“Yeah! That’s an RBI, that’s an RBI! Well done!” The athletic man in the Grovehill dugout applauded enthusiastically as a hit drove in another run for Herts. He looked right at home.
But his more usual place was on the sideline of a basketball court, not a baseball diamond. For this was Robert Youngblood, the Head Coach of the Hemel Storm of Britain’s National League Division 1.
In 2018, the Storm surpassed themselves by winning the National Cup, a knockout tournament not unlike the FA cup or… well…like nothing which exists in baseball.
They also progressed deep into their league playoffs in Division One in the Spring. They beat Solent Kestrels and Reading Rockets and staged a comeback in the final against Worthing Thunder before just coming up short.
In June, Coach Youngblood came down to Herts baseball club at Grovehill for a bit of cross-sports co-operation. The Herts youth teams were playing BBF Super League games against Brighton and London Sports. And – like any good ball club – we like to get a celebrity to throw out the opening pitch.
After chatting with the players as they warmed up, Youngblood took to his starring role with the ease of a veteran performer. Taking the mound, he waved to the crowds, and warmed up a little with a couple of trial pitches.
This was clearly a guy who took success seriously. There would be no dolly-drops here, no eephus pitch. This was going to be a heater in the zone. It smacked the glove. Personal pride had been satisfied.
Youngblood joined the Hemel Storm in the summer of 2017 and has helped to step the team up a gear.
He’d had a successful career as a player in the British and European basketball leagues – playing for Milton Keynes Lions, London Towers and Leicester Riders, as well as spells in the German Bundesliga.
He ended his career in the top ten of several key statistical categories – including points, rebounds and blocks.
As a coach, he led Essex Leopards to playoffs and trophies, and was on the staff of the London Lions of the BBL before heading to Hemel.
Way, way back when, as a kid in Florida, he had played baseball. It’s common for US kids to play all sports before opting for their best. So his visit to Grovehill clearly stirred memories.
Youngblood had been a catcher as a kid. It went fine for a while, but he had trouble with the mask. It never quite fit correctly, he couldn’t see so well. So he would wear it hitched up a little….
You can see where this is going can’t you?
One day his luck ran out and he took a foul ball right in the noggin. His catching career ended there.
“I played outfield from then on” he said, “to keep a safe distance. But I wasn’t such a good outfielder…”
Coach Youngblood certainly put his all into training with the Herts Under-8s and Under-11s once the Under 15s had got their games under way.
He talked dedication, and the fun of Florida and Disneyworld. He talked playing as a team, and enjoying what you do.
He pitched to some batters, took his hacks at the plate, and ran the bases. And he did it all with his Reese’s Pieces in his pocket. The mark of a true pro.