The following article was featured in Herts Baseball Club’s 2023 Annual Report distributed to club members ahead of its annual general meeting held on 26 November 2023.
It has been another record year for our club growing by 16% and we now have 248 adult and youth members. This has enabled us to have one or more teams at each of the four adult league tiers and in all four youth league age divisions. Substantial investment has gone into upgrading both ballparks and facilities and we are in a strong position to go further in the coming years after adding new revenue streams which increase our healthy cash reserves. MLB and other strategic partners have recognised us as an organisation they can work with and we hosted two MLB events – one in Hemel Hempstead and one in London. There are exciting opportunities on the horizon.
This would not be possible without the hard work, care and dedication of board and non-board staff, and the wider membership. We have been receiving very positive feedback from club members, parents and fans and I would like to join them in thanking you, the members, for your incredible contribution.
In 2022 we saw the unusual scenario of having one team in the Triple-A League and our other four teams all in Single-A. This year, the number of teams increased from five to seven and the allocation of teams was more balanced – one team in the NBL, one in Triple-A, two in Double-A and three in Single-A. From previous years we know that moving up the leagues is not an easy step to take. It became even more difficult when, after submitting the league entries in January, the Hawks lost five or six players from their strong 2022 roster and a similar number of new experienced players who were expected to strengthen the Ducks, withdrew their club registration shortly after registering due to change of circumstances. That had a significant effect on the competitiveness of those two teams in Double-A.
Despite this being an expansion season, the Cardinals, Raptors and Ravens achieved a considerable improvement with a combined record of 42 wins and 30 losses (.583) compared to 29 wins and 49 losses (.372) in 2022.
Cardinals and Ravens qualified for the Triple-A and Single-A postseason, respectively, reaching the semi-final stage which is an outstanding feat.
Falcons and the NBL Pilot Project
After a one year absence, the Herts Falcons were back in Britain’s top league. In addition to the return of a number of former Falcons players, we saw a large number of talented young players with international experience with the various Great Britain national teams.
There were games when the team showed that they can compete against the best NBL teams, but at the end we have to give credit to our opponents and accept that the Falcons did not do enough to stay in the playoff race.
But there is no doubt about the enormous potential of this group of young players not only to close the gap on the leading NBL teams but to overtake them in the coming years.
There was a recognition of this when Falcons third baseman, Jack Warrington, was selected as the only British player among the top 90 young European prospects to take part in the MLB Development Tournament during the MLB London Series in front of the MLB scouts.
The return of the Falcons to the NBL was in conjunction with the club’s Pilot Project which had the aim to increase the number of fans and provide a more immersive game day experience.
Despite operating on a limited budget, we sold a total of 284 tickets for the four NBL home games. The total included a number of complimentary tickets given to local primary schools and an organisation which supports people in Dacorum facing homelessness or social exclusion.
The department made a small profit. It would have been interesting to see what the results would have been if the team’s win-loss percentage was higher and had avoided some of the blow-out losses.
The project achieved most of the goals which were set, including:
- Falcons’ return to the NBL
- Grow the club’s fan base
- Increase attendances at home NBL games
- Increase publicity and media coverage
- Raise the club’s profile
- Inspire more children and adults to play baseball and join Herts
The Herts youth baseball programme grew again this year setting another record high.
The club was represented in all four age brackets of the national youth baseball championships picking up a silver at U19 level and two bronze medals for the U16s and U11s.
There is still a gap between our youth teams and the leading youth programme, but that gap is getting smaller every year.
The coaching staff deserve a lot of praise for raising the standard further and providing more playing opportunities, some of which were added extras on top of the membership packages.
Coach Lee Manning once again ran the midweek youth baseball sessions in Hemel Hempstead and coach Stephen Wong added ten summer holiday sessions and four April half-term sessions. The Basing Hill branch also added twelve midweek evening sessions to the calendar.
U13 players also had the opportunity to work with coach Monte Brooks from The Master’s University, California who have seen a number of their players play in MLB.
Like any organisation, there will be hurdles that we need to overcome. This year, a large number of U11 players in Hemel Hempstead made the transition to U13 leaving a lower number of players in that U11 group. That made it difficult for U11 coaches to run regular season games. Although the size of our programme is at a record high, we are still slightly short of the level needed to run local league play in every age group on our own. Disproportionate fluctuations in numbers from one year to the next can leave one or more age groups vulnerable so we need to keep pushing for growth to reach the scale which will ensure stable regular season game schedule.
This year it was very satisfying to see the work of the youth baseball staff in the previous three years show results with many Herts youth players starting their transition to adult league baseball with the Hawks and in the Hunlock Series.
I must give a special mention to the parents. They see that the club is looking to build something special and provide children with lifelong memories and they have become very involved supporting all aspects on and off the field, from coaching and umpiring to concessions and field maintenance.
The club continues to be in a healthy financial position. We were able to avoid any major increases in membership fees this year. However, we are operating in difficult economic conditions with high inflation. We need to do our best to keep baseball affordable while continuing our prudent management of the club’s finances. There will be some cost pressures which we will not be able to avoid and club members also will have to adapt to the new membership fee structure which the BBF is about to announce for 2024.
In 2022 the club was awarded £2,851 match-funding from the BSUK Facilities Fund to be invested in improvements at Grovehill Ballpark with a total cost of £5,851. The first stage of the work involving the installation of mound clay blocks for both pitching mounds at Grovehill was completed in 2022. The main part of the project involved verti-draining, overseeding, top dressing and other procedures to improve the playing surface on both diamonds. It was scheduled for Spring 2023.
Our contractors struggled to time the project due to heavy flooding in the Spring followed by a very dry spell which made the ground too hard for the spikes to penetrate the soil. As a result, it was implemented in September 2023 and grooves of newly grown grass could be seen during the Hunlock Series games in October (see photo above).
We had wonderful support from Dacorum Borough Council who assigned two additional rooms to us.
They also re-painted all our rooms and installed new female and male toilets and washing facilities.
The club also acquired a new paint-based line-marking machine for Grovehill.
We completed the second phase of the Basing Hill Ballpark project with the installation of the infield perimeter fence.
Thanks to the Brent Cross Town Community Fund £2,632 award we were able to fund the purchase of a baseball pitching machine for Basing Hill which means that now both ballparks have one.
It is important that we increase awareness about ballpark and facilities operational and maintenance procedures and train the designated team supervisors so that we can ensure that our ballparks are kept at the highest standard year after year.
Media and IT
Our media operations continue to be among the best in British baseball, with the club and its members featured by various media organisations and publications.
The number of followers of our various media channels continues to grow at a good rate.
We saw an increase in quality and volume of video content on our YouTube channel which members and other followers enjoyed this year.
As always, our IT Director, Greg Bochan, was hard at work keeping the club’s IT infrastructure running, integrating all of its separate components to work smoothly with each other and enabling us to do things which would be impossible without this technology.
Our club’s reputation for having some of the best ballparks in the UK and being able to host high profile events is paying off as we had the honour of hosting two MLB events around the MLB London Series. The first was the MLBPAA Youth Clinic featuring World Series winners, David Eckstein and Jake Arrieta, running a clinic with 60 kids from British baseball clubs around the UK.
The second was the MLB First Pitch event at Grovehill for around 200 pupils from local primary schools.
There was no Herts Futures Tournament in 2020 and 2021 but it is starting to regain momentum with the number of teams increasing from eight in 2022 to twelve this year.
The season would not be complete without the Hunlock Series. It also gave us an opportunity for all our adult teams to remember club member Dan Gipple who passed away this year.
Momentum is continuing to gather for baseball in the UK. The Great Britain National Team overcame the odds at the World Baseball Classic and secured a place in the next edition in 2026 without having to go through the qualifying stage.
British coach Liam Carroll was appointed as the manager of the Boston Red Sox’s Single-A affiliate.
The MLB London Series was back. In 2024 we will welcome the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies.
I expect to have a number of personal commitments coming up as we go into 2024. Although I will still be able to perform office-based roles such as Treasurer and Secretary, this will affect my ability to cover some of my other roles such as events and facilities manager. I am also mindful of the fact that I have been a board member of the club since 2004 and it may be appropriate for club members and the board to have the opportunity, periodically, to consider whether they wish to appoint different persons in the roles which I am covering at present. The last time I stepped down from my roles was in 2015 and perhaps now is a good time to do that again.
If no candidates are appointed at the upcoming AGM and if the board decides not to co-opt others to these roles, I would be very happy to be co-opted again to roles which I am able to perform in 2024, if the board decides that this is in the club’s best interest. Whatever the decision of club members and the board, I will of course be very keen to ensure the best possible transition and hand-over of roles which are assigned to others in 2024.
We have grown from having one adult team with 19 members playing on one diamond in 2004 to an organisation with around 250 adult and youth players today and three diamonds – two in Hemel Hempstead and one in NW London.
These are exciting times for our club and its members and there is enormous potential and opportunities to continue growing and developing the club as we strive to get to the next level.