Author: Rob Jones

Mantas Poderys

Return of the Mantas

The Herts leadership team for 2022 has taken further shape, with the return of Mantas Poderys. He has been co-opted by the club’s Executive Board as manager of the second Single-A team which will play in Hemel Hempstead.

Mantas was elected as the manager of the Herts Raptors at Grovehill for the 2020 season, only to see it all but wiped out by the pandemic.

However, he was instrumental in the creation and running of the internal league competition which was run at Hemel Hempstead that year, once organised sport was given the go-ahead in the summer. The Herts Baseball Development League was a huge success, which allowed players from all levels to see some game action.

Mantas brought his trademark enthusiasm to the project, the same spirit which saw him make such an impact in his first year as a player at Herts in 2019. His constant desire to improve — combined with endless encouragement of his team-mates — marked him out for a key role.

He had to step back from management in 2021 for personal reasons, but is now raring to go again. The Board was happy to approve his application and we are excited about what lies ahead.

Mantas Poderys (L) with Raptors in 2019

BBF league entries will be finalised in the coming days but the expectation is that two Single-A teams will be based at Grovehill. Most likely they will be the Raptors and the Hawks, but the managers will make the final call. Ken Pike, who led the Raptors last year, remains in place as a manager and is keen to build on last year’s progress.

The club has been having talks with candidates about the vacancy for the Herts Falcons manager. Players report for the first time for training this weekend, January 30th, so planning will take another step forward then.

Herts stalwart Hiche steps down

Herts stalwart Hiche steps down

One of the leading figures of the past decade for the Herts Falcons, Cris Hiche, has decided to step down as the manager of the team.

Hiche originally joined the Falcons ahead of the 2012 season, and helped to push them to unprecedented levels of success. The team reached the playoff finals that year, and lost in six games to the Harlow Nationals. His first four seasons with Herts proved to be among the best in the club’s history and included reaching the NBL playoffs in three out of these four seasons, and semi-finals in 2013 and 2015.

Hiche’s outstanding performances in this period were recognised with the award of the NBL Outfield Gold Glove in 2012 and 2013, when he did not commit a single error. In 2013 he was also the Falcons’ home run leader.

After a year playing in the Austrian league in 2016, Cris Hiche returned to Herts. By 2018 he had become the manager, and once again led the Falcons to success. An impressive post-season run – in which he was now a successful starting pitcher – saw the team return to the NBL finals against the Mets.

The London side swept the finals series, but there was another aspect to this achievement – Herts had qualified for Europe for the first time in their history. In the summer of 2019, Hiche’s Falcons played in Blagoevgrad in Bulgaria in the European Federations Cup. They secured a win against the Lithuanian side, Utenos Titanai, and indulged in a famous rain-soaked streak. Don’t worry, we won’t share pictures of Cris in his undercrackers.

The Chilean has also been instrumental off the field for Herts for many years. He joined the club’s executive board as the head of the Under-17 and Under-19 programmes. In 2013 he led the Herts Under-17 team to the National Final finishing as runners-up which is the club’s best position in that age group. He has also served in posts including facilities manager and overseen training programmes for all levels.

Cris had to step away from managing in 2021 for family reasons, and has now decided not to return in 2022. Herts wishes him all the best for what comes next, and we still hope to see him return to the club to drive more success in years to come.

Historic first for Herts is a highlight of Opening Day

Historic first for Herts is a highlight of Opening Day

The Herts Falcons chalked up an historic moment for the club on Sunday’s Opening Day, fielding two women players in the NBL side for the first time.

Jessica Vernon and Marianna Casal were on the team which took on the Essex Arrows at Grovehill to start the 2021 BBF season. Unfortunately, they were on the wrong end of two high-scoring defeats, but that couldn’t overshadow the importance of the moment.

Women’s baseball in the UK has made huge and sudden strides over the past 18 months, and Herts is delighted to be a part of that. The club is proud of its record in being open to all talents, and has featured several women players in its ranks over the years – but never at the top level. We are hopeful this can be another step forward, and our aim is to grow the game for all groups.

We think this might have been the first NBL team to feature two women players, and the first to have one of them pitch – but we can’t be certain of that. When Jess Vernon did take the mound, she was certainly highly effective – recording the only 1-2-3 inning for either side on the day.

Marianna Casal in action (pic: Tony Small)

Marianna Casal has been linked to Herts for many years through her family, as her father and brother have both played for the club. That deep connection runs from the first Herts Little League sides, where she was a singer, fan, mascot and then a player. She won a European Championship with the GB under-19 softball side in 2016.

Marianna as a junior Herts fan

Sharing the diamond with her brother and father on Sunday at Grovehill gave the day an extra-special element:

After so many years of being on the sidelines just watching how cool they are, I was excited that I’m a part of it now. They are such a huge part of why I am where I am now. I am truly grateful for all the opportunities that I am getting to progress in the sport that I love – and grateful to Falcons coach Cris Hiche for saying he wanted me on the team.”

In 2017, Jessica Vernon made her first appearance at Grovehill Ballpark. She played for Bracknell’s Single-A side against the Raptors. Since then she has had success in softball and competitive cheerleading, and back to baseball to become a leading light in the women’s game.

She is a founder member of Belles Baseball, who were the first women’s team to enter the Herts Spring League, and who will be part of the inaugural women’s league in 2021. The team was recently featured on BBC television and has been spreading the word about women’s baseball.

Jessica’s performance was rewarded with the BSUK Player of the Week award, which is based on nominations from the baseball community.

Jess Vernon pitching (pic: Tony Small)

The Falcons have seen a lot of change in the off-season and enter this year with fresh hopes. The games against the Arrows were competitive, but not perhaps classics of tight baseball. Game 1 ended 16-13 to the visitors, while game 2 stepped up another level into a football score, ending 24-23.

Marianna Casal said she had loved every single second of the experience, despite the results, and cannot wait for the rest of the season:

“Hearing men from the other team get surprised about what I can do was a lot of fun for me. It will be even more fun when no-one is surprised – when everyone just knows who they’re up against. I was shaking when I got on the field but after making my first play, I just reminded myself that I belong there.”

The new Herts recruits were welcomed by all their team mates. And huge credit goes to the visiting Essex Arrows too. Surprised as they might have been, witnesses at the ballpark say the Arrows offered the same respect to Casal and Vernon as to all the other players.

In a turbulent week for British baseball, these were the good memories and positive images people want to take forward. Amy Trask, who played for the Bracknell Blazers a decade ago in the NBL, said: “It’s great to see women in baseball doing amazing things, and all the support it’s getting.”

The highlight of the weekend elsewhere for Herts came at the first derby game of the year in Single A, where the Londoners were hosting the Eagles at Basing Hill. The visitors’ Alex Plehn – who joined the club last year but has never before played in a BBF league game — hit two home runs. The second of them, a 3-run homer, was key to a 6-5 victory in the second game. Rookie Tom Hill also delivered with his debut on the pitching mound before turning the game over to veteran Mike Wakelam.

The star of the first game, apart from that Plehn home run, was the fielding of Greg Bochan. The former Hawks boss was now manning the hot corner of third base for the Londoners, and made two quality plays before capping it all with a web gem, diving to his left to snare a hard hit ball before somehow making the throw across the diamond too. Londoners won this one 13-5.

The other Single A team, the Raptors, travelled to the Redbacks. Despite some strong performances, the team of mainly novices could not overcome Essex who won 15-6 and 16-8. The Hawks lost 14-8 and 10-8 in Oxford in the Double A league.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this article, including Jess, Marianna, Tony Small, Amy Trask and Lee Manning.

Herts Spring League kicks off 2021 season in style

Herts Spring League kicks off 2021 season in style

Like everything else at the moment, the 2021 Herts Spring League was a bit different. It was quick as a flash. It was more knock-out blow than drawn-out battle.

The usual three weeks of competition were condensed into one weekend on the baseball diamonds of Grovehill. The impact of the pandemic had cut short the time available for pre-season.

One of the other points that made it different this year was the arrival of the first women’s team in the history of the tournament. Belles Baseball made a big noise and splash in the Single-A competition, bringing a lot of energy to the event.

The Herts Spring League provides a great opportunity for teams to finalise their preparations for the upcoming British baseball season. This year, it saw 22 teams play 21 games on 2 diamonds over 2 days. Single-A and Double-A were on Saturday, Triple-A and NBL on the Sunday.

The sun shone gloriously for both days, which we have decided must be a good omen for the season ahead. Yes, it was on the cool side but, hey, it’s the Spring.

Let’s start with the Belles, who opened their HSL account against a Herts side, the Eagles. The visiting team fell behind early on, but fought back with some patient at-bats and aggressive stealing to make it 9-5. The Eagles ran out winners, and the Belles then took on the London Mustangs. Another tight contest ended 9-7 to London.

Top slot in the league was shared by the MK Bucks 2, and the Londoners — who were undefeated. The Eagles, Raptors, Mustangs and Bracknell Inferno each took a split from their weekend. Minotaurs fought hard and scored well but couldn’t secure a W.

If the Belles Baseball were something new, the presence of the Croydon Pirates in the Double-A division was a blast from the past. The team is a revival of what was a stalwart of British baseball a few years back. They won 8-2 over Sidewinders, and then defeated London Musketeers 9-2 to claim the title. London had beaten the Hawks 10-2, and Hawks went down by the same score to Sidewinders in the third place playoff.

Sunday saw the Triple-A action first, with Essex Redbacks finally breaking open a tight contest against the London Mammoths to win 7-2. It was a game with several double plays stifling an offensive threat. All the games were tight in this division. London Marauders took the title with one-run wins over BC Vetra and the MK Bucks.

London Mets dominated the NBL tournament, putting down a marker they intend to defend their title again. They opened their account with a 3-2 win over the Essex Arrows, as the London Capitals saw off the Herts Falcons 10-2. In the second round of rubbers the Mets beat the Caps, while Falcons secured a split on their weekend with a victory over Essex.

The BBF league schedule starts this coming weekend, so the HSL gave a last chance to hone strategies and test players under game conditions. Everyone will have come out of the weekend with a greater sense of what they need to do for success.

Signs are good that the summer of 2021 will see plenty of baseball. Herts thanks all the players who came down and took part, and everyone who made it happen.

It’s game on for 2021.

Outcome of Disciplinary case

Outcome of Disciplinary Case

Herts Baseball Club has confirmed the outcome of an investigation into a complaint made about the conduct of the Falcons manager, Cris Hiche.

As set out in section 12.1 of the club’s constitution, a Disciplinary Panel was convened to consider the case. It received written submissions from the relevant parties. As detailed in the club’s complaints procedure, the Panel had a range of options to consider.

It recommended that Cris Hiche be warned as to his future conduct. Specifically, it advised that he should be more careful and measured in his language, particularly when acting as a representative of Herts baseball club in any way.

The Panel said: “The Codes of Conduct published by both Herts and the BBF demand that members “support a positive culture and climate”, and all interactions should abide by this. It is important that clubs and individuals in British baseball work together to discuss, agree and implement a way forward to grow the sport. When we do not agree, we must show respect and put forward positive arguments.

“It remains vital, though, that people within the baseball community are able to challenge and question those in authority, to ensure transparency and accountability.”

The 14-day period for any appeal has now passed.

Baseball is the winner in a time of Covid

Baseball is the winner in a time of Covid

Four teams. Six weeks of games. One winner. And, perhaps fittingly, the name on the trophy after the first ever Herts Baseball Development League is the Raptors.

The League was the creation of the Raptors’ manager Mantas Poderys, when baseball received clearance to restart games after the coronavirus lockdown. The aim was to give the swelling ranks of rookie and inexperienced Herts players a taste of competition without the pressure of a formal BBF league.

Raptors B facing Londoners

Mantas split his roster in two – sharing out specialists such as pitchers and catchers – and teams from the London branch of the club enthusiastically came on board to join the league. So a schedule was created in which Raptors A and B would face the Eagles and Londoners in a round robin, then a medal series.

A series of new safety measures was drawn up and adopted, and everyone was ready to go.

The opening weekend of games in August was under baking sun at Grovehill. Raptors A got out to the best start with 2 wins. New recruits got their first taste of game action, and stars started to emerge. Cory English of the Londoners showed his slick skills, and Raptor rookie Declan Carlean made a great play from deep in the hole at shortstop.

After a rained out week, games resumed with Raptors B now taking strides forward. Ken Pike, a former manager and a champion at Single-A as a player, was one of the club veterans who returned for the HBDL. He was leading the Blues with typical gusto.

For the Londoners, Andrew Slater was the old hand with the magic, returning to the pitching mound with great results. He ended with several wins to his name.

Although there were a lot of laughs in these games, as friends got the chance to compete against each other in a relaxed setting, there was plenty of intensity too.

New Londoners recruit Kevin Abioye took a knee to the jaw as he desperately tried to reach first base on an infield hit, while Raptor B’s Laurence Currington took a tumble as he raced into the collision to help save the game for his team. (Everyone was fine afterwards, with maybe a bruise or two).

Collision! (Photo by Tony Small)

These games were also packed with dramatic walk-offs. In the third round of games, Londoners secured an 8-7 win over Raptors B when a run-down between third and home went awry and what looked like a terrible base-running decision turned into a victory moment.

The best of five championship series was between the Raptors B and the Londoners, as they finished in the top two slots of the League. The Eagles and Raptors A would play a best of three to decide the bronze medal.

The Blues took a 2-0 lead in the first week of playoffs, with the Eagles starting with a win. All to play for on the final Sunday.

Wily veteran pitcher Greg Bochan led the Londoners to a win in the first game on the last day, keeping the series alive. In Game Four, the Londoners took a 6-4 lead into the final frame. Great fielding plays from Matt Jackson and Rob Gibson had helped keep the Blues in check. The Londoners tacked on 3 more runs – surely the game was safe?

But Raptors B had other ideas. Manager Ken Pike had pitched the game, and delivered with the bat too. Once on base, he represented the winning run. In a match up of veteran pitcher (Nic Goetz) and rookie hitter (Pedro Martins) the youngster came through. He drove in Pike for a 10-9 win and plenty of celebrations.

Eagles v Londoners in August (pic: Tony Small)

In game 2 of the bronze medal series, the Eagles took a lead into the final stages. But again there was a dramatic Raptor rally. Raptors A scored a clutch of runs to tie it up.

And again, the final act was old hand against young star. Declan Carlean on the mound, Rob Jones at bat. This one was won by the veteran, with a hit to centre field clinching the 2-0 series win.

The idea of keeping the tournament in-house had been to keep the players as safe as possible at a time when travelling and mixing were both officially discouraged – but also to give the best chance for fun and competitive baseball. It succeeded on both counts.

Mantas Poderys said he was focused not on the victories for his players, but on their spirit and their development – and that, on that basis, all games were wins. They responded with equal warmth, praising his hard work, support and the welcome he gave players, some of whom had not even played organised sport, let alone baseball.

Mantas Poderys in action

While this League was going on, other elements of Herts were also staying active. The Falcons of the NBL held regular practices and scrimmage games, and also traveled to the Kent Buccaneers for a game which they won.

Youth training sessions resumed at Grovehill in July and continued throughout the summer. Coaches Lee and Colin kept as many age groups as possible active, and open sessions also received a great response when they began at Basing Hill in northwest London in August.

Some of the Herts youth players have been taking part in a Fall League organised by LYBL on the diamonds at Farnham Park, so their season looks to stretch into October. The club now turns its attentions to the winter and to preparing for what 2021 might bring.

The Raptors, meanwhile, polish their trophy!

Thanks to all who took part and helped the club through all aspects of a most extraordinary year. Coaches, officials, parents, fans and players all had a huge role to play. Herts is a family and we stay committed to each other, and to baseball.

The victorious Raptors B

2020 Herts Youth Baseball: Registration is Open

Herts baseball club has planned a range of options for 2020 for one of our great strengths, and our most important investment in the future — our youth players. The aim is to give plenty of chances for both training and game time for kids from ages 6 to 18.

We don’t yet know if the coronavirus outbreak is going to have a long-term impact, and affect the summer baseball season. If it does, Herts will lower all its youth fees accordingly. No money will be taken until the situation is clearer. But at this early stage, we are going ahead with registration so that everything is ready when baseball can be resumed.

We appreciate everybody’s patience, and we hope that we can all get back where we want to be — on the diamond — very soon. Those of you already on our mailing list should receive details via e-mail of how to register. If you are new to the club and the sport, please contact us through our website link and we will tell you all you need to know.

Since the Herts youth operation began over a decade ago it has seen success at the National Baseball Championships in several age groups. And, even more importantly, it has seen a steady stream of local boys and girls getting involved in a new sport, and making new friends.

In 2020, the core Herts Youth membership package will be a training programme, running throughout the year. Players aged between 6 and 18 will be able to work on all the fundamental skills of baseball, under the guidance of our new Head Coach, Colin Barrett. He has vast experience, most recently as the South Africa Under-12 head coach.

There will be a total of 18 sessions, including Saturday work both indoors and outdoors. And that also includes 10 midweek training sessions. These are most likely to be on Wednesdays, but our staff are currently pinning down a final confirmation. Each of those sessions will be at least 2 hours long.

Coach Colin has already been enjoying getting involved with the kids on fielding drills, on learning to throw the ball correctly, and on how to play the game. Players have enjoyed the experience of Baseball 5, a fast-moving game which helps put knowledge into practice.

Herts will then offer two separate options for games, with players able to make a choice depending on their goals and their circumstances.

One option is to play for the East of England team, competing in the British Baseball Federation (BBF) All Star leagues. This is a great chance to maximise playing time, and take on other teams from around our region.

East of England at the UKLLQ in 2019

In this programme, for players aged 8 to 18, kids from Herts will play alongside team-mates from Leicester, Cambridge, Lakenheath, Northampton and Essex Redbacks — and together they will face teams from other southern clubs including Guildford and Brighton.

Games will take place on Saturdays, both at our home field of Grovehill in Hemel Hempstead and also travelling to away games.

Kids who sign up for this game package will be automatically included in the extended roster for the Youth National Baseball Championships at Farnham Park in September; and for the UK Little League Qualifiers — a competition which culminates in a tournament in Williamsport, USA.

The final teams for these tournaments will be only 13 players, chosen by the coaches. But all who sign up will get an equal chance to compete for a place, and our emphasis remains on enjoying the sport, and learning.

Herts manages the East of England (EoE) programme with other clubs. Our lead on it will be Youth Commissioner, Lee Manning.

The alternative game package is Play Ball membership, which is intended as a recreational programme for more casual players aged 6 to 12. This team will not travel, so is a great opportunity for any players unable to make the trips to away games.

There will be a minimum of 10 event days in the season, running from April to July. The entire schedule will be announced at the start of the season, to help families to plan.

The sessions are on Saturdays at Grovehill, starting at 11am and lasting between 90 minutes and 2 hours. Players will work on a specific baseball skill for a time, and will then play games.

The Play Ball programme will be headed up by John Kjorstad, a club veteran who has been involved with the youth teams for several years.

The idea is that all Herts youth players join the core training programme, and then choose one game package. We aim to provide at least one game jersey for players, or a voucher to be used for a Herts cap for the Play Ball section, but due to the lead time on orders, we will need to finalise this once we know when the 2020 season will start.

Players cannot sign up for both game packages, chiefly because they can’t be in two places at once on any given Saturday! However, those who sign up for the East of England will be able to participate in Play Ball at no extra charge, if they have a weekend off from EoE games.

Herts baseball club is excited to be able to offer this range of programmes to help make it easier to play baseball in 2020, whatever your availability and ability. Our aim is to spread the word about the sport and offer the boys and girls who join us an enjoyable and rewarding time.

Herts at the heart of the London Series

When you’re old, and sit down to talk history with your grandchildren, you’ll be able to reminisce that 2019 was the first year that Major League Baseball came to the UK.

As if that wasn’t good enough, lots of Herts baseball members will be able to say they were there, and they were part of it.

One of our youth stars, Riley Manning, was right at the heart of things, acting as an on-field mascot. He has been good enough to put down in words some of the details of his experience, and we can share that with you here, along with some other Herts tales.

Herts fans and players at the Saturday game

A regular season clash in the UK between MLB teams had been in the offing for several years. But many feared it would stay a pipe dream. Too many obstacles, they said — a huge round trip for teams who usually play pretty much every day; no proper baseball stadium for them to use.

But in May 2018 a formal announcement was made that the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees would be bringing their fabled rivalry to London. Tickets were snapped up in a few days of frantic online clicking by British baseball fans – including plenty from Herts.

When the London Series finally came around in the summer of this year, extra events had been added to make it a festival of baseball. Riley got to participate in the most surprising event – a coaching clinic laid on by the Yankees:

“My dad and I got invited down to Finsbury Park to a training session and have a BBQ which was an event run by the New York Yankees. We didn’t know until we turned up that the Yankee legends would be coaching the training session. This was an amazing event and I learnt a lot.

Alex Rodriguez – known to the world as A-Rod – is a true legend of baseball and he hit 696 homeruns and is 4th on the all-time list of homerun hitters in the history of MLB. He taught me to hit the ball as hard as I can every time.”

 

 

 

Leon Gutowski of the Herts Under 13s also joined Riley in getting up close and personal with greats such as Reggie Jackson, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte at this event.

The London Mets had been instrumental in arranging what was an extraordinary experience for kids and parents alike.

In the week before the Red Sox-Yankees games, there was also a Play Ball event at the London Stadium where school kids of all ages were able to come along with their teachers and experience baseball for the first time.

Herts veteran Tim Elkins described how he was “among those lucky enough to be chosen to help out at this event”. Here’s what he had to say:

“Foolishly wearing my CrossFit t-shirt on day one, I was allocated the Agility Station involving ladders on the floor and inventing various exercises for people to run through, across, along, over, under etc the ladders. Much to the delight of kids, teachers and fellow coaches, I had to demo each exercise!!! Six groups, twice a day for 3 days, is a lot of hop scotch!”

The events at the Stadium helped build excitement and expectation of the big clash – while also spreading the word of the game to British school-children. Herts players and their families were fortunate enough to also get inside when the visiting teams had their workout day, and get a close-up glimpse of the stars in action.

When Saturday came, a capacity crowd turned out in baking hot weather (official game time temperature was over 90 degrees) to see history made.

Riley (bottom, centre) lines up with Aaron Judge

All around the London Stadium you could find enthusiasm, wonder, and a lot of replica shirts. You could find giant hot dogs, and flagons of beer, and the mystical aura of baseball.

In the thick of it all was Riley Manning:

“The Yankees choose me to be a Mascot and I got selected to stand in front of Aaron Judge, who is my favourite player of all time! We had to arrive at the stadium at 9am for rehearsals. We got to go on the field and see ourselves on the big screen inside the stadium. We had to walk under the stadium and I got to see the batting cages the players use for warming up in and I got to sit in the dugouts of the Yankees and Red Sox.”

Riley got a high five from Judge as the players ran on to the field. We are proud to say that he represented the club superbly throughout the weekend.

Close by, you could find Marianna and Carlos Casal, who formed part of the grounds crew for the weekend. Carlos, who has shown off his skills for the Herts Falcons during the year, got a to take a little batting practice in the Stadium earlier as a bonus.

He said everyone had been professional and friendly – and there was some magic in the air:

“I was on the grounds everyday and at the side of the field during the games. The atmosphere was electrifying, and it was amazing to see such a turn out to both games, and such a good crowd. I can’t wait to see how next year’s games go.”

Also in the house was Jake Caress, a former Herts player now serving with the Royal Air Force. On both days, he took part in pre-game ceremonies joining other members of the armed forces to hold Union Jack and Stars and Stripes flags.

Sgt Jake Caress, top right, joins ceremonies

The game, as you probably know, was a crazy one. The New York Yankees’ Aaron Hicks hit the first ever MLB home run in Europe, and plenty more followed. The score was tied at 6-6 after the first. Neither starting pitcher made it out of the inning.

New York took a big lead, but as a few fans in the crowd sneaked out to catch their trains, the Red Sox rallied. They left them loaded in the seventh, ending hopes that the drama could turn from ridiculous to absurd.

The Yankees won. And young Riley was happy:

“The game started at 6pm and finished at around 11pm. This was a very long game and was only 3 minutes away from setting a record for the longest game between these 2 teams. Both clubs started in the 1880s and have played against each other thousands of times.

The final score was 17-13 to the Yankees which made me happy but made my dad sad as he is a Red Sox fan. The highlights from the game for me was seeing Aaron Judge hit a home run and Aroldis Chapman throwing a 101MPH!!! fastball. We drove home and got back around 1am. I was very tired but I still couldn’t believe I got to meet Aaron Judge.”

Sunday’s Game 2 kicked off with home run fireworks too, with Boston hitting three to take the lead. The game then actually settled into a more conventional MLB contest and the score was 4-2 after six innings.

Then the Yankees blew it open. They scored 9 in the seventh, sending 14 batters to the plate. It ended 12-8 to New York.

Aaron Judge in the outfield during warm-ups

“The energy never let up”, said the Yankees manager Aaron Boone. “It felt like a huge event, these two games.”

Aaron, you don’t know the half of it. For Brits who had never seen an MLB game, it was a milestone in their lives. For British baseball fans who have felt neglected for years, it was a game-changer.

And for Riley Manning, it could have set him on a path to great things:

“When I grow up, I want to play for the Yankees because Yankees is my favourite team and I was inspired to train harder. I’m excited for Chicago Cubs against the St Louis Cardinals in the London games in 2020, as I like the Chicago Cubs. My favourite part of the whole experience was being a mascot for the New York Yankees and meeting Aaron Judge.”

Any doubt that this event would be a hit had been thoroughly dispelled.

The crowd for Saturday was the biggest for an MLB game since 2003, and Sunday was only a handful smaller. The sunshine – which can’t always be relied upon in England — shone brightly and ceaselessly. And fans, both old and new, were won over.

Let’s give a final word to Tim Elkins, for his impressions of the Play Ball sessions:

“The whole event was a huge success, with a number of schools already expressing an interest in next years event, even as as they left. It was great fun all round, the MLB event staff were great, and fellow coaches were great fun – I too am looking to return again as a coach next year!”

2020 should bring a second once-in-a-lifetime experience for British baseball fans. And Herts hopes to be at the heart of it all once again.

Marianna, Riley & Carlos

 

Riley & Leon with Nick Swisher

 

Falcons’ Ryan Bird elected to Hall of Fame

A former Herts Falcons star, who helped the team to its first ever National Baseball League pennant, has been given a deserved place in the British Baseball Hall of Fame.

Ryan Bird was a force both as a pitcher and a slugger in his years with Herts. He is one of four players, coaches and officials from across the game who have been inducted in the Class of 2019.

He is the first Herts figure to be given a place in the Hall, which is another milestone for a club which is now one of the strongest pillars of British baseball.

Bird (far right) in his final Herts game (pic: Richard Lee)

The South African native received immediate recognition in his first year in the British leagues, in 2008. He was voted the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the NBL for his performances with the Richmond Flames. The achievement was all the more remarkable given that this was a time of total domination by the London Mets.

In the following year, Bird was once again voted league MVP, making him the first player to receive two such awards since the London Warriors were the big force in the game. He hit five home runs for Richmond, leading the NBL in that category.

In 2012, Ryan Bird made the high profile move to the Herts Falcons and had an immediate impact. He won a Defensive Award, as the best First Baseman of the Year, and helped Herts to the NBL final series against the Nationals, which they lost in six games.

He would win NBL MVP for a third time in 2013, but that bald fact — impressive as it is — didn’t really do justice to his performance. For one thing, he helped take the Falcons to a 24-4 record and their first ever pennant in the National Baseball League.

Bird drove in a career best 31 runs. And in August he chalked up the extraordinary feat of pitching two back-to-back no-hitters. His first victims were the South London Pirates. He struck out 15 batters and walked only 2 in that victory.

As the Herts report put it at the time: “Maybe it was the very unusual all-lefty battery (Ryan pitching and Cris Hiche catching), or the Bingo Bango written in a player’s forearm, that confused and maybe intimidated the Pirates’ lineup. But I think most likely it was the great command of Ryan’s fastball and his ability to constantly and accurately hit the corners of the plate.”

A week later, Bird did it again. This time the Essex Redbacks were on the wrong end of the no-hitter, with 9 strikeouts recorded. As far as we could tell, the feat was unprecedented in the elite level of British baseball.

The opening game of the 2014 season against the London Mets was Ryan Bird’s last for the Falcons before his move to the USA. He said goodbye to the Herts fans with another outstanding performance going 4-4 with a home run which, according to the game report, “probably is still hovering somewhere over St Albans”.

At the time of his retirement, Bird had the highest career batting average (.508), on base percentage (.578) and slugging percentage (.822) in modern British baseball history.  All told, he tallied 15 HRs and 119 RBI over the course of 385 plate appearances for the Richmond Flames and Herts Falcons (stats from Project Cobb).

Ryan Bird was elected alongside Jason Holowaty and Darrin Muller from the modern ballot, with Alan Asquith being elected by the historical vetting panel that was introduced in 2016.

At the London Series games in 2019 between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, an event honoured the previous round of inductees. The hope is that something similar can be done in June 2020 for this year’s class.

The guardian of the Hall, Matt Smith, said: “I’m delighted to see four such worthy candidates joining our Hall of Fame, all with different stories to tell but sharing a true commitment to the game in Britain and excelling at what they did.”

Thanks to Matt for sections of this article, which appeared first on the baseballgb website. You can read more about the Hall of Fame and its members at bbhof.org

A bright Futures at Herts

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.

It’s raining baseballs….

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.

Cartmel Valley at bat

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.

Roll up, get your hot dogs here!

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!