The British weather doesn’t always allow for those visions of long summer days at the ballpark to become a reality.
You know the vision – the sun beats down, the wind is still, the sky is blue. As far as the eye can see, there are baseball games being played. The smell of hot dogs wafts across the field.
This Sunday, the Herts Futures Tournament was able to deliver all of that. The final event of the year for youth players in England was blessed with a beautiful sunny day at Grovehill Ballpark in Hemel Hempstead.
14 teams from 10 baseball clubs from across the country descended on the home of Herts for the twelfth HFT. They came from as far apart as Cartmel Valley in the Lake District, and Brighton on the south coast.
The competition this year would feature two age groups, Under-11 and Under-13, with teams playing a round of games in pools before each pool winner faced off in the finals.
The first feature of the day was the introduction of the teams to each other and to our four umpires for the day. Blake Taylor and David Jones were joined this year by two Herts volunteers, Mantas Poderys and Jack O’Brien, to oversee the games. The club is, as always, grateful to them for giving up their time to keep events running smoothly.
The teams are all introduced so they can high five the umpires and each other. They all then observed the national anthem, and gathered for a family photograph.
As a little something extra for 2019, all the youth players got to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. All of them. Simultaneously.
Blake Taylor had volunteered to act as the catcher (or maybe just as the “target”?). Once he was in place, the players lined up in front of the mound. They jostled for prime position, like race horses at the start of the Grand National.
There was a dramatic countdown over the public address system, and then their air was filled with a torrent of baseballs. You could see on the faces of the pitchers that they had relished the experience!
Video of this wave of baseballs can be seen on our Facebook and Flickr pages.
The first game of the day saw first-timers the Cartmel Valley Lions draw with the London Mets in the Under-13 category. Another debutant team, the Yankees from RAF Lakenheath, got their first win of the day against the Forest Glade Redbacks.
When they started their campaign for the day, it became clear that the Leicester Little Sox in the U-13 section were a force to be reckoned with. Their combination of pitching, speed and hitting beat Herts – who had joined forces with Guildford for the purposes of the day.
In the Under-11 grouping, London Sports powered off to a great start to beat Northants Centurions, before adding the scalp of the London Mets. The Brighton Fireballs showed their intent with a win over Cartmel Valley Tigers.
There were great plays across the four baseball diamonds. Leicester turned a double play to end one of their games; Cartmel Valley’s pitcher made an impressive diving catch. There were plenty of booming hits, and young kids learning the art of pitching performed admirably under pressure.
Back near the pavilion, the Herts concession team was working hard providing refreshments to the masses.
Coffee was the most popular demand during the morning but. once lunchtime came around, it was the traditional hot dog that came to the fore. In fact, a chili dog and an “Outfield Dog” were also on offer. In the afternoon, home-made cake and Krispy Kreme donuts were the thing to have.
In the U-11 final, London Sports took on a mix of the Brighton Fireballs and LYBL. Many clubs joined up for these end of season tournaments, to ensure that players could get a game, and it was good to see them working together. London won this one 5-4 with a walk-off double, ending an excellent day for these teams.
The U-13 final saw the RAF Lakenheath Yankees take on the Leicester Little Sox. Both were undefeated. In the climax, it was the Sox who took the win 6-2 in a closely fought game.
A week earlier, Leicester players had also finished part of the East of England team which was runner-up in the U-10s at the YNBC, so this completed a successful tournament season for them.
Leicester v Guild-Herts
Since its creation in 2008, the Herts Futures Tournament has been a great day for the youth baseball community to get together at the end of the year. The club was delighted to see so many players, parents and coaches come along to enjoy it once again.
It has been a big year for British baseball, with the arrival of MLB games in London. The events at Grovehill on Saturday suggest that the future is bright and the game can continue to grow.
Our full photo album from the day can be seen on our Flickr page – please feel free to find yourself!