Author: Rob Jones

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!

Falcons fall flat in final face-off

The Herts Falcons’ season had already been eventful. New recruits. Big homers. A dramatic win over the defending champions. A trip to Europe.

The finale was to be the playoff weekend for the National Baseball League at Farnham Park. Herts were seeded third and would face the London Capitals, seeded 2. They had played some tight games in the regular season but the London side had the better of the results.

Gary Davison pitching

In the first game of the weekend the reigning NBL champion London Mets had beaten the Essex Arrows to book their place in the final. Herts were the only side to beat the Mets this year, so they would be able to draw on that memory — if they could make it through.

Unlike last year’s windswept Saturday at Farnham Park, this was a hot, still and dusty day.

The shortstop Miguel Rodriguez led off for the Falcons, and worked the count to 3-1 before grounding out to the second baseman. Carlos Casal and Ryan Trask both made good contact but the ball flew to the outfielders. A steady enough start, but no runs.

Dom Hill was on the mound for the Falcons. He was solid, but in many ways this first frame set the tone for the day. Everything would just work out well for the Capitals, and they would execute their plan in a way Herts simply couldn’t.

The first London runner got on base, but only by half a step with a soft infield hit. He stole second straight away, showing the aggressive approach which London would adopt all game.

Capitals ran the bases aggressively

The only solid contact of the inning, a single to left field, brought him home and the Capitals took a 1-0 lead.

Jarrod Pretorius was the first Herts base-runner of the day, talking a walk. But that was all the Falcons could manage, and in the bottom of the second frame some loose fielding cost them dear.

The Capitals’ leadoff man again got on base and stole second, the next batter reached on the first error of the inning. Hill fought back to get the next two outs, including his first strikeout. But another bobble on the infield allowed the third run to come in.

London were able to do more damage in the bottom of the third, helped by a scattering of walks. An excellent running catch by Casal in centre field helped hold the base runners in a tough situation.

But the Capitals were able to bring in four more runs, before Falcons manager Cris Hiche made his first pitching change. Gary Davison came on with two outs, and the bases loaded, and got a strikeout to close the inning.

London now led 7-0. In the top of the fourth, Herts got their first hit when Davison drove a ground ball up the middle. He was advanced to third by a double from Pretorius, before Walter Bates took a walk to load the bases and Herts threatened for the first time.

But remember that tone we talked about in the first inning? It could be seen here. Phil Clark grounded to the pitcher, who threw out the runner at the plate, and the catcher just – just – doubled off Clark at first. The roll of the dice did not go Herts’ way, and the Capitals executed perfectly.

Moise Vasquez at bat

Herts retired the side in order in the bottom of the fourth, throwing up their first donut of the day. And in the top of the fifth they got on the scoreboard.

Moise Vasquez came off the bench in to the 9 spot in the batting order, and hit a one-out double that roused the bench. After advancing to third on a single by Rodriguez he then went a step further in making things happen.

Rodriguez stole second and when the catcher tried unsuccessfully to gun him down, Vasquez took off for home. He slid in, in a cloud of dust, to score the first Falcons run.

Herts kept the line moving but a pair of fly-outs ended another rally. And the Capitals were able to respond this time.

A pair of walks and a flurry of hits padded the lead which had only recently seemed under threat. Davison was pulled with the bases loaded and one out, but reliever Carlos Casal then battled to throw strikes. Alex Deacon replaced him, walking his first batter before striking out his second to end the fifth.

The walks were part of the undoing of Herts on the day – 12 base on balls, compared with 6 strikeouts. The Falcons didn’t exactly agree with all the calls – in fact, manager Cris Hiche was ejected for arguing the point with the home plate umpire – but they couldn’t change them.

London scored six in the fifth, to take their lead to 13-1. But Herts showed spirit to rally again, and this time pushed some runs across the plate. Pretorius, Clark and Marco Pestana got aboard, with Moise Vasquez applying the blow to drive in the Falcons’ second run.

Relief pitcher Alex Deacon

Another followed when Rodriguez was hit by a pitch, and more on an infield hit by Deacon. But the fairytale opportunity for a grand slam by Pretorius did not materialise, as he was struck out to end the inning.

The score moved to 13-5 but the Capitals couldn’t be kept quiet and they led 17-5 going into the top of the seventh. Herts needed something big to extend the game, and though Walter Bates led it off with a hit, and finally came round to score (driven in by Vasquez, of course) it wasn’t enough.

The Capitals sealed their place in the final 17-6 in seven innings.

The Falcons’ manager Cris Hiche was clearly disappointed, but also reflective: “Today just wasn’t our day”, he said.

“We were flat and, against a team that was firing on all cylinders, it was too much for us. Although we could have given the Capitals a much tougher fight, they executed every opportunity flawlessly.”

The Falcons were the only Herts team to make the playoffs, after some setbacks for the Hawks and a controversy about the Londoners. But it has been a tremendous year of growth for the club, and of success in other ways.

Hiche is already looking ahead to how to improve: “It’s a real shame for all our Herts fans and also the wider public who expected a close game, like we have always had against the Caps. No doubt we’ll learn from this loss though, and come back stronger next year.”

The focus now turns to youth baseball in September, with Herts looking to enter teams in the Youth National Baseball Championships at Farnham Park. The club will then host its own Herts Futures Tournament on September 21st, attracting clubs from around the country.

 

 

 

 

Honours even as Herts sides clash again

A Herts derby is not like a normal baseball game.

The national anthem was played as the Herts Eagles and Herts Raptors took their places along the baselines for a pre-game formality at Basing Hill Ballpark. The Herts Londoners got an opening ceremony earlier in the season, why shouldn’t the Eagles get one, too, at its tail end?

The usual Basing Hill playlist of Eighties rock classics was augmented by some new tunes. Lil Nas X made an appearance (on the playlist, not on the field). This would be a special day.

When these two teams met at Grovehill, the Eagles swept the double-header. Could they repeat for a season sweep?

Game 1 got under way with Yasu Ichige on the mound for the Eagles. It didn’t start as smoothly as he might have liked, with the Raptors’ leadoff man and pitcher Matt Jackson getting aboard with a single, and Oli Durer then hit by a pitch.

Laurence Currington drove in Jackson, while Callum Barwick — who had reached on a fielder’s choice – was brought home by GB youth player, Harry Quixley.

But the home side dug in defensively, with a catch by shortstop Rob Gibson and a groundout limiting the damage to two runs. When Ichige faced the lineup again in the second inning, he stepped up a gear and struck out the side. He ended with 7 K’s.

In between, the Eagles’ bats had given them the lead. Gibson took Jackson deep for his second home run of the year. This was just the first instalment in a dominant day at the plate for the rookie shortstop – only the time limit on Game 1 kept him from a chance at the cycle.

His team-mates helped build a big lead in the bottom of the second, bringing home the maximum 5 runs. Catcher Rob Jones drove in a pair, while there were hits for Andy Stratford and Louis Verman.

Laurence Currington at bat

The visitors did not surrender easily, of course. Dan Shaw hit a double, and the team totalled 8 hits, only one behind their hosts.

But the Eagles were mostly able to keep them from scoring. Alex Trautman applied a neat tag to get out a base-runner at third, while Zack Longboy made an improbable leaping catch to end the third inning and save a run.

It ended 10-5 to the home side. Yasu Ichige took the complete game win, his second victory of the year.

The second half of this double header – and the final quarter of the season’s derby drama – would see a measure of revenge for the Raptors.

They came out of the blocks fast, with Harry Quixley and Paul Barton among those scoring in the first inning. Matt Jackson — who didn’t make an out all day long – had started it all off.

On the mound for the Raptors, Barton was calmly dealing. After inducing two pop-ups, he got the key strikeout of Zack Longboy to end the first inning. Only one batter reached in the second.

Paul Barton pitching

A double from Laurence Currington helped to add on in the third and the Raptors led 6-0 in the middle of the third.

The pattern of this game saw the Eagles being effective on offense only in bursts. The inning was either scoreless, or was a maximum 5-run affair. So, in the bottom of the third, ground rule doubles from Rob Gibson, Adam Porte and Darren Priest were among the hits. The Eagles were back in it.

The Raptors were more consistent, though, scoring in every inning. Catcher Kai Rajah was the last man to cross the plate, giving them a 14-10 lead and the chance to close it out in the final, unlimited inning.

The Eagles hopes of a dramatic rally were high, especially when Kumail Jaffer got the last of his four hits on the day to lead it off. But Barton and his defense did what they needed to do.

Two force-outs at second base and a liner to Callum Barwick at third ended the contest. 14-10 to the Raptors, their third win of the season.

The day had delivered everything it promised – as did the season’s four derby match-ups. Both sides have one more fixture remaining, and will look forward to building on their foundations next year.

A round of applause for everyone

 

Herts come up empty after last inning dramas

Sometimes, sport can be a thing of beauty and can raise you up. Sometimes, it can be agonising. This one was an agonising weekend for the Herts baseball club.

The Herts Raptors of the Single-A league travelled to the Essex Redbacks, missing some regulars because of injury and summer holidays. But they were also bolstered by a clutch of Great Britain Under-15 stars.

Josh Jones and Harry Quixley joined regulars Alex Paterson, Dan Moran and Nico Durer. They all recently took part in a successful tournament in Germany.

Nico Durer at bat

Herts were able to get a run across in the first frame, before Durer took the mound as starting pitcher. He had trouble throughout the game getting his strike zone to match up with that of the umpire, but battled hard.

He was backed up by some good plays in the field – from Moran at third base, and nice saves from Jones at first. Mantas Poderys at second base also fielded calmly.

John Kjorstad again swung a strong bat for Herts and they were able to take a lead into the final inning. But the Raptors have suffered a series of final inning setbacks this year and this was to be another. The Redbacks hitting and persistent larceny on the bases helped them come back to win 10-9.

Game 2 saw the Herts visitors keep their noses in front from the off. Better base-running and hitting gave them a good lead. Dan Shaw and Nico Durer got hits, and Moran was on the mound this time, pitching solidly.

But Essex chipped back into the Raptors lead, and their reliever Sean Briscomb was again able to shut down the offense, as in Game 1. It was to come down to the final inning again.

Manager Matt Jackson stepped up to take the responsibility of the last outs, and made good pitches. But the Redbacks loaded the bases and a whiff of confusion after the fly ball which led to the second out was enough for them to capitalise. This time it was 11-10.

Raptors again played with good spirit and improved even as the game went on. Redbacks have a great record this year and earned their wins, but Herts can take many good things from their performance.

Also in Single-A, the Herts Eagles hosted the league-leading London Musketeers, with nobody expecting a home win. But Herts veteran Arnie Longboy pitched a gem which saw the Eagles take an early lead. It was 2-0 in the third.

London fought back, as you would expect them to. They had a couple of big innings. But Herts tied it at 10-10 to take the game to extra innings.

Co-manager and pitcher, Arnie Longboy

Longboy pitched a 3-up, 3-down top of the frame and the game was poised for Herts to secure a famous shock victory.

Then came the real gut-punch.

Adam Porte and Lewis Harrison got on base. They were both hit by pitch, surely a sign that the Musketeers were wobbling. Next came a scorching hit from Jamie Lang, only recently recruited to the Eagles.

But instead of being the walk-off, winning hit, as it first appeared, it went straight to the first baseman. He caught it – one out – stepped on the bag for two, and alertly threw to the shortstop at second base to get the final runner. In a flash, the threat was over.

London managed to score a go-ahead run in the top of the next inning, before retiring the Eagles and taking an 11-10 win. Their relief and delight was clear. This game had been a huge leap forward for the Eagles compared with the last time they faced the Musketeers, in week 2 of the season.

Mike Wakelam got the ball for Game 2 and turned in another excellent pitching performance, but the offense could not back him up this time. It ended 12-4 to London.

Co-manager Aspi Dimitrov was impressed with his players: “Ordinarily, two defeats might be demoralising, but the margin and the close nature of the defeats against such a good side were a huge boost for the Eagles. It really shows the progress everyone has made”.

Witter pitching for the Londoners

In Triple-A, the Herts Londoners were away at the Essex Redbacks. Like the Raptors, they had young talent to call on, with Chris Gregory and Aaron Witter among the pitchers in two close games.

Miguel Sarmiento continued to drive in runs, but Herts could not take the wins this time, going down 10-7 and 8-6 on a grey day.

The Herts Hawks made the long trip to the Bournemouth Bears to suffer a 16-2 defeat, while the Herts Falcons of the NBL saw their games rained off. There is a toss-up there as to who suffered the bigger agony.

Herts history: Eagles sweep Raptors on derby day

The first was in 2007. The most recent was in 2016. A Herts derby is a big and a rare moment. And it consistently delivers on the drama.

The club’s expansion into north west London this season meant that two Single-A teams would enter the BBF leagues for the first time since 2016. That was the year the Hawks won it all and moved up to Double-A.  On the way, they beat the Raptors in the playoffs at Grovehill.

This year, the match-up was between the Raptors and the Eagles. Both sides are packed with rookies and young players, and had found wins hard to come by despite their improving performances. So there was a lot on the line.

Game 1 saw Paul Barton take to the pitching mound for the nominal home side, the Raptors. He was one of the few holdovers from that 2016 contest. And, as on that occasion, he started out well.

His first inning was scoreless. In centre-field, Dan Shaw confidently made two catches deep in the outfield in the first two at-bats – a baptism of fire in his first time playing the position. Two runners did get on, but a groundout ended the threat.

In the bottom half of the inning, Eagles’ starter Arnie Longboy matched up well. He struck out two after the lead-off man Antonio Laurenco got on. But back-to-back big hits from Laurence Currington and John Kjorstad brought in runs to give the Raptors an early lead.

They tacked on one more in the second, while holding the visitors scoreless. But the Eagles strung together some offense in the third to tie it up. Darren Priest got a hit and scored, while shortstop Rob Gibson got the second of his 4 hits on the day.

Raptors moved back ahead with Rene Aschmann joining Currington and Kjorstad in doing the damage. Lee Manning then came in to pitch in relief and helped shut things down.

Paul Barton pitching

The visitors’ defense helped keep things close. At second base, Andy Stratford made a good play on a ball to his right to secure the out at first. Catcher Adam Collins did a great job blocking balls, so that the foul territory (so much larger at Grovehill than at the Eagles’ home of Basing Hill) did not become a factor.

Entering the fifth and final inning, the Raptors led 7-6 and the Eagles needed to score to extend the game. Manning claimed his fourth and fifth strikeouts to start the frame and, with two outs, things looked bad for the Eagles.

But then they shuffled their deck.

Co-manager Longboy came in to pinch hit and was intentionally walked. The next sub was veteran Mike Wakelam, who returned to baseball only last week after a few years out.

He cracked a ground ball sharply through the left side, then Aspi Dimitrov kept it moving before Gibson drove in his fifth RBI of the day. In all, the Eagles brought home 5 and now led 11-6.

Wakelam took the ball as the closer. One run did make it in, on a pass ball, but a strikeout, and groundout and a tag-out – on an attempt to score on another pass ball — ended the game. An 11-8 Eagles victory, their second of the season and one which was hard-earned.

The second Herts derby of the year followed after a short lunchbreak, and pitted Mike Wakelam against the Raptors manager Matt Jackson as starting pitchers. Jackson struggled to find the zone at first, surrendering two walks, and Darren Priest and Louis Verman drove in runs to capitalise.

Rob Gibson at bat

But the Raptors defense helped out. Jack O’Brien showed quick thinking to secure an unassisted double play, tagging the runner after catching a liner from Arnie Longboy.

When the home side came to bat, Laurence Currington hit a triple to add to his impressive tally for the day. He scored on a pass ball, but catcher Rob Jones was able to make some amends for that by throwing out a runner at third to end the inning and keep the damage at one run.

Eagles then stretched out their lead, with Stratford, Lewis Harrison and Gibson all scoring to help them to an 8-3 advantage after two innings. Wakelam had struck out five already.

But Nico Durer then took the mound for the Raptors and settled things down. Over his three innings of work he struck out 7 and gave up only one run. It was an excellent final warm-up for his trip to Germany with the Great Britain Under-15s.

The complexion of the game had changed, but that meant the score changed little. Just 4 runs were shared out over the final four innings – Alex Paterson scoring two for the Raptors and Mohamed Abdule driving one in for the Eagles.

Fittingly, a strikeout was the final action and the Herts Eagles secured a 9-6 win and a sweep.

It had been a competitive and enjoyable day of baseball, with both sides enjoying the chance to banter with each other — while also trying hard to win!

The last time the Raptors and Eagles played league games against one another was in 2013 and they took one each of the two games. The Raptors will be aiming to take revenge when the reverse fixture is played next month at Basing Hill.

 

 

 

 

Back in time: Herts young players help mark the dawn of baseball

Among the events featured in this British summer of baseball was one to mark the game’s origins right here in England. Herts’ own Robert Gregory was on hand to witness the day, and sent this report:

On Sunday July 7th a Blue plaque unveiling event was held at Walton-on-Thames to commemorate the first recorded baseball game that was held there. It took place at Ashley Park, what is now Walton cricket ground, in September 1749.

On that day, the Prince of Wales took part. As part of this year’s festivities a demonstration game was played by players that are either on GB team rosters, or are selected for the national development programme.  This included players of various age groups, among them 5 from Herts teams – Josh Jones, Pedro Gomez-Jones, Jack O’Brien, Lucas Lebrato and Chris Gregory.

Herts’ Chris Gregory in action

The day began with a wet start with the teams “warming up’ in a constant drizzle. All eyes were on the weather forecast and just before the start of the game the weather obliged and cleared up.

Managed by GB head coach Liam Carroll the players were split into two teams — one ‘Team USA’ and one ‘Team GB’. The former Radio 1 DJ Mike Read made the introductions, the two teams took the field and the GB and USA National anthems were sung.

A good crowd took their positions and it was ‘Game on’. 

It was decided that the older players should pitch and catch at a suitable level to provide a balanced game for the range of ages of the players. Chris Gregory of the Herts Londoners pitched first for Team GB.

Some good fielding allowed GB to take a 2-0 lead after the first innings. Team USA then put in two strong innings scoring 6 runs in each, this included strong hits by the younger Herts players.

The game progressed with the crowd enjoying the experience and being provided details of finer points of the game from the announcer, Cris Knoblock. Some young children were keen to play and so soon were playing a game of there own.

The game looked over in the 6th (and final) inning as Team USA stretched out to an 8 run lead. But Team GB came charging back from 18-10 down to tie the game. A final hit deep to centre field by Herts’ Lucas Lebrato provided the winning runs, much to the delight of the crowd.

The players could then relax and enjoy the rest of the festivities with batting and pitching cages run by BaseballSoftballUK. There were also food stalls, entertainment and various performances on the stages. VIP guests enjoyed a buffet lunch in the marquee that was decorated with USA and GB flags and baseball items.

In the afternoon, the blue plaque was unveiled by the comedian Bobby Davro and his father Bill Nankeville, who was a national and record breaker on the track and a two-time Olympian. After that a softball game was held with the celebs and special guests. A great day for promoting baseball in the UK.

An historic adventure: the Herts Falcons in Europe

There were trophies, triumphs, blowouts and rainouts in Herts baseball club’s first ever experience of European competition. And the players and fans lapped it up.

The Herts Falcons, sponsored by Regin Products, took part in the European Federations Cup qualifier in Bulgaria, thanks to their position as runners-up in last year’s National Baseball League. In a history stretching back to 1996, Herts has never before been in Europe, so it was a big step forward.

Falcons, in new red uniform thanks to Regin

The first of five games in five days in Blagoevgrad was against the Polish side, UKS Deby Osielsko. They would go on to be the runner’s up in the tournament, and so provided stiff opposition.

Herts took an early lead, with Tetsuro Shinkawa writing his place in history by driving in the club’s first ever European runs. Miguel Sarmiento later hit Herts’ first ever European home run, as the Falcons rallied late in the game. Shortstop Carlos Casal Jr went 2-2 with two walks, but Osielsko won 18-8.

It had still been a solid start from the travelling Herts side. The sport of baseball is far more solidly established in Europe, with professional leagues in countries such as Austria, Italy and the Netherlands – so we knew the challenge would be tough.

Tetsuro Shinkawa

Herts were overpowered by Athletic Sofia from Bulgaria on Tuesday – despite a 3-for-3 day at the plate by Gary Davison – and by eventual Swedish tournament winners Solvesborg Firehawks on Thursday.

In between was the most dramatic game, against Atletico Alexandria. Herts led the Romanian side 3-0 going into the fifth inning, behind the superb pitching of Davison. Ryan Trask and Miguel Rodriguez had scored the runs.

Then Alexandria rallied to take the lead on a couple of Herts errors and wild pitches. They scored 5 from only 2 hits. But the Falcons were still in the game.

A cloudy day then brought rain which interrupted proceedings with Herts 6-3 down. Casal had come on to pitch in relief, and struck out three, and the Falcons hopes remained high. But the rain delay became a cancellation and the game was called. Herts were disappointed by a 6-3 loss.

It was frustrating as, inside the camp, the Falcons felt their performance had been their best as a team so far. Manager Cris Hiche put it simply: “We should have won it”. The team had been more relaxed and had more fun.

Parental advisory – Falcons “showering”

That strong team spirit showed in the way they washed away their disappointment. Stripped down to their underwear, the team sprinted from the dugout, through the rain, and slid across the outfield.

The moment was memorably caught on camera. It proved a success not only on Herts social media channels, but on a Facebook page covering baseball around the world – where it racked up more than 20,000 views.

On Friday, the Falcons ended on a high when they faced Utenos Titanai from Lithuania. Young Chris Gregory got the start on the mound and pitched a gem. He went the full eight innings, scattering 7 hits and striking out 7.

He was backed up by the bats, with Jarrod Pretorius going 3-for-4 and Tyler Badenhorst and Conner Brown both having a multi-hit game. It ended 13-2 to Herts and they claimed the fourth place trophy.

This had been an epic adventure, for these players and for the club as a whole. Herts veteran Lee Manning – who made some guest appearances as a reliever – said “We’ve left everything on the field every day. After 23 years, making it into Europe has taken us to the next level.”

Falcons’ manager Cris Hiche was proud of what the team had achieved, while club President Aspi Dimitrov hailed it as an historic week for the club.

Generous donations from players, supporters and from the Falcons sponsor Regin Products had made the trip possible. The reaction from the fans and families – and from the rest of British baseball – had made it worthwhile.

 

 

Eagles twice bitten by Redbacks

Herts had tied the score in the final inning of Game 2. They had put the winning run at third base. A spare runner was at first base as insurance, and there was only one man out.

The Eagles were poised for a glory moment.

After working the count, the hitter lined it up the middle. Off the bat, it looked promising. But then it flew straight into the shortstop’s glove. And he promptly doubled off the runner on third, who was inescapably hung up.

Inning over. Chance missed. Game still tied.

Yasu Ichige at bat in Game 2

It perhaps summed up a day when the Herts Eagles simply couldn’t get enough good hits into gaps to ever gain any momentum.

Let’s skip back to the start.

The Eagles were hosting the Redbacks at Basing Hill ballpark. The Essex team won both games when these teams met at Forest Glade a month ago. But since then the Eagles had shown consistent improvement and had finally won their first game.

Simon Langton got the start on the mound for Herts and worked around one walk for a scoreless opening inning. He struck out five over the first three frames, limiting the Redbacks to 5 runs.

But the Eagles bats were struggling even more. In those same three innings, they had mustered just one hit and scored no runs.

Redbacks’ pitcher Dennis Rodebush – who had bamboozled the Eagles when they first met – now did the same again. His final line was very different to Langton’s – only one strikeout compared with 8, but – crucially – no runs.

Somehow he induced a consistent series of squibs, dribblers, and pop-ups. Only Kumail Jaffer managed a solid hit, driving a double to centre.

Rodebush helped his own cause, golfing a home run to lead off the fifth inning as the Redbacks finally managed to break open what had remained a tight game despite everything. They brought home 5 runs in that inning, 4 more in the next, chasing Langton.

Kumail Jaffer – slugger, outfielder, infielder

Rob Gibson stepped in as relief pitcher, striking out 3 in two innings of work. But he could not close down the Redbacks offense. The game went a full seven innings, but ended with the first shutout the Eagles had suffered all year. 19-0 the final score.

In Game 2, Herts turned to their winner from last week Yasu Ichige as starting pitcher. This was to be a very different type of game. Instead of a cagey affair which turns into a blowout, this was back and forth with good hitting on both sides.

Essex scored 3 in the first, but Herts matched them immediately. Essex hit another homer to give them a 4-3 lead in the second.

For Herts, Gibson – who had hit the ball a long way in Game 1, but always a long way into the air – now got his eye in and drove balls to the outfield. Ichige got vital hits, as did first baseman Max Trautman.

Essex led 10-8 going into the final inning, with no run limit. But they were held to just one, so Herts needed four to walk it off and win.

With three runs in, Kumail Jaffer at third and Adam Collins at first, things looked good. Then that liner off the end of the bat from catcher Rob Jones, and swift work from the Essex shortstop, took it to extras.

This time, the Redbacks were able to pile on some runs, and Herts could not get them back. It ended 16-11 to Essex.

Lewis Harrison at bat

Frustrations came in different forms for the other Herts teams, because of the weather.

The Hawks were able to get under way at Grovehill against Richmond, with manager Michael Cresswell back in place after a trip to Bulgaria playing with the Herts Falcons. As an added bonus, Louis Hare hit a homer in the first.

But a downpour caused a delay then a cancellation. It was the same story for the Herts Raptors, who hope to reschedule quickly against the Essex Archers.

In Triple-A, the Londoners were due to be miles away in Oxford. But the rain wiped them out too.

Next week, the Falcons, Londoners, Hawks — and possibly now the Raptors – are back in action. Then British baseball takes a break from playing to watch the historic first MLB game in London.

Sponsor unveiled for Falcons Euro push

Herts Baseball Club is proud to announce the arrival of Regin Products as a sponsor for this season, in a partnership which offers crucial help to the Falcons as they travel to Europe.

Our National Baseball League (NBL) team will soon be playing in the European Federations Cup in Bulgaria,  for the first time in their twenty year history. They will face teams from Sweden, Poland, Lithuania, Romania and Bulgaria over a week of action in Blagoevgrad.

Baseball diamond at Blagoevgrad

One of the missions of the Herts club this year has been to help support the players and coaches on this trip, as baseball receives no funding for international competition. So we are delighted that Regin Products have come on board to help the Falcons make this possible with their generous support.

Regin is a family-run company with 30 years of experience supplying products to heating and plumbing engineers. The firm is based in Cambridgeshire, but has a wide network of stockists.

The firm’s watchwords are pride in its quality and its service, and we share those values at Herts. Our players are always ambassadors for the club, and we are proud that they will be representing not only Herts but British baseball when they play in Bulgaria.

The Falcons qualified for this tournament with their post-season heroics in 2018, in which they dramatically beat the Southampton Mustangs and the London Capitals to reach the NBL final. The London Mets got the better of them in the final series, and the Mets are also playing in Europe this summer, in Moscow.

Another crucial contribution to the Falcons’ efforts in Europe will come from the newly launched Herts Baseball Lottery. This is open to anyone over the age of 16, whether or not they are a member of the club.

Everyone who enters will have the chance to win the monthly jackpot, while the net proceeds will be put towards the trip to Blagoevgrad. In the future, the money raised from the Lottery will go towards major club projects and help recruit more players to the sport of baseball.

Over its history, Herts has developed Grovehill ballpark to become one of the country’s top venues, and it has expanded in 2019 into northwest London.

Falcons players and other members of the club have already been making their contributions this season to raise money for the European Federations Cup..

Herts players have been coaching youth teams, and the club has been matching their fees and paying them into the Herts Euro Fund.

One of our coaches, Marianna Casal – a European softball champion and a participant in the first official women’s baseball game in the UK – took part in a National Geographic television programme about baseball. She has pledged 50% of her fee to the Euro Fund.

Members of the club have also been using the online shopping portal, easyfundraising. This scheme offers donations to the charity of your choice – such as Herts – when you buy goods from a wide range of retailers, including Amazon, John Lewis and Sainsbury’s. It can also be used when you buy your holiday from Thomas Cook or Tui, or your car insurance from RAC and ComparetheMarket.

 

 

Last gasp drama as Eagles burned by Inferno

It was an agonising end after a back and forth day of baseball battles, reports Rob Jones from Basing Hill Ballpark.

The Herts Eagles – one of the club’s two new teams – went in search of their first win of the season at home to the Bracknell Inferno. The visitors are putting together a strong year, including a win over the division-leading London Musketeers, but Herts pushed them all the way.

Giacomo Zaffalon picks up 2 RBIs

Alex Trautman was given the responsibility of starting on the mound for the Eagles, and he struck out the first two batters he faced. He held Bracknell scoreless for the first two frames, closing out the second with another strikeout when threats were on the bases.

Herts batters started strongly, too. Zack Longboy drove in a run with a double in the first, and Giacomo Zaffalon brought home two in the second.

Defence was solid, as the Eagles continued to improve in this, their first season. Adam Porte turned a double play, and Francois Earp hauled in outfield catches securely.

But walks, strong hits and aggressive stealing in the third inning helped Bracknell fight back. They scored 5 and chased Trautman. The Eagles’ heads didn’t drop though. Longboy led off the bottom of the third with a home run to right field, cutting the deficit immediately to 5-4.

Bracknell made a timely pitching change after surrendering back to back walks, and Herts could not build on their momentum. Jamie Lang went 2-for-2 and Porte got on base for a second time but the Eagles bats could not generate the offense they needed to come back. Game 1 ended 8-5 to the visitors.

Zack Longboy got the start in Game 2 of the double-header. He had already showed his quality, but Bracknell came out swinging and chalked up two early runs. Trevor Clissold and new recruit Yasu Ichige struck back immediately with hits which were converted into runs by Max Trautman and by Longboy, whose hit fell just inches shy of a second homer.

This time around, the Eagles were keeping their noses in front. The team is made up of a mixture of players entirely new to the sport, and a sprinkling of old hands, and the blend was working well. Debutant Lewis Harrison scored a run after being hit by a pitch. Herts still led 7-5 after four innings.

Again, the defense remained solid when it might otherwise have buckled. Mohamed Abdule caught a drive in centre field which had made the bench nervous; Kumail Jaffer, making his debut at second base, secured all three outs in one inning.

But as, perhaps, tiredness set in, the Eagles missed chances to get out of the fifth, and Bracknell were able to take the lead. They were able to score 3 runs on just one hit. They extended their lead to 9-7 in the top of the sixth and the stage was set. Herts had to score 2 to save the game, 3 to walk-off.

Kumail Jaffer ties the game

After two quick outs, Darren Priest came to the plate. He had garnered headlines in his guest appearance for the Herts Londoners last week, and made his presence felt this time, too. He worked a full count before getting a hit, then Arnie Longboy walked.

Up stepped Kumail Jaffer – without a hit yet in his young baseball career. He delivered in the clutch with a drive to right field that brought home both runners and sparked celebration on that nervous bench. The scores were even at 9-9.

Into extra innings. Yasu Ichige was pitching in relief and had been battling well to contain Bracknell. Priest, Longboy and Rob Jones made plays to back him up. But one double was the key hit for Bracknell as they took the lead.

The Inferno relief pitcher, who had helped close out the first game, now did the honours again. The top of the Herts order couldn’t make another rally, and a groundout ended it. 12-9 to Bracknell.

The Eagles have shown consistent improvement over the first few weeks of the season, moving from blowouts to a narrow, extra innings defeat. Every player could look back on a highlight from the games, and they look forward to the next outing.