The return for the Herts Falcons was an emotional and hugely positive moment, even if the results were not the stuff of dreams.
After a year out of British baseball’s top division in order to rebuild, the Falcons are back in the National Baseball League (NBL) for 2023 with a revamped roster and ethos. The team is at the forefront of Herts’ attempt to take the game in Britain on to a new footing.
Saturday (April 23) was the official home opener for Herts at Grovehill Ballpark in Hemel Hempstead, and came with plenty of trimmings. There were youth baseball games, ceremonies, a range of classic baseball food, and a real live announcer.
The kids from Sheffield Bruins, Nottingham Rebels and Northants Centurions who had joined Herts youth players for games at Grovehill in the morning took part in the Opening ceremony. They paired up with Falcons players in the lineup, high-fiving the adult players as they were introduced, and were there for the national anthem.
They also threw out the Opening Pitch. This is an established and popular tradition in US baseball, often featuring celebrities, and Herts has created its own special tradition by getting increasing numbers of kids involved.
Some of the young players joined parents and fans in a sprint race between the two games of the double header, with the prize of a burger at stake. An Under-11 Herts star was the victor. Later in the day, several youth players put dedicated work into trying to catch a foul ball – as that would also win them a hot dog from the revamped club concessions stand!
Herts was delighted to also have a new PA announcer to oversee all of this. Gabriel Fidler has been colour commentator for a top U.S. sports programme at Lee University, as well as for college baseball in New England, and for youth events at the 2019 MLB London Series.
Fidler, who has only recently returned from covering GB Baseball’s adventures at the World Baseball Classic, said he was “thrilled” to join Herts as the club’s first public address announcer.
“The NBL pilot project is ambitious”, he said. “With the return of MLB clubs to Britain for this year’s London Series and the success of Great Britain at the WBC, enthusiasm for baseball in the UK is at an all-time high. Herts is positioned to take a leading role and I look forward to playing a small part in its endeavours”.
The opponents for this NBL double-header could not have been tougher, the defending champion London Mets. The visitors scored early and often, but the Falcons’ starting pitcher Alex Deacon picked up a couple of strikeouts, and Harry Quixley hit a double.
In Game 2 of the double-header, there were hits for Alex Paterson and Tez Shinkawa. Falcons manager Cris Hiche was also able to stabilise the game when he came in as a relief pitcher to steady things after a rough start.
Hiche was very much taking the positives from a day when the scores were 19-0 and 16-0 but some key elements of the Falcons roster were away at an international tournament. “The results don’t reflect the hard work put in by the team. We’re young and still learning how to play together”, he said. “For example, many of the errors were just the product of miscommunication. With time we will improve and bounce back. No doubt we will have much better games this season.”
The feedback on new arrangements at Grovehill was positive. 46 tickets were issued for the game, with visiting players and coaches added on top of that the make the total attendance. Seating was set up for the fans at key viewing points. Tickets for the Falcons season ahead are on sale, both as individual game tickets, and batches for the whole season.
Herts President Aspi Dimitrov said “The club wants fans to experience the excitement of the playoff race, and the players and coaching staff are determined to bounce back.” More elements will be added in future weeks and Dimitrov added: “the Game Day product will get better with every game.”
The Herts Falcons are aiming to get back in the playoff race, starting with their next fixture away at the Latin Boys.