A lot of quality baseball players have shown off their skills in a Herts cap over the years. But we still felt lucky to be able to welcome former AA pitcher Chris Squires to the club during this past weekend to share his knowledge with our players of all ages.
Chris was drafted by the Miami Marlins (then the Florida Marlins, of course) in 2010 after a college career at Indiana University which saw him finish as the Hoosiers’ all time saves leader with 20. In his final campaign, he notched up 10.71 strikeouts per 9 innings.
With the Marlins organisation, Chris pitched as a reliever in A, Advanced A and AA. He had an ERA of 3.73, and struck out more than 100 batters before moving on to play in Independent Leagues, and now plays in Europe.
His first event with Herts was at the club’s field in north west London, where we have been running weekly sessions this summer. On Friday evening, he ran through drills to improve our players’ throwing, fielding and hitting.
The core message was clear: “You have to practice a lot. Practice as much as you think you need to, then do some more.”
Chris added: “I am really picky about the detail. Think about what you are trying to achieve with every drill that you do, what are you trying to improve. Focus on that.”
On Saturday, there was a full day of work for Chris Squires at Grovehill, firstly with some of our youngest players. Around 20 boys and girls from not only Herts but also the London Mets, London Sports and the Leicester Blue Sox took part.
After a warm-up, there was throwing. Chris emphasised a strong core, and fast arm speed. In crucial fielding drills, there was attention on a good fielding position, and also on attacking a ground ball.
“Major leaguers still work on all their fundamentals”, he told our youngsters. “Sure, they find it easier because they have already put in the years, but they still have to work on all their basics.”
He happily fielded an endless series of questions from both the kids and from their parents. These ranged from technical aspects of how to achieve more power, to whether or not he is married, and whether he got a signing bonus when he was drafted.
In this session — and in another with our Under 15s and Under 17s later in the day — there were plenty of questions about his time in the minor leagues.
US baseball players are drafted by Major League organisations either from their High Schools or from College. Then they play in the club’s range of Minor League teams to work on their skills and develop as athletes.
These leagues are ranked from A, through Advanced A, to AA and AAA (pronounced as Double-A and Triple-A) before moving on to the Big League Club if they make it all the way.
Chris pitched for teams including the Jupiter Hammerheads, the Jamestown Jammers and the Jacksonville Suns.
Did he face guys who are now top stars, came a question? Yes, he pitched to Cristian Yelich in what’s called “live batting practice”, but not Marcell Ozuna (Gold Glovers and All-Stars who also came up with the Marlins).
What was his favourite stadium to play in? At the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, in the Florida panhandle, where the ocean is just beyond the outfield fence (“I was in the bullpen”, he explained, where the relievers wait to be needed. “So we spent a lot of time looking at the ocean!”)
Did you ever get injured? “Not playing baseball. Punching a water cooler. My coach was NOT happy!”
“It didn’t last as long as I’d have liked, but it happens”, Chris said of his time in an MLB setup. “You have to find your next opportunity”
Over lunch, there was a little Home Run Derby action in which our professional pitcher (“Yeah, I’ve hit a few grand slams”) took on Walter Bates, a slugger from our own Herts Falcons, and veteran Darrin Ward, currently doing his thing with the Herts Hawks in Double-A.
As the kids filled the outfield to catch and collect balls, our three power hitters put on a display. After three hotly contested rounds, Walter Bates came out the winner, and can say that he beat a former Minor League player in a hitting contest (whisper it quietly that our guy is a lefty, aiming at a short fence in right field).
Chris Squires was back into it with a youth group in the afternoon, featuring Herts kids as well as those from Brighton and the London Mets. “We are going to step it up a bit now”, he warned them, “because as you get older you start to work more on your strength. It gets more intense but you have to push on through.”
But he also warned against just focussing on power: “As a pitcher, don’t throw to the radar gun. You are pitching to get the batter out.”
Chris went through pitcher’s fielding practice with this group, before taking some one-on-one sessions on Sunday at Grovehill.
He returns now to his day job — at the Dornbirn Indians baseball team in Austria. There he is a player and coach, and a coordinator and coach for the youth programmes.
The Herts Falcons manager, Cris Hiche, spent a season at Dornbirn in 2016, and was instrumental in getting our guest coach along for this very successful weekend. Our thanks to him for all his work.
The final word goes to Chris Squires, in answer to a question from one of our kids about why he chose to play baseball.
“Baseball is a sport where you are not just improving for yourself, everything you do helps the team. If you improve as a defender, that helps every pitcher you play with. If you improve as a hitter, that helps all your fielders. It’s not just about you.”
“And I have always loved baseball.”
That’s all good with us.