Last month, Herts Baseball Club elected Will Zucker and Aspi Dimitrov as Co-Directors of Youth Baseball. We asked them about the launch of the brand new youth baseball league.
What can young players look forward to when the new league commences?
How many of the children and their parents watching MLB on their TVs have wondered what it would be like to wear those uniforms and play for a team on a beautiful baseball diamond? Or compete in playoffs surrounded by cheering fans enjoying the food and unique atmosphere of the ballpark? Even without MLB’s multi-billion dollar budget, we want to offer the players and families of our new league an experience as close to MLB as possible.
Where will the league games be played?
Our club has two ballparks: one in Hemel Hempstead, another in North West London. They are conveniently located within a thirty minute drive from each other. Substantial investment has gone into Grovehill Ballpark, making it one of the best baseball venues in the UK. Crowdfunding is underway to repeat that success story at Basing Hill Ballpark.
What will the league schedule and format be?
Though we have two ballparks, the league will minimise travel for families so that around 75% of the season will be played at the team’s nearest ballpark. The season will start in May and end in the middle of July. Each team will play around twelve games: four home single games, two home doubleheaders and two away doubleheaders. Similar to MLB, teams will be in a race to qualify for the postseason playoffs which will determine the league champions.
We are still considering whether the champions will win the privilege to represent Herts at the National Baseball Championships in September or whether the club will select an All-Star team from all of the Herts teams in the league.
What will game days look like?
Our goal is to recreate that special baseball atmosphere in our ballparks with food, music and a lot more. We want children and their families to enjoy game days, allowing developing players the incredible feeling of playing in front of fans – similar to the superstars of MLB.
The two home and two away doubleheaders will be large scale events, bringing all teams to the same venue. Grovehill Ballpark may even be able to stage games for teams from all age groups – eight or more in total.
We are mindful of the increasing pressures on families to balance work, school and other commitments. Game days will run no longer than two hours, though team managers have discretion to extend that time a little if the players would benefit from extra practice before or after games.
League games are to be played on Saturdays, but we are also considering youth team games in NW London on Sunday mornings before the adult league plays. In this way, Herts adult players can be spectators for the youth league and the younger leagues and their families would feel welcome to stay after their games to watch adult league action in the afternoon.
What age groups will the league cover?
Players aged 6 to 14 with an Under-11, Under-13 and Under-15 league. Initially, the Under-13 and Under-15 leagues will be combined until we accumulate a sufficient number of players for separate U13 and U15 leagues. Players over the age of 14 move up to the Herts adult league teams and we hope to select Under-17 players to represent Herts at the BBF U17 national championships.
What level of coaching can the players expect?
The league already has five coaches in place all of whom have either played or coached in America, Japan, Britain’s National League or the Great Britain National Teams. The league is looking to recruit more coaches. Those interested in getting involved, or who would like more details should contact the club.
How much will it cost to play in the league?
We want baseball to be affordable for every family. We have set membership fees very low – £49 for the U11s and £59 for the U13s and U15s – probably the lowest in the UK.
The club provides all of the baseball equipment such as bats, balls, helmets, including fielding gloves for kids that don’t have their own. The uniform is not included in the membership fee, but to reduce that cost, youth players joining the club for the first time will be given a £6 voucher which they can use when buying a Herts New Era 9FORTY baseball cap.
How many teams will play in the league?
Our aim is to have four league teams in each age group – two based in Hemel Hempstead and two in NW London. We’re assessing the option to add interleague games with teams from neighbouring clubs, with a possibility of external teams joining the league. However, it’s essential that these teams are no more than around 30 minutes from either ballpark. At the moment there are just one or two other clubs that meet that criteria as our two ballparks are the only ones in the region.
Have the team names been announced and what uniforms will they wear?
The teams have adopted the names of the Herts adult league teams. For example, Herts Falcons U11, Herts Londoners U15. This is an approach more common with Premier League football teams and we felt that the young players would enjoy playing under the same Herts team names and they can progress through the age groups and into the big leagues in the coming years. We will be announcing more details about the teams’ uniforms in the coming weeks.
How will coaches select the players for their respective teams?
This league welcomes everyone from complete beginners to advanced players. Everyone plays and will have an important role in the team. Children will be invited to the Open Days in Spring Training to prepare for the season, a great way to introduce newcomers to the game of baseball.
The managers will select players for their teams adopting a system similar to the MLB Draft. This should ensure that all the teams are of equal strength, which should make it an exciting and a close race for the playoffs.
The number of youth players was very low last year. Will you be able to grow fast enough before the start of the season and do you have a backup plan if you don’t?
Despite a significant drop of youth players in the previous three years, we are already seeing a lot of interest from both former and new youth players and their families. We started our discussions with schools in Hemel Hempstead and in North West London; we are fortunate to have a newly appointed Head of U13/U11, Cory English who is an active member of his local school working as both parent governor and freelance teacher. Even if a particular age group does not have enough players for a 4-team league, we have alternative options such as a best-of-7 World Series format and interleague games similar to MLB.
Can Herts fans and the wider community help with the launch of the league?
It’s crucial that the league inspires support from the community to spread the word. We are asking Herts baseball families to share news of our league on social media and with their friends, colleagues and neighbours. If every club member recommends the league to two friends, we will reach our target.
How does Covid affect the league’s plans?
The NHS and the government have done tremendously well with the vaccination roll out. It’s encouraging to see the statistics already proving it is effective in controlling Covid. Of course, the virus remains unpredictable and we will ensure government guidance is strictly followed. The government already approved a Covid-secure protocol for baseball games last year so we are hopeful to welcome a full first season of Herts Youth Baseball League (HYBL).
Players are now registering for the 2021 season. More information about joining the league can be found here.
To come to try baseball at no cost at one of the upcoming Open Days, or if you require more information, contact the club.