Herts Hawks extended their winning run to 24 games but the streak was over 2 hours later as they shared the spoils in their doubleheader with the league-leading East London Latin Boys.
With both teams still unbeaten this season and placed in first and second place in the standings this was an eagerly anticipated clash which saw the highest attendance of the Double-A League season so far. The two teams had never met before so the pre-game batting and fielding practice was carefully observed by players and coaches on both sides. It resembled a heavyweight boxing weigh-in with both teams sizing each other up and looking for strengths to watch out for and weaknesses to exploit later in the day.
It became clear very quickly that the Latin Boys have a hard-hitting batting lineup so there would not be any easy outs. Pitchers were also throwing harder than what the Hawks had seen so far this season. This however did not faze the Hawks, who struck early to take a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Despite the Latin Boys getting their lead-off batter on-base in the bottom of the inning, it ended abruptly after a catch at the wall by right fielder Dan Bartram was turned into a double play following his throw to first base in a bang-bang play which saw both the runner and first baseman Michael Cresswell dive to touch first base in a photo-finish for the force-out. The Latin Boys’ bats did not seem that comfortable against starting pitcher Andrew Slater who has been serving BBF batters with a regular diet of junk pitches for many years now. He recently added a never before seen pitch to his repertoire, which he has named “Lindsay Lohan”.
The home team gradually managed to work their way back into the game and took a 7-5 lead after 5 innings. In the penultimate inning they retired the first two Herts batters quickly. It seemed like the Hawks’ winning streak was about to end. With two outs and no one on base, co-manager Greg Bochan started a rally which saw 7 Herts runs score and turned the game on its head. The Hawks now had a 5-run lead and needed just 6 outs. Louis Hare took the mound and managed to pin down the Latin Boys for a 12-10 win with the help of his defence which included a spectacular diving catch by Sony Lama in left field – a play of the year nomination.
There was no time for celebrating as the second game of the doubleheader was coming up and the Hawks had to face the Latin Boy’s ace pitcher Jeffrey Aguilar. In response Herts went with starting pitcher Nic Goetz who made his debut having missed 2016 with a fractured wrist – an injury sustained in unusual circumstances off the baseball field.
Once again the visitors took an early 2-1 lead which they extended to 6-4 after 5 innings. Nic Goetz was in full control, but this was his first outing in two years and he had reached his pitch count limit. Unlike the first game, this time the Hawks bullpen was not able to hold down the explosive bats of the East Londoners who went on to win it 14-8.
That ended the Hawks’ 24-game winning streak. The last time they lost a game of baseball was in September 2015 so it was natural for the players to feel a sense of disappointment that they couldn’t keep it going. But co-managers Andrew Slater and Greg Bochan were quick to congratulate the team on another outstanding performance on the day and over the previous 20 months. They also gave credit to the Latin Boys who are a very strong team which will be in the thick of the playoff race this year.
This was the first visit of a Herts team to the home of the Latin Boys at Salibury Hall Playing Fields, and we must give a special mention to the home team and their fans for creating a very enjoyable atmosphere with a Latin American flavour. The club and their field were created just two years ago. During our visit we learned that this was not an easy project. Across the country there are unsung British Baseball heroes who make a great sacrifice to build and grow the game of baseball in the UK. We understand that Pepe Anderson played a key role in creating this club, securing the field and turning it into a baseball diamond. The club was not able to receive government funding for the project and Anderson decided to finance it by putting the costs of the ballpark on his credit card which he is paying to this day. As we left the ballpark at the end of the day, Anderson was rolling up the temporary outfield fence, despite limping as a result of being hit by pitch in the second game. We hope that the large Latin American community which had gathered to enjoy the game, the barbeque and the Latin American music will mobilize behind Anderson to realize the great potential for this club.
It was satisfying for the visiting Hawks players to learn that Herts Baseball Club had already contributed to the Latin Boys’ project two years ago by donating the orange outfield fence when Herts Falcons player Edwin Alcantara asked Herts if they could help this new club in some way.
The Hawks have a week off. They will be back in league action on 4 June when they travel to the banks of the river Thames to face the Richmond Barons.