The 2006 season was the second season in which the Falcons fielded two teams. The first transitional year had taught us some valuable lessons, and the managers Lee Manning and Eddie Sierocinski were better able to cope with the initial teething problems from the point of view of organization.
There were a number of personnel changes during that year: Falcons had to say goodbye to Kyle Hunlock, Baek Seunk Kwan “Mac”, Todd Nightingale and EJ Zoog. However, the lineup was strengthened by the introduction of the catcher Jason “Big Bat” Greenberg, the wide-ranging (in all senses of the word) centre-fielder Bart “This is not a strike” Snavely and the canny infielder Nick “Get your arse down” Goetz. Hawks added the services of the Venezuelan Godzilla Carlos Casal, Justin “The Padre” Fung, and the always keen Tim “Shinpad” Elkins and Steve “The Cleaver” Nippress.
Both teams started in outstanding fashion – after the first two weeks, Falcons were top of the league with a record of 3 and 1, having taken a game of the eventual league winners, Cambridge Monarchs (and many a player still reminisce about that game over a pint or twelve even now). In the meantime, Hawks also started with a couple of wins against Essex and Richmond. Everything looked rose-tinted (or lager-tinted in Lee’s case).
Then began what has now become commonly known in the annals of the Falcons as “that loosing streak”. Falcons had 13 successive losses, while Hawks “managed” to keep it to 6 losses in a row. Both teams really played well during that period, but there were just a few “small” issues – couldn’t hit, didn’t pitch well, and the number of errors more or less equalled the runs scored. Other than that, we are still stumped how it was possible to pile up so many losses. But never mind.
Midway through the season, the Falcons learned about the tragic passing of a former team member – Kyle Hunlock. Our thoughts have been with Kyle’s family since then, and the Falcons have retired his number 36, as well as naming our intra-squad World Series the “Kyle Hunlock Series”.
One of the main reasons for the slump in form for Falcons was the fact that the rock-solid 2nd baseman – Kimiyoshi Sayonji went on the Disabled List for over two and a half months after having his jaw broken while making a heroic play at first.
Finally, both teams snapped out of the losing mentality – Falcons swept the Shropshire Panthers to end up above them in the table, while Hawks won against Richmond.
At the end of the season both teams were faced with relegation play-offs.
Falcons were facing the up-and-coming Burgess Hill Colts. In a dramatic 10-inning game, Falcons lost by a run, and were relegated from the Premier League. No more needs to be said on that issue.
In their play-off game, Hawks faced the Guildford Mavericks, who had finished 2nd in Division 2. It was a tough game, and in the bottom of the 8th inning Hawks were down by 6 runs. But after a doughty batting performance in the bottom of the 8th (in particular a 3 run double by catcher Jake Kikel), Hawks had tied the game, and won it in the bottom of the 9th with the winning run coming home on a wild pitch. Thus, Hawks maintained their Division 1 status. This also meant that Falcons and Hawks would play in the same division next season, providing the opportunity for a lot of shenanigans and (presumably) one or two breweries running out of produce.
So what did the Falcons learn during that tough season…?
Steve Nippress learned that it is good, even, some would say, necessary, when you make a catch in the outfield with runners on base and less than two out, to throw the ball to the cut-off guy, rather than do a little jig and shout “I got it, I got it”. Pete and Jake Kikel now know all the ins and outs of an intentional walk. We even know now that Bruce can slide (well, fall down on top of the base, really).
There are only a few regrets. For example, that barbecue we did at Bruce’s place should have been rescheduled for a day where the rain was a lot harder (or just moved it to the middle of the sea). Another moment of great but non-materialized potential was when Paul Raybould, pitching for Hawks, had 4 errors made behind him in a row, and stated firmly “One more error and I am going home” (at the time Hawks were playing at Burgess Hill). Unfortunately, the next time the ball was hit, it was a pop up to Jake, who was probably not feeling very well and made the catch. People are still talking about what might have been if the ball had come to Kal or Larry.