Some races are tight. Some go right down to the wire, and beyond it. And sometimes two deserving winners can’t be separated.
After a year which saw the Herts Raptors reach their greatest ever heights, the players have voted for two team-mates to share the MVP award for 2016 – Matthew Jackson and Michael Cresswell.
Matt made his first appearances for the Raptors last year, as they came together as a new force in the second half of the season. This year he swiftly became a rock in centre-field, addressing one of the team’s great needs with a series of crucial outfield catches.
His batting also became a potent weapon for the Raptors, and he rose to the the occasion in the playoffs. Matt went 3-for-4 in the visit to Tonbridge, hitting a triple for the first big Herts blow. He hit two more triples in the losing effort against the Hawks.
For joint manager Michael Cresswell it is his second career MVP award. He helped lead the team to the post-season; batted a rumoured .800; picked up his first career pitching win; and was nominated for play of the year.
Mike has been an increasingly important part of the Herts baseball family since he came on board in 2012. He was MVP of the Herts Raptors in 2014, and Best Pitcher in 2015. But he has called the 2016 season “the most enjoyable ever”.
Voting had to be extended in the MVP race because of the tie, and then had to be extended again. We don’t know the full details, due to intense secrecy, but it’s clear there were heroes a-plenty for voters to choose from in the Raptors year.
It started in May with a visit to the London Musketeers, the beaten semi-finalists in 2015. The Raptors won this one 7-3, and for players schooled in the slugfests of Single-A it was possibly the most high-quality game they’d ever been part of.
The new pitching ace Matt Corran was the hero here, racking up strikeouts after emerging in late 2015 as a force. But Michael Cresswell was crucial on this day, too, earning his Play of the Year nomination for an unassisted double play which snuffed out a London threat at a critical time.
The season saw more wins, then progressed to Haverhill for an epic victory which showed the renewed fighting spirit in the team as well as the talent. Matt Jackson polished his reputation for excellent outfield catches in this game, including saving a home run and securing the final out.
Joint manager Paul Barton picked up his first career pitching win in this game, and started 4-for-4 with the bat. He would go on to have another tremendous season in all parts of the field, building on his 2015 MVP win.
In a blowout defeat against Essex in May, young Aaron Witter had started his bid to be a Raptors hero. After a wobbly bit of pitching, he switched to shortstop and sparkled. The managers took immediate notice.
In a home game against London in July he was the pick as starting shortstop. His first play of the game was a major-league style backhand stop and a powerful throw to nab the runner. Aaron’s hero status would grow in the playoffs, and his contributions throughout the year have earned him the Rookie of the Year Award for the Raptors in 2016.
The team secured their place in the post-season with a win over Essex Archers at Grovehill. Mike Cresswell capped it all with a walk-off, inside the park grand slam home run to secure the 26-11 victory.
OK, so maybe the “official scorer” wouldn’t have chalked it up as a home run. But the “official scorer” doesn’t write stories like this.
And he couldn’t have written the story of the Raptors’ playoff win over the defending Single-A champions, Tonbridge. The fixtures were changed late, with Herts switched to what clearly looked a more daunting tie.
They were playing away. They had only 9 players. One of them drove more than 200 miles to get there. Another had only just had laser eye surgery.
But Herts won this 23-18, and wrote history.
The youngest guy on the team, Aaron Witter, drove in a fistful of runs and pitched brilliantly for the save in the tensest of circumstances. The oldest regular, Rob Jones, made what was probably the most crucial catch of his life as he secured the second out of the ninth inning with a sliding infield grab.
Cresswell and Barton were again superb, with the latter turning in his finest ever pitching performance. Jim Arnott, who had become an important relief pitcher as well as a constant hitting threat, was masterful. And Jackson again made the final catch, deep in the outfield.
The Raptors’ playoff run ended at the hands of the eventual national champions, the Herts Hawks, in a game which was tight until the Hawks ran away in the sixth. But overall, 2016 has to be recorded as a “win”.
It it was a season in which so many had played a role, too many to mention. Michelle Johnson made a great impact after a long layoff from the club; while Darren Priest was an invaluable clubhouse presence.
But the Raptors have now voted and the men deservedly holding the MVP trophy are Michael Cresswell and Matthew Jackson.
The other Herts adult teams — the Hawks and Falcons — will announce their own awards in the coming days. The club as a whole will also hand out awards for the Play of the Year and the very opposite, the Nob Out Award, given for a moment of baseball-related foolishness.