi Dimitrov. He added: “There aren’t many players who would make a 4-hour round trip from Bournemouth every week for games and training sessions”.
Gonzalez is expected to make his debut for the Stuttgart Reds in the Germand Bundesliga this Sunday at 12pm UK time in their Opening Day game against Heidenheim Heideköpfe. The Reds finished fifth in the South Division with a .500 winning percentage.
So does this transaction carry any significance in terms of the long-term prospects for growth and development of Herts Baseball Club and the British baseball league as a whole? Does this mean that clubs like Herts cannot compete with teams in the Netherlands, Germany and Italy due to their financial superiority? Will all of Britain’s rising stars end up playing under similar professional or semi-professional contracts in these countries? A few years ago the answers to these questions would probably have been pessimistic, but there are signs of a shift in direction in the UK. There is a buzz around the leagues right now and obvious signs that clubs are starting to realize that there is potential to grow the sport and secure a market share similar to the British ice hockey and basketball professional leagues. Front offices are beginning to approach the running of their clubs as a business generating extra income which is then quickly reinvested into baseball infrastructure, grassroots development and promoting the game in the community.
“We are very optimistic that in the next few years we will be able to turn the table and compete financially with the big European leagues. The traffic of players will change direction and we hope that we will be able to see Xavi back in a Herts jersey. This gives us one more reason to push even harder” said Dimitrov.