A Farewell to a Friend

Herts players past and present have joined members of the wider British baseball community to say an emotional goodbye to Kal Dimitrov.

The Raptors co-manager — who had served the club as a player, coach and official for more than a decade — passed away suddenly after collapsing during a league game last week. Beyond all of his formal roles with the club, he had been an inspiration and a friend.

On Saturday 11th of July, a memorial was held on the field at Grovehill in Hemel Hempstead. A floral tribute had been made featuring his number 12 — which has become the symbol of a week of both mourning and celebration for Herts. The number, and other images from Kal’s time at Herts, were posted around the diamond. During the ceremony, Kal’s number was retired.

All of those who attended laid baseball shirts and caps on the diamond as a tribute to their lost family member. Dozens and dozens of shirts fanned out from home plate towards the pitchers mound.

Some of them were small — youth shirts to show the crucial role which Kal had played in creating and expanding the successful Herts Little League project. Since it was set up, it has guided several players into the GB team, and has provided fun and camaraderie for many more.

And they were not all Herts shirts. Players who had battled against Kal Dimitrov in vital matches now came to pay their respects to him. Players from Richmond, Guildford, Brentwood, London Mets, Southern Nationals, Bracknell, Kent, Daws Hill, LYBL, Milton Keynes Bucks, Sidewinders and the Essex Redbacks were among those who came to lay their shirts down too. The Essex Archers were there, players who had been caught up in the tragic events of last Sunday.

There had been messages of support from around the world. London Mets players in Kutno in Poland had held a minute’s silence, and paid a further tribute on Saturday.  The former Falcons manager Jason Greenberg had sent his shirt from the US. And the former Texas Rangers catcher, Pudge Rodriguez — who had been told about Kal’s passing — said his prayers and thoughts were with all at Herts.

shirts laid out for Kal Dimitrov

Bruce Dullea began the tributes at Grovehill. The one-time Falcons manager, who now has a son pitching in the youth teams, spoke of how the club had flourished in the years when Kal — together with his brother Aspi — had been the driving forces. “As a tribute and legacy to Kal”, he said, “each of us must do whatever we can, either big or small, to continue to promote the game in this country”.

He concluded: “I’ve always believed that it’s not the number of days we’re on earth, but the impact we make upon others.  Kal’s impact was immense”.

Rod Naghar of the Herts Hawks has known both Dimitrov brothers since their university days, twenty years ago. He shared his memories of Kal, and raised a smile of recognition as he described how he could be seen, shirtless, phone clamped to his ear, watering the diamond before a game.

But Rod also recalled Kal’s diligence, his boundless knowledge, and his caring manner. “He inspired me as he was an inspiration to us all. His sunshine lit up our lives, his unbounded generosity, kindness and good humour touched us all.”

“Kal was taken from us too soon, but he will always be remembered and forever in our hearts”, he added. Jo Cornish read a poem,  and there was a minute’s applause from the crowd at 12 minutes past 12. 

The Dimitrov brothers look at the tributes

The Southampton Mustangs pay tribute at the game in Bracknell

As players took their chance to look at the tributes, there was then a surprise final speaker. Aspi Dimitrov took the mic to thank everyone for their support and their messages. In an emotional address, he said he would miss his brother in a million ways, right down to the mundane activity of watching television together — “watching television with Kal”, he remarked to laughter, “was different”.

Their brother Ilya was also present, along with their father and his wife. The Dimitrov’s shirts had received pride of place laid out at home plate – Kal’s 12, Aspi’s 4, Ilya’s 21 and now their father’s 48.

The BBF had kindly agreed to postpone all Herts league games which were due to have taken place this past weekend. On Sunday, a minute’s silence or a minute’s applause was observed at many games around the country — including in Liverpool, Hull, Leicester and at the Newton Aycliffe Spartans.

In a further statement on Sunday, Aspi Dimitrov said his family had been deeply touched by the affection which had been shown for Kal, and the solidarity from the baseball community.

The club intends to wear number 12 patches on its shirt-sleeves for the remainder of this year’s league games, and will decide on a permanent memorial to Kal in due course.