Author: Ken Pike

Herts Single A teams both gunning for Farnham

Herts’ two single-A teams look set for the playoffs after a huge 26-11 5th inning mercy rule win by the Raptors over pool-rivals Essex cemented a place in the playoffs for them as a Wildcard, with the Hawks likely to top their group or at worst finish as top wildcard thanks to their unbeaten season so far.

The Raptors v Essex game started as a close run affair over the first couple of innings, with both teams trading blows and errors were a plenty on both sides thanks in part to the harsh sun playing havoc with concentration. A huge swarm of bees even made an appearance briefly halting play at one stage, but by the third inning a gap started to open up that just kept expanding leaving Herts in the driving seat. When relief pitcher Simon Langton came up and closed down the Essex side, Herts were left with the task of getting 6 runs to force a Mercy rule. A couple runs plated in the normal fashion before the bases were loaded. Up stepped the mighty…home run machine…no wait…it was Mike. Mike Cresswell. Pitcher. Fast runner. Manager. Good Bloke. Many things, all positive, but not a home run hitter. Surely no walk off grand slam this time round.

The last time the Herts Raptors qualified for the postseason playoffs was in 2013 and they certainly enjoyed clinching it with a bottle of champagne.

Well, not in the traditional sense, but a might good whallop of the ball sent it clean over the infield and through the gap in the outfield (helped by the fact that their outfield was down to two people due to injuries….previously caused by Mike throwing a ball at a girl…twice.) The runners on second and third scored easily. The runner on first had a good jump….and a mis-throw from outfield meant that the ever speedy Mike Cresswell rounded third and landed home for the kind of finish that bookies would happily give you 5000-1 odds on…but as Leicester football club showed us earlier this year, the unlikeliest scenarios can come true. Mike duly walked off as winning pitcher, winning HR hitter, and man of match. And got drenched in icy water by his team mates for the effort.

For the Hawks the picture is a bit clearer. They are currently showing as a half game back in their group on wins alone, but they are unbeaten and have taken three games off their nearest rivals, the Monarchs. Monarchs have three games left to play but the Hawks have six due to a number of teams having been unable to muster a side during the season. So when the final games are played, and dependant on whether the several games that have been no-shows from the opposition are added to the tally (unless they are able to be rescheduled) then the Hawks will be hoping to comfortably top their group. Either way they are certain to at least be wildcards, so would at worst face an extra playoff game. The main question is likely to be whether the Hawks or the similarly unbeaten Tonbridge Wildcats slip up at any point which would determine top seed. If both sides finish unbeaten, then Tonbridge is currently in pole position to take the top spot having played one game less but scored 3 more runs over the course of the season.

The hope for the club will now be hoping for a good wildcard round and ties working out to that the two sides avoid each other in the semi-finals with a potentially juicy tie on Farnham Park’s main diamond on Sunday 4th September. Whatever happens now, Herts as a club can be proud of the achievements of their two single-A teams, but both the Raptors and the Hawks will surely have the ultimate prize in their sights, and who knows…perhaps they will meet at the grandest of stages in British Baseball.

The long dark offseason of the soul

written by Ken Pike

Dear Santa. Please get me a time machine so I can skip past Christmas. If you could deliver it now, that would be peachey.

Bloomin Christmas. Baahhhhhhh Humbug. It’s not sunny. I’m not playing baseball. That horrific whiney sound of Mariah Carey ‘singing’ that fe**in ‘song’ that sounds like a mating call for bats (the flying rodent type, not the maple-wood Louisville type). People eating turkey at every chance, ignoring the dry tastelessness that cause them not to eat it for the rest of the year. Shopping department and well known soft-drinks manufacturers saturating tv and Facebook with something designed in equal parts to tug at our heart strings and purse strings. A billion pointless cards to make you feel guilty about not having sent a card to your long lost fifth cousin twice removed, and oh YAY, a jumper featuring a reindeer. That never gets old. FFFUUUUUUU….and breathe…I hate it. Hate it all. Humbuggery all round.

On a plus note, with the club’s AGM out of the way, we can at least reflect that Herts baseball club had a tremendously successful season in 2013. Staggeringly successful in fact. Several teams (both youth and adult) seeing post season, the Falcons finishing top of their league, and the continued growth of the club and wonderful development of our entry level teams. The Raptors for one shed their traditional “Craptors” tag from a couple years back in wonderful style while the Falcons came top of the regular season league. Amazing results really, especially when you consider that most teams were working on a shallow roster to facilitate having five teams compete.

All of these aspects combined are surely a great testament to the hard work that everyone, not least out board and managers, have put into developing the individual teams and the club as a whole. We all deserve a massive collective pat on the back, and especially Aspi, Lee and co for making it all possible. Thanks guys.



One thing in that list of achievement rankles. It bugs me. Its sits horribly at the back of my mind…(a bit like Mariah’s bat-mating song)…and festers. Despite all the success, the growth and the progress….there was a distinct lack of trophies at the end of it all, and to make it worse, all three teams that made it to playoffs were most certainly capable of going the whole way. Ultimately any team that makes the knock-out rounds of any competition can go all the way in the right circumstances…bit of luck here, good call there, nice strategy then…

I blinking hate off-season, not just because of the aforementioned ‘festive’ twaddle, but also because its the one time of the year that you absolutely cannot do anything to improve your league position, personal game, etc. You just get to think about the things that nearly went right. Hopefully you have a nice stockpile of things to think about that did go right, and we have more this year than we ever have before, so that is a good thing, but I can’t help but replay my last out at Farnham Park, that one dropped catch that could have closed that one inning out slightly sooner, that one bad throw to second that could have stopped that scoring runner dead had it not been two…ok… five feet wide. Yeah you win and lose as a team, but lets face it, that one individual’s performance can, and often does, make the difference, so I get a few long winter months to ponder if I could have been that person.

I know, defeatist introspective navel gazing talk is never productive, but these are the facts, and that brings me to my main point (“Finally!” they say, “stop insulting our 2013 results!”-I’m not, honestly!). I imagine many, if not every single player in the club, will share my desire to get back into the swing of things. (I nearly said ‘yearning desire’ but that sounds a bit weird.) Training and pre-season really can’t come soon enough if you ask me. I for one had an absolute blast last year. It was easily the most enjoyable year of baseball in my six year long ‘career’, but having come so painfully, tantalisingly, and agonisingly close to a trophy but falling short at the last means the hunger to play, to win, has grown beyond all belief. I’ve joined a football team to quench the competitive thirst, but frankly they are rubbish and while its helping to maintain fitness it’s doing little to replace the crack of the bat, the snap of the pitch, and that enigmatic sound “STEEEERAAAIIIIK!” which is a simultaneous joy for one bunch of people and an agonising cringe for another bunch. I guess at least my beloved Broncos are doing well, but it’s just not the same as my beloved Herts doing well. It’s certainly not the same as playing and (occasionally) doing well myself.

So I look forward to the first training session, seeing if my vague attempts to keep fit have worked…. finding out what new additions have joined the club… seeing if that talented young prospect from last year who showed glimpses of raw ability has grown a couple inches in height, gained a few pounds of muscle and developed the calm confident swagger that will translate to hits, strikes, outs, you name it….seeing if the existing talents, and developing players of last year have continued that trend and seeing which of them make a push for promotion up the teams….seeing the aging and experienced players and the young newcomers alike all struggle with rust, match fitness issues, aches and minor pains from pushing too hard too early….seeing the managers scrutinise every play, and noting how the players groan with the same anguish as they would missing a playoff play in the knowledge that each slip takes them further from promotion….its exhilarating, addictive, wonderful, and terrible all at once.

I don’t care if it’s two foot deep in snow come January. I will happily run up and down an outside court chasing a ball I can’t see for whiteness. I don’t care if I can’t feel my nose, I will happily don a glove and mask and work on zoning in the target for our young pitchers (I can’t feel my nose anyway and certainly don’t need it for baseball). Heck, I don’t care if the ball has icicles hanging off it, that won’t stop me from trying my best to smack it with a bat. At least until I land flat on my arse for the first time.

I for one know that as Christmas approaches and I munch yet another bland and slightly chewy turkey-related food item whilst listening to my other half humming the tune to Wham, or Slade, Pogues, or Live Aid or whatever other horrendous 80’s pop band Christmas-tune/travesty-of-music she last heard on the radio , I will be thinking of the crack of a bat every time I hear a Christmas cracker, and there will be a little ditty running through my head all along that I really won’t mind hearing again and again and again…. “Take me out to the ball game, take me out with the crowd…dum di dooodidooohhhdidaaa……….aaallll I wan’t for Christmaaaass…is a ball game.”

Merry Christmas everyone…see you in January. Bring yer game faces.


September blues? Not this time.


Raptors celebrate making post season
The Herts Raptors celebrated a successful season despite losing their last game.

By Ken Pike

Well that’s it, another season said and done for the Raptors. Time to pack our backs, go home for a long off-season and chill ou….wait…what? Finals? Funny guy, pull the other one. Oh, you’re serious? Well I never! The erstwhile ‘Craptors’ have shed  the mantle of rubbishdom in exuberant style and made it to the post season. This is a team that three years ago struggled to get any wins and now they are through to Farnham Park! Not as a wildcard either, but as one of the top two seeds. Probably second, as the Marauders at the time of writing need 1 win from their last two. While Milton Keynes could give them a run for their money it would be a BIG upset were they to lose to the 2sox (and I mean no offense to Leicester who have played with heart and soul, but not the same level of success as the Marauders).

Either way that means a first round bye, home field advantage in the semi finals on September 7th. If they get to the finals they would also enjoy homefield advantage against any team except (possibly) the Marauders. Admittedly there were a couple of stumbles along the way. Mid season saw a run of two defeats to sister-team the Eagles (congrats to them for a very respectable four wins from the season) and pool rivals the MK Coyotes, while the end of the season saw them trip up again in the last two games against the Dukes and Tonbridge. But despite those blips they have also beaten each of the other pool leaders, and every second placed team bar the Dukes as well so they can go to Farnham confident of being capable of beating any team they face. Sadly they won’t have the air of impenetrability and momentum that they had mid-July though. That said, they should benefit from the return of their young pitchers Zac Longboy and Will Zucker whom they were deprived of for almost all of those four losses, and, subject-to-appeal the powerful bat of Glen Downer who could return from a long absence.

So who have been the standout performers that got the Raptors to this stage? First plaudits have to go to Arnie Longboy. The first Raptors coach to take the team to post season will put him in Herts history books, and his (usually) calm and considered leadership saw the team play with a competence and level-headedness that saw them come back from behind to win in style on several occasions. I believe it is his firm  insistence on base running discipline that has led the Raptors to being the most offensively dominant team in the league despite not having any real power hitters to speak of.

As for play, starting from the mound and going round, the afore mentioned Zac and Will have been leading lights joined by Brodie Careess. The young trio have two wins a piece and truly demonstrated indomitable nerve and supreme skill in dispatching of side after side. Longboy leads the way between them on ERA but they have all been key to the Raptors success. That said they were joined at various stages by stand-ins Theo Scheepers and Jeff Whitter who also pipped a win to their names each (and in Whitter’s case two saves as well.)

Behind the plate Ken Pike received the vast majority of pitches in what was his first full season as a catcher. Being as I am the one writing this article I can hardly sing my own praises but I have been assured by Zac and Arnie that I did a good job of the issue. While I still have much to learn I am looking forward to continuing in what has been the position I have enjoyed by far the most, and taken to with relative comfort.

First base duties were initially taken on by Jeff Whitter and covered in his absences by Charlie Mayhew. Both performed outstandingly throughout the year being solid and generally error free despite some occasionally errant throws coming their way. Jeff’s amicable and calm nature made him one of the on-field captains helping to calm the team in times of frustration, while Charlie’s continual improvement saw a climax in the final game against Tonbridge where a series of amazing full-stretch catches helped to keep the game very close indeed.

Second and short were shared intermittently between the young pitchers, Theo Scheepers and coach Arnie, while by Sonam Lama, in his first year with the Raptors, demonstrated the kind of arm power capable of easily reaching first base and thereby cemented third base as his own. The coach again led the way from the front demonstrating the fewest errors per game for an infielder, and in fact one of the lowest numbers for the whole team. That said it will be fielding errors that he will want to cut out the most, preferably by post season but certainly by next year with nearly half of the team’s conceded runs coming un-earned.

Outfield was shared by Warwyk Byrne, Charlie Mayhew (when not at first), Mark Caress and Andy Bartram. Andy has made a solid case for rookie of the year (not just by virtue of being the only rookie on the team, but also by having the lowest error-per-game rating of any of the regular players. His assured glove, good arm, and fast pace to reach the ball made him a reliable and key player for left and centre.

Along the way there were notable performances by players who only joined for brief periods too. Matt Kiddie’s pitching against the 2sox at mid-season blew the side away and showed unbelievable pace, whilst two grand-slam homers from Ben Marques against the Mavericks helped to seal the game that confirmed the Raptors as Pool winners. Raptors Veteran Glen Downer was sadly occupied elsewhere for most of the season but managed to get in two games where he played solidly in the outfield. He is appealing for special dispensation to the commissioners to be allowed to join the team for post-season.

Defensively the Raptors were 5th in the league for runs conceded, but as for batting, well that’s where the stats really get interesting. While Arnie has not shared the statistics including the last two games, the production was spread throughout the team and at game 12 the numbers were as follows:

  • Runs leader was Ken Pike (41), followed by Arnie (35) and Sonam (35).
  • Hits went to Arnie (24) followed by Pike (20) and then Sonam and Brodie on a par (19).
  • Home run leader by a mile is Ben Marques (2) followed by Jim Arnott (1).
  • On Steals Ken Pike led by some distance (41) over Lama (25) and Arnie and Charlie (24 each).
  • Base on balls leader was Charlie Mayhew (26) followed by Theo (22) and Arnie again (18).
  • Arnie lead the way for AVG, SLG and OPS too but was closely followed in all three by a variety of people including his son Zac, while OBP leader Charlie Mayhew was clear of the rest of the field by some way.

While Arnie, Ken and Sony consistently led the line-ups between them, the whole team demonstrated consistency and ability at the plate averaging 24 points per game and having scored 46 runs more than any other team over the season. They had 7 games in which they scored 30 runs or more.

So in summary? Well the team will be relying on that offence to see them through at Farnham, but that being said the defence had consistently improved throughout the year and should they play to the kind of levels that saw them hold pool B leaders the Blackjacks to 12 or the Eagles and Archers to 4 and 6 respectively then they will be a real danger team. They have proven themselves fallible, but they have also proven that when they set their minds to it they are a force to be reckoned with, and they will surely be fired up to the max in Slough come September. Key warm-up friendlies, hopefully against higher division opposition such as the Hawks, will be key to preparing the team up for things to come. Meanwhile, we all cross our fingers and get our lucky charms at the ready and pray for a successful post season.

Please note, any players from teams not going to Farnham park, your assistance either as, experienced base coaches, bat men, general helpers and especially supporters will surely be massively appreciated and you will get to be a part of Herts Baseball history with the Falcons and Raptors both set to feature. Give Arnie and Lee a shout if you can help out in any way.




Road to the single A playoffs

By Ken Pike

As you might have already heard thanks to a very proud ‘yours truly’, the Herts Raptors are confirmed as being in the playoffs (with the caveat that they do not forfeit any games between now and the end of the season, which could bring other teams back into play – but we won’t let that happen) and with any luck some of you are planning to come and support. With other Herts teams, including the Falcons, being right in the mix for also going to British Baseball’s new home,Farnham Park, there might be a big convoy headed from Hemel to Slough in the first couple of weekends of September. It would be great to get as much support as possible for this historic occasion for the club, so we urge you all to get your friends and family to come along.

Just so you know what to expect over playoffs, the structure for the single A post season is as follows:

  • 12 teams in three pools play in A South.
  • The two best pool winners get first round bye into the NBC.
  • The 3rd pool winner (#3 seed) and next 3 best teams based on win %, regardless of pool play wild card round on September 1st, with the Semi Finals and Championship game at Farnham Park on September 7th and 8th.

As in all leagues, all teams will be seeded based on win % to establish postseason ranking.


Now the Raptors final position is not set in stone and here are the two main permutations:

Worst case scenario (which still ain’t bad to be honest)

The Raptors have some work to do to determine exact postseason positioning, but the main part is done. They are set for Farnham Park.

The worst case scenario is that they don’t win another game and the Coyotes win all of theirs then the Raptors would be #4 seed and placed as the top wildcard team. This would result in them having to play in the first round of the playoffs on the 1st of September at Farnham Park against the second best wildcard team while the Pool winner with the lowest record of the pool winners will play the third wildcard team. If the Raptors win the wildcard game they would face the #2 seeded team (which would in that scenario likely be the Coyotes) on September 7th.

Best case scenario

If the Raptors win 1 more game (or the Coyotes lose one) by the end of regular season, then the Raptors will clinch the Pool A pennant and a #1 or #2 seeding is already sealed in that scenario. This would mean they will get a 1st round bye and the first game would be on September 7, also at Farnham Park, and they would nominally be the home team facing one of the wildcard round winners. As to being first or second seed, that depends on a very close race with the Marauders and will likely not be settled until the last game of the regular season.

The final is on September 8 at Farnham Park.


Expect to cheer on your fellow teams, as well as fight tooth and nail for your own team!

Raptors bats ablaze to clinch playoffs on hottest day

Will Zucker hits another grounder as the Raptors drove through their nearest opposition in 30 degree heat

by Ken Pike


The Raptors hosted Southern Single A Pool A rivals Milton Keynes knowing that a win would clinch a  guaranteed playoff position and set them up to win the pool outright and earn a first round bye at Farnham Park. They were facing a team that had beaten them by the narrowest of margins earlier in the year, and while the self assured pronouncements that the Raptors had been missing key players were not without basis, there was still room for doubt and question over what the result would be.

In 32 degree heat the Raptors had taken a very easy warmup to conserve energy and hydration levels while Milton Keynes took the opposite approach. After watching their sister team, the Eagles’ playoff hopes sadly fail at the hands of the Pool C leaders, London Marauders the delayed Pool A titans clash could commence. Young Brodie Caress’ reassured mound performance only saw a couple of Coyotes get on base, but the first inning was ultimately cleaned out without any damage being done. The Raptors’ bats had been vicious all year and if anything the sun had set them on fire as they made mincemeat of the opening Coyotes pitcher going around the order and drawing a replacement pitcher to the mound before three outs were recorded opening up an 11 run lead right from the word go.

Back in the dugout a touch of overconfidence asserted itsself with players lamenting that the Raptors could have been looking at a perfect season were it not for a couple of weak performances, but Milton Keynes came back to the field with more intent. They notched up two scores as some defensive errors started to creep into the Herts team. T he sun played a serious part with several balls lost in the blazing sky and the heat causing some more lapses of concentration. The starters for the home side have an average on base percentage of well over .500 and more than 170 stolen bases (17 per game) before going in to this game so two runs was hardly a concern. The Raptors promptly brought around another 8 runners to pump the lead to 17.

The third inning played out somewhat differently though. Whether the heat had finally got to the Raptors as well, or whether Brodie Caress’ young arm was getting tired is uncertain but a series of errors and missed chances allowed 8 Milton Keynes Players to cross home plate. The final out came courtesy of short stop Will Zucker who ignored the fact that he could not see the ball which had again disappeared in the sun, and he guessed at its location… correctly. Certainly a wobble for the home defense, but quickly mitigated with 4 reply runs leaving a reduced lead of 13.

The Raptors blip was shortlived however as they came back refocused. Brodie struck out two Coyotes before the final out at first retired the side in order and the Raptors bats came back out to knock in another 3 and the lead looked healthy again at 16. The young pitcher’s arm and concentration had been shot by the fifth inning where five players crossed the plate. Never the less it was far too little as the Raptors brought in another 10 going around the order one and a half times in the bottom of the inning and putting the game beyond any reasonable doubt with a lead of over 20 runs.

In an effort to shut down the game and get out of the sun, coach Arnie Longboy brought out sidearm closer Will Zucker. Will made a slightly shakey start, thanks in part to accidentally hitting a Coyote very squarely on the knee with a wild pitch. While it took him an inning to get his composure fully back he allowed only 2 runs in the sixth and seventh while the Raptors responded with 2 of their own.  The lead remained at 20 at the top of the last inning, but this was too much of an ask for a now dehydrated and exhausted Coyotes team who valiantly got 2 runners around before Will Zucker struck out the final batter to bring the Raptors team to ecstatic jubilation knowing they had just secured the first playoff in Raptors history.

As the players cheered and embraced it was plain to see what this result meant to them, and it is certain they will be bringing their determination and love of the game to Farnham park for the off season. Having beaten every team they faced over the past 7 games, including the heavyweight Marauders, Blackjacks, Arrow and now Coyotes they carry a serious momentum with them. Another win and they top their pool, while topping the single A league can be guaranteed with three straight wins inthe remaining games or a mixture of wins and Marauders losses.

Raptors coach Arnie Longboy said: : “I am so proud of the team and what we’ve done to get this far.  A few people have asked me how we’ve managed to score so many runs this season.  First of all we have had production throughout the entire line up.  The fact that our number nine hitter leads the team in RBI’s should tell you something.  Secondly I think the guys have come to realize that just some basic fundamentals of base running and situational hitting can make a big difference.  Yes, we continue to have the occasional fielding errors and that’s to be expected.  But more importantly we have managed to eliminate almost all mental errors on the base paths that cost us outs.   And with our mix of young talent, sophomore players, and veterans really starting to gel it should make for an exciting rest of the season and of course Farnham park!”


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 R
MK Coyotes 0 2 8 0 5 2 2 19
Herts Raptors 11 8 4 3 10 2 0 38



Raptors win puts them on the brink of playoffs

Baseball teams from across the UK are jostling for playoff positions.

The Raptors top the single A league and stand on the brink of clinching a playoff spot thanks to another big win today. Sadly, having not been there, I cannot report on the game itsself, though the 24-6 drubbing of the contenders for Pool B’s lead is certainly another impressive head to add to recent victories over the Blackjacks and the Marauders. So, with Pool A rivals, the Coyotes, coming to Grovehill next week, just what are Raptors’ chances of making the post season?

To win Pool A and get a first round buy, a win against the Coyotes next week would put the Raptors 2.5 games clear with only 3 remaining after that, so again either 1 win or a Coyotes loss would furthermore seal Pool victory. A loss would put the Raptors only 0.5 games ahead with 3 remaining and head to head results means the Raptors would have to win as many as the Coyotes do or slip behind them.

If that did happen and the Raptors didn’t top the pool, then they would have to go for a wildcard place. The Coyotes replace them at the top of Pool A and would be out of wildcard equations. The Blackjacks and Marauders who top their Groups would also be irrelevant (all coloured blue in tablefor demonstrative purposes).

With that in mind, the table is currently as follows:

Team Wins Losses Games back
Raptors 8 2 0
Marauders 6 2 1
Mavericks 5 3 1
Coyotes 6 3 1.5
Blackjacks 4 4 3
Archers 3 4 3.5
Redbacks 3 4 3.5
Tonbridge 4 5 3.5
Eagles 3 6 4.5
2Sox 2 5 4.5
Old Timers 3 6 4.5
Dukes 3 6 4.5
Key Divisional leaders if Raptors fail to secure Pool pennant
Unable to surpass Raptors


The Eagles, 2Sox, Old Timers and Dukes do not have a mathematical chance of overtaking the Raptors now as they are 4.5 games back with 4 games remaining. (coloured grey on chart).

This leaves only the Mavericks, Archers, Redbacks and Tonbridge to go for the remaining three wildcard spots. Currently the Mavericks are only a game back, so even if they finish ahead of the Raptors there are two places left for wildcards.

The Archers, Redbacks and Tonbridge are all 3.5 games back, meaning 1 more win for the Raptors would put all three out of contention of overtaking the Raptors. A loss by any one of those teams would also put that team out.

Thats basically it. One more win and the Raptors are through to the post season as a wildcard or better. Failing that, one slipup by any two of those three teams and they are through as well.


The remaining games are:

Coyotes (6-3) @ Raptors

Raptors @ Mavericks (5-3)

Raptors @ Dukes (3-6)

Raptors @ Tonbridge (4-5)




Raptors make Blackjacks walk the plank despite downpour

By Ken Pike

What a difference a month makes in baseball. On the third weekend in May the Raptors had just suffered the second defeat in a row levelling their record at 2-2 after what had been a very promising start to the season. Errors had plagued the team, and while part of the damage came from notable absences of the younger members having to undergo end of year exams, the remaining players had to admit at the time that lapses of concentration had cost them dearly. Playoffs still seemed a very long way away and it was clear that no more mistakes could be tolerated if those were to ever become reality.

Fast forward four games and victories against league leading London Marauders, the solid Redbacks, a dominant performance over the 2Sox, and vengeance against their sister team the Eagles had restored their position at joint top of Single A Pool A and revitalised faith in their abilities. What’s more, the manner of victories had also been resounding – four straight mercy rule games, with a significant drop in error rates, and impressive pitching performances.

Yet much more was to come. Despite the continued success there was no light between their Pool opponents the MK Coyotes and the next few games saw them face 2 pool leaders (including MK), a team that could top their pool if they won their games in hand, and a series of teams all with winning records. First up, the Haverhill Blackjacks, a team that had suffered a rocky start to the season before notable acquisitions from the local US Airforce base had significantly improved their fortunes with rumours of a near unbeatable pitching/catching partnership.

The first inning started with a touch of the shakes for Herts. A couple of fielding errors led to three unforced runs scoring for the Haverhill team, but the Raptors had seen far worse starts turn to victory and were barely phased by that. The Raptors offense is rapidly making a name for itsself having outscored every other team in the league by 50 runs over the season. The bottom half of the first saw Ken Pike get on base and test the fabled visiting battery early on with a steal to second. A hit moved him to second before he took his opportunity on a pass ball. In what was a close play the pitcher made the mistake of stepping over the plate into the path of the 13 stone Raptors catcher. The wind promptly knocked out of him, the ball was no-where near a glove and the home team were on the scoreboard. Only one more runner would score to bring the game back to one.

The second inning saw the Raptors defence hit their stride. Young Will Zucker was cutting through the Haverhill lineup and a series of powerful plays saw the side retired without further score. The bottom half of the inning saw a significant change of pace. Perhaps the pitcher had suffered slightly from his collision, or perhaps the batters had taken heart from the fact the battery wasn’t as dangerous as they had heard. Either way they batted around the order nearly twice with 13 runners scoring before the side was retired (not before Haverhill had gone through two pitchers and descended into a full blown on the pitch argument with themselves). No fancy homeruns required for the home team, just a solid on base percentage with the youthful and fast side making the most of any opportunity to advance.

The third inning saw Will Zucker swapped for the equally young Brodie Caress on the mound, but little else changed. One Blackjack came around before the side was retired, barely denting the Raptors lead of 12. Said lead was promptly restored in the bottom of the inning, but not with quite as much aplomb as the previous inning. Three runners scored – a lead of 14 runs. Sadly not without loss of limb (though thankfully not life.) The cursed first base on the old Grovehill diamond had struck again as Warwyk Byrne landed awkwardly on his hand while returning to first on a pickoff attempt adding a broken finger to the long list of Herts players having suffered in the same position (Duncan Hoyle, Ken Pike, Rob Jones, Joe Osborne-Brade etc etc etc).

Brodie’s performance on the mound continued into the fourth too, this time retiring the side in rapid progression, the first two batters departing within 3 pitches. A walk later the fourth batter went for a simple fly out with barely 15 pitches having passed all inning. Again, another 3 Raptors runs were added stretching the team’s lead to 21-4.

With clouds looming the fifth inning proved more exciting. Caress’ arm was clearly tiring and despite him comfortable lead some of the accuracy had departed. Six runs from Haverhill gave them a fighting chance but they still had work to do to overcome the mercy rule which loomed within two innings. Sadly for the away team, their work should have started on defence in the bottom of the fifth. Instead the Raptors went to town again putting the game well beyond doubt, going around the order again plating 10 more runs to extend the lead to 31-10.

As the sixth started an increasing rainfall started to play havoc with Caress’ accuracy before the heavens opened deluging the field sending both teams heading for umbrellas as umpire Adrian Smithers called for a rain timeout of 5 minutes. Those minutes passed without change for the better and the game was called with a result being called and Havehill’s score being pulled back to the end of the fifth. End result 31-10.

Raptors manager Arnie Longboy praised another great performance: “I think our offense had another explosive game against a tough opponent.  I want to be sure though that we can keep up the momentum for our next two opponents.  Sony Lama continued his hot hitting streak with two singles, a double, triple – just missing the cycle by a homerun.  Jim Arnott’s production also carried over with a team season high seven RBI’s . And of course Ken Pike added to his team lead in stolen bases with another 3.”

The Raptors have now convincingly demolished the leaders of both other pools, and thanks to the Coyotes – Marauders game being postponed by two weeks they now sit top of their group by a half game. They face MK in two weeks, and suddenly the resurgence of faith and potential has turned into a serious charge for the end season. No predictions can be made in what is a very close fight to the finish in all the pools, but whoever wins that game will be strong favourites to finish top of their group. That said, that might make little difference the second team in pool A will be very strong candidates for the first of the three wildcard spots. What will matter however is pride, bragging rights, belief, and above all, momentum.


Team 1 2 3 4 5 R H E L
Haverhill Blackjacks 3 0 1 0 6 10 7 5 3
Herts Raptors 2 13 3 3 10 31 15 4 7


Raptors rapture at the expense of soaring Eagles

Young Eagles Star Mike Cresswell was an ever present stealing threat despite the attentions of the pitcher and catcher

At the halfway stage of the 2013 single A season both the Eagles and Raptors are still in with a good chance of making the playoffs. The Raptors sit joint top of their group fighting for either an automatic buy through the first round or at least the first wildcard spot. The Eagles sit a game off the last wildcard spot with very winnable games to see out the end of the season hunting for playoffs. While the Raptors wanted to prove that the Eagle’s victory earlier in the season was a one-off, the Eagles were out to prove exactly the opposite. Winning this fixture was about pride, position and bragging rights.

Weather forecasts throughout the week had spelled that this fathers day fixture would not happen, but the British Summer did its part for once and remained dry meaning the game could go ahead as planned.

Both teams unsurprisingly delivered their strongest lineups with the Eagle’s bringing Andrew Slater to the mound while the Raptors turned to their young mainstay Zac Longboy. In a match between two of the biggest scoring teams of the season a high scoring game was assured….


The last thing anyone expected was for the game to start as a pitching duel. Zac closed out the Eagle’s offense in order for the first inning, and the Raptors could be forgiven for a wry grin appearing at that stage thinking they could crack open an early lead. Nothing of the sort ensued as the fired up Eagles defense turned the table on the usually dominant raptors offense who got the same treatment they had just given the nominal visitors. What’s more, the second and third innings were more of the same with only a run per inning being scored by the Raptors, who had not been held to that low a score over the opening three innings of any game this year. Whether a mixture of nerves, or Andrew Slater’s tantalising looping ball not being as easy to hit as it appeared, or a solid defense that were showing the tenacious attitude that had gotten the relatively inexperienced team to within one game off a wildcard position, no one’s bats were delivering much on either side.

The first score of the day came courtesy of Ken Pike [yours truly] who managed to get himself on base in the second inning and in usual fashion worked himself around the bags in short order to put himself in scoring position. A big pop by young Brodie Caress looked to clear both in and outfield, but Pike sensibly held up just off third for long enough to see it would be caught. He tagged up at manager (and then third basecoach) Arnie Longboy’s franticly shouted commands before taking off for home and opening the Raptors’ scoring account.

Some great plays, notably an awesome diving catch by Sony Llama at third, some well caught pop fly balls, and some sharp plays from the infield meant the Raptors defence stayed strong in the second inning. A dropped pickoff attempt at second even went their way as the runner attempting to capitalise by heading for third got picked off by the backup throw signalling that things were just not going the way of the Eagles.

Some light entertainment came half way through the game as one of the local youths attempting to do tricks on his moped just outside the field managed to overturn the bike on himself, raising rapturous applause from both benches interrupting Slater’s pitch and causing umpire Ben Marques (also chuckling at the youth’s misfortune) to offer a mulligan pitch.

As the innings stretched on and Zac Longboy’s dominance on the mound continued with a total of five strikeouts, closing out the Eagles for four consecutive innings. Meanwhile the Raptors drip-feed of scoring runs managed to prise the narrowest of margins out whilst taking their toll on Slater’s arm. A crushing homerun over left field for Jim Arnott spelled the beginning of the end for the Eagles, scoring himself and Jeff Whitter as part of a four run inning that put daylight between the two sides.

To stem the flow Eagles manager Duncan Hoyle took the mound, but the Raptors offense had already smelled blood. The fifth inning notched up another five runs with a triple for Theo Scheepers. Sony Llama added hitting to his dramatic performances of the day nailing a blast that bounced agonisingly off the fence a bare foot short of a second homerun of the day leaving him with just a double. While the Eagles clawed back three runs over two innings with ever present base stealing that the fast and determined side bring to every game, the Raptors brought in a further seven in the sixth.  Zac Longboy made way for closer Will Zucker, whose dangerous sidearm curveball has been the woe of many a batter, shut down the seventh but for solitary eagles scorer. He also added to the score with a powerful shot down the line and a dash of youthful speed getting him a triple. The Eagles continued with fantastic tenacity throughout ensuring that it was never a done deal (both sides all too aware that comebacks were far from rare), but it was not to be enough on the day.

The final play of the game, with runners on first and third,  Raptors catcher Pike threw a fake pickoff to Zac Longboy who had taken over at short instead of trying to gun down the steal attempt. Eagle Mike Cresswell was fooled into attempting to run home but instead found the ball beating him there on the short throw back. His attempt to run through the well armoured catcher who carried a 4 stone weight advantage didn’t go so well and he found himself hanging in Pike’s arms gazing longingly at the home plate…still a good yard away.  The 15 run advantage was enough to bring the mercy rule into effect allowing the Raptors some solace over their previous defeat and Zac Longboy walking away with another addition to his rapidly growing collection of game balls adding weight to an early but loud call for MVP.

Raptor’s coach Arnold Longboy praised his team’s clinical performance: “I’m really proud of the team and how we executed on the field.  We of course had great pitching but more importantly we had the fewest errors yet for the season.  Combined with great cut off execution and fielding tactics we held an excellent Eagles hitting team to their lowest run production yet.  Also one of the challenges I put to the team  before the game started was to limit base running mistakes.  In this regard we also shined and it made the difference in the early part of the game.  If we continue in this fashion we should do well for the rest of the season.”

Eagles coach Duncan Hoyle meanwhile challenged his side to go on from the encouraging display to fight for a spot in the postseason: “I know the guys tried their guts out to beat the Raptors, and that is commendable, but ultimately we have proven we can get better results and we simply didn’t do that today. We know we can beat teams who are at the top of the tables, the Raptors included, and we need to get back into the groove of doing that for the last few games of the season so we have a real shot at the finals. We need to eliminate the errors that still plague us, as without that we won’t be able to stay in contention for the playoffs.  I will be expecting everyone on the team to redouble their efforts, raise the bar several notches and make sure that whatever the post season brings we do it in a blaze of glory, not rueing what could have been had we applied ourselves fully.”

The record between the two teams now stands at 1-1 for the season. Raptors will point out a preseason win edging the stats in their favour, but with both teams in the hunt for playoffs, could a competetive decider be played under knock-out conditions? Wait and see what August brings.

What’s in a halfway point? The Single A playoff scenarios.

by Ken Pike

Halfway through the season for the Raptors and Eagles and both teams are well within the expectations placed upon them at the start of the season. In the Eagles’ case it is fair to say they are well ahead of expectations bearing in mind the number of genuine rookies on the squad. However, the playoff picture is far from clear.

These are the playoff rules: 12 teams in three pools play in single A South. The two best pool winners get first round bye into the NBC. 3rd pool winner (#3 seed) and next 3 best teams based on win %, regardless of pool play wild card round on September 1st, with the Semi Finals and Championship game at Farnham Park on September 7th and 8th. As in all leagues, all teams will be seeded based on win % to establish post season ranking.

Excluding the Leicester – Redbacks result which hasn’t been filed yet the current league standings are as follows:
Marauders 6-2 (fewer runs per game conceded than MK)
Coyotes 6-2 (HTH win v Raptors)
Blackjacks 4-3
Raptors 6-2
Mavericks 4-2
Tonbridge 4-4
Archers 2-3
Eagles 3-5 (1-0 v 2Sox/Redbacks)
2Sox 2-4 (0-0 v Eagles/Redbacks)
Redbacks 2-4 (0-1 v Eagles/2Sox)
Dukes 2-5
Old Timers 1-6

As you can see, the pool leaders are Coyotes, Blackjacks and Marauders in A, B and C pool respectively.

Pool A

The Raptors are neck and neck with the Coyotes, with only the head to head loss earlier this season between them. Furthermore, the Coyotes go to Grovehill next week where the winner will put daylight between themselves and the rest at the top of pool A. The Eagles are behind in the race for the group, but are well in the running for playoff places, only a game behind the last wildcard spot.

Pool B

Pool B is pretty close with the Blackjacks heading the group but the Archers’ two games in hand able to draw them level. Having won a game each the tiebreaker between them would be down to runs conceded.

Pool C

In pool C the Mavericks can yet tie with the Marauders as they have two games in hand. The rest of the teams will struggle to catch up with the significant lead those two teams have or can build.

The Raptors and Mavericks are in pole position for the wildcards at the moment (or if results go their way, the teams they replace at the top of their pools over the coming weeks). Tonbridge close out the last wildcard spot, but are in shaky grounds due to having forfeited a game, which as I understand it acts as first tiebreaker against a team.

Close behind them, the Archers, having played only 5 games so far can overhaul both Tonbridge and Mavericks if they win those extra ties. The Eagles meanwhile have no games in hand, but are only 1 game back. They have also faced most of the league leaders already so their season run in could certainly be a lot worse.

Behind the Eagles, the 2Sox, Redbacks, Dukes and Old Timers will need results to go in their favour as well as drastic turnarounds to their own seasons to stand any chance of reaching the knockout stages. While Pool B remains close, allowing for each of them to get through by virtue, it is also likely that this pool will not be the source of the wildcard places, while stronger competition at the top of A & B will be the real battlefield.

Furthermore, each of the main contenders has yet to play each other at least one more time meaning that the ultimate destiny for each of them remains in their own hands. Victory across the board for any one team will guarantee finals, but throw in the usual suspects of team availability, the British weather and pure blind luck and you have the ingredients for a perfect British Baseball season.

It may still be far too early to have a clear understanding of what the playoffs will look like, but what is also certain is that the picture will become a lot clearer over the next two or three weeks as the amount of time remaining to catch up reduces.