Category: Falcons

Finding a way to win on and off the field.

Finding a way to win on and off the field.

This article was written by Aspi Dimitrov

One of the central topics of discussion among members of Herts Baseball Club, not just this year but over the years, has been competitiveness on the field. It will be covered at the upcoming Annual General Meeting and this article aims to outline the obstacles that we face and the way forward.

2021 was a difficult season particularly for the Falcons in the National Baseball League (NBL) and the Hawks in the Double-A League. 

The Hawks found themselves in the awkward position of having to decide which league to enter before the newly appointed manager had the opportunity to see the players and assess the roster because the BBF league entry deadline came while we were still in lockdown and before players reported back for Spring Training.  Playing in the Double-A League was asking too much of that roster and we should make sure that we prevent this from happening in the future as it resulted in an unsatisfactory experience for the members of the team. Next year, if the Hawks roster is of similar strength, they can address the problem by playing in the Single-A League where they would be in a much better position to compete and develop players. Of course there is a lot more involved in building a baseball team, but placing it in the most suitable league will provide the right environment for the players and the coaching staff to work in.

We now have the advantage of potentially having four Single-A teams – two in Hemel Hempstead and two in NW London. This opens up the option for the Single-A managers to build one of those rosters to compete for the championship and the other to develop new players. Whether the teams adopt this approach is for the team managers to determine but club members will be able to discuss this at the upcoming AGM.

For the Falcons the solution is more complex. The last BBF season prior to this year was 2019. The roster at the time was made up of 24 players. Only two of those 24 players are still with the team today.  This decline in numbers was not due to Covid. Herts saw growth in its other adult baseball teams both in 2020 and in 2021. Other British clubs also recorded growth between 2019 and 2021 with two brand new NBL teams appearing on the map. So many Herts players are now playing for other teams in the NBL and in other leagues. Some would say that other clubs have unfairly stolen our players. I look at it differently. If we lose players we should look at ourselves. Did we offer the best baseball experience and product? What did these players find at other clubs that was missing at Herts?

This year was a record year for the club. We reached the milestone of 200 adult and youth club members, a 44% increase from the 139 members in the previous year. Although we have been extremely successful at growing and introducing new players to the game of baseball, we have not been as good at attracting and retaining the more advanced players. We have become a feeder club for other NBL teams. The British baseball landscape is evolving rapidly and perhaps we didn’t recognise the changes around us but we have to be honest with ourselves and accept that we have not been offering what is demanded by players who are aspiring to develop and reach the next level.

Maikel Azcuy (top left), Conner Brown (top right), Cris Hiche (bottom left), Xavi Gonzalez (bottom right)

Between 2013 and 2017 we were a feeder club for the advanced European clubs.  Xavi Gonzalez (Stuttgart Reds, Germany), Maikel Azcuy (Berlin Flamingos, Germany), Cris Hiche (Dornbirn Indians, Austria) and Conner Brown (Cologne Cardinals, Germany) all signed semi-professional contracts with those respective clubs.  Since then, under the positive influence of the GB programme, the NBL teams around us have stepped up their efforts and have overtaken us.

Players will always aspire to realize their full potential and play at a higher level, but we want to progress from being a feeder club for British teams to being a club where we not only close the gap on the European teams but we overtake them and they become feeder clubs for us. It means players can play with Herts knowing that they do not have to go through Europe to have a shot at playing in America or other leading baseball countries.

This will not happen overnight. It is a gradual process which started this month. With Cris Hiche stepping down, the first and very important step is to appoint a new team manager. It needs to be someone who can see through the noise and recognise the enormous opportunities and potential of our club. Someone who can put the right structure in place to enable players to develop through the system. To succeed, all of our teams need to work closely together, from the NBL team and the lower league teams to, very importantly, the youth programme.

Winning off the field

But it will take a lot more than this. While our team managers focus on finding a way to win on the field and developing players to their full potential, my focus will be on off-field operations. I am exploring ways of generating additional revenue streams for the club which we can re-invest into club facilities and improving the product which we are offering to adult and youth members. I hope, in time, that we can reach the stage where we generate enough additional revenue to be able to offer semi-professional contracts to players.

From my perspective, the final scores will be just as important as the number of people that come to Grovehill for the seven NBL home games that the Falcons will play each season. The aim is for the Falcons to attract, and play in front of, the largest audience in the NBL. Of course, people will not come to the ballpark if the Falcons struggle on the field as they did this year.

In 2012 MLB players came to London to run clinics for British boys and girls. If our plans come to fruition, Herts youth players will be able to work with high standard players and coaches much more regularly.

Our club does not have a billionaire investor. One or two NBL teams have explored the option of paying an import player and we have seen a big club like the Southampton Mustangs go bankrupt and they no longer exist. We must not gamble with the club’s future. We have to maintain our financial discipline and make sure that our team departments balance their budgets. But if we manage to generate these additional revenue-streams we can start to explore the option of bringing in high-calibre players not just to play but also to coach the youth programme and the other adult teams. There are many factors and moving pieces so there are no guarantees about the level of additional revenue which we will manage to generate, but it will be interesting to see if we can do it.

The bigger picture

Of course this focus on competitiveness does not mean that the club will neglect beginners who join the club.  In football and other mainstream sports the tendency is to select those who can compete at the highest level and say goodbye to the rest. Our club has a completely different approach and ethos. We welcome everybody and everyone plays. We have to put in the hard work to help players to develop. This will enable us to increase the competiveness of our teams as a whole and in such a way that every player has a role to play which is fulfilling and contributes on the way to the playoffs.  We have seen Herts players progress from Single-A to the NBL in just a few years. It is not easy to achieve, but it is not impossible.

Many join the club because they enjoy the social side of the game and the family atmosphere around the club and we must never lose this. This applies equally to our adult and to our youth teams.

It is important to emphasise that the goals that are being set will not be reached overnight. We will be trying a new model and there will be many setbacks before we get there, but the work has started already and club members will play a key role in this.  The coming years will certainly be interesting for everyone connected with the club.

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.

Herts Falcons and Herts Londoners launch player recruitment for 2022 NBL season.

Herts Falcons and Herts Londoners launch player recruitment for 2022 NBL season.

Today, Herts Baseball Club published details of Herts Falcons’ plans for the 2022 NBL season, as follows.

CLUB STATEMENT

2021 was a difficult season in the National Baseball League (NBL) for the club’s flagship team, the Herts Falcons.

The team has had an illustrious 26-year history and has been a member of the NBL since 2009 after the Falcons won promotion as the Triple-A League National Champions in 2008. 

The club is determined to ensure that the team not only continues to play in Britain’s highest league but that it is capable of challenging for a place in the playoffs. This will not be an easy task and it will not happen overnight, but the hard work begins today.

The club has just launched its recruitment campaign with the aim of rebuilding the Falcons squad in time for the 2022 NBL season.

Furthermore, with the project to build the new Basing Hill Ballpark in North West London making excellent progress, this recruitment drive will also aim to sign-up players with a view to making the Herts Londoners the club’s second team to join the NBL.

Apart from players, the club is also inviting candidates for team manager.

Tryouts will be held in Hemel Hempstead and in London and the dates will be confirmed in due course.  The club will also be providing applicants with details of income-generating opportunities for those players who sign-up to play for the Falcons and the Londoners.

Club President Aspi Dimitrov said: “This is an opportunity for players who are looking to compete in the NBL to play for one of the biggest baseball clubs in Britain with nearly 200 registered players this year and over 700 that have worn the Herts jersey over the last 26 years. We are inviting not only elite players with experience in the top leagues, but we are particularly interested to work with young players and those who may not have played in the top league yet, with a view to giving them the opportunity and the necessary game time to develop in the NBL.”

To express interest in playing for the Herts Falcons and the Herts Londoners in the NBL in 2022 and for more information about this opportunity, players are invited to complete this online form.

The invitation is not only for new players but also for current and former members of Herts Baseball Club. Completing the form will ensure that you receive details of the upcoming tryouts and other updates about playing in the NBL with Herts in 2022.

Baseball fans around the world react after Herts Falcons’ heroics

Baseball fans around the world react after Herts Falcons’ astonishing comeback

It is no secret that this has been a difficult season for the Herts Falcons competing in the NBL – Britain’s top baseball league. Going into last weekend’s games they had lost all 22 of their league games this year.  They were also missing most of their players who have previous National Baseball League experience.

On Sunday, they went into the final inning trailing by 10 runs to the London Legends but they managed to do something almost unheard of in the game of baseball, scoring 11 runs to win it 20-19.

The news started spreading on social media like wildfire and a post on Reddit has so far generated 236 comments from baseball fans around the world. A very enjoyable read for Herts baseball fans to see what the rest of the world thinks about Herts and British baseball from a distance. Some of the people commenting even took the time to look into Herts Baseball Club’s team structure asking the question “and why are there Double-A and Single-A affiliates for these teams. Are there farm systems involved here?”.

Click here to view this, mostly light-hearted, discussion on Reddit. Note: There is some adult language in some of the comments.

A look at the greatest comebacks in MLB regular season history shows just how rare this achievement is. In 1994, the Houston Astros did come back from 0-11 down in the fourth inning to beat the St Louis Cardinals 15-12, but we cannot see an 11-run comeback in the ninth inning.  The biggest ninth-inning comeback in MLB regular season history that we can see was in 1986 when the California Angels scored 8 runs in the bottom of the ninth to win it 13-12.

With manager Cris Hiche out of the country due to family bereavement and interim manager Phil Clark also away, it was up to Michael Cresswell and Will Zucker to lead the team on Sunday and they certainly did that. Cresswell ended up hitting his first home run at NBL level and, despite not usually being used as a pitcher, he picked up the win pitching six innings in that game.

This first win of the season will not be enough to bring the team back into the playoff race, but the Falcons have certainly won many new fans.

This is not the first time that the Falcons attract international attention.  In 2019 after a rain delay became a cancellation, the team washed away their disappointment by stripping down to their underwear, sprinting from the dugout, through the rain, and sliding 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.

Herts Falcons appoint Clark as interim manager

Herts Falcons appoint Clark as interim manager

Herts Baseball Club has confirmed that interim manager, Carlos Casal, has stepped down from his position and the club has appointed Phil Clark as the new interim manager while manager Cris Hiche is out of the country for family reasons.

Clark is one of the longest serving members of the Herts Falcons.  He joined the team in 2012 when they recorded their best season in the NBL reaching the national final where they lost to the Harlow Nationals in game 6.

The Falcons have had a difficult season so far but in the last few weeks there have been signs that the team is regaining its competitiveness coming close to picking up their first win in extra innings against the Lancashire Legends.

Their next game is this Sunday, 4 July, against the London Legends at Roundhsaw Playing Fields in Croydon. First pitch is at 11:30am.

vs

Details

Date Time League Season
4 July 2021 11:30 am National Baseball League 2021

Field

Roundshaw Playing Fields
Roundshaw Park Playing Fields, London Borough of Sutton, London, Greater London, England, CR0 4RW, United Kingdom

Results

Team12345678910RHEOutcome
London Legendsxxxxxxxxxx15xxWin
Falconsxxxxxxxxxx3xxLoss
Matt Davis joins the Herts coaching staff

Coach Matt Davis to work with Herts players this summer

In June 2019, just ahead of the MLB London Series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, Herts baseball players had the rare opportunity to be coached by Monte Brooks, head coach of The Master’s University baseball team with over 700 college wins.

He was accompanied by a number of player-coaches from his university. One of them was Matt Davis (pictured above, far left). This week it was confirmed that he will be back working with Herts players during the Wednesday evening baseball sessions at Basing Hill Ballpark twice a month over the next three months, starting tomorrow, Wednesday, 9 June.

Matt Davis was a pitcher with Liberty University (NCAA Division 1) from 1990-1991 and with The Master’s University (NAIA Division 1) from 1992-1994. In 2020 he was assistant coach at The Master’s University under coach, Monte Brooks. Currently, he is chaplain for the London Broncos (Rugby League).

Coach Monte Brooks at Basing Hill Ballpark in June 2019

Matt Davis specialises in pitching but he will also cover other aspects of the game with the Herts players this summer.

Although these sessions are for club members only, new players are able to come to one of these sessions to try baseball and to help them decide if they would like to join the club. Contact the club to book a place at an upcoming session.

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.

2021 Opening Day – British baseball teams have waited 20 months for this

2021 Opening Day – British baseball teams have waited 20 months for this

The last British baseball league game was played twenty months ago. The wait is finally over as baseball teams up and down the country are gearing up for the Opening Day of the 2021 baseball season this Sunday.

2021 Opening Day Schedule

DateHomeTime/ResultsAwayLeagueField

The league schedules produced some enticing matchups for the five Herts teams. The Herts Falcons open the season at home against the Essex Arrows. The two teams in fact faced each other this last weekend as part of the Herts Spring League. The Falcons came out on top with a 7-6 win but the pre-season games are not always a good predictor for the season ahead as managers often use these Spring League games to evaluate new players in different roles.

In the Double-A League, the Herts Hawks start their campaign on the road against the Oxford Kings. This will be manager Tetsuro Shinkawa’s (pictured above) first official league game as a manager at Herts and his roster is expected to feature many players who will be making their first appearance in the third tier of British baseball.

The Herts Raptors are also away this Sunday.  They face the Essex Redbacks who finished above them in 2019 and new Raptors manager Ken Pike will want to get off to a good start in the race for the Single-A playoffs.

The Raptors are one of the three Herts teams in the Single-A Central division.  The other two are the Herts Eagles and Herts Londoners who will face each other at Basing Hill Ballpark in the first of many Herts derbies this season. In fact there will be at least one Herts derby in each month of the regular season from May until August, but two dates stand out in particular. On May 30 and August 8 all three Herts teams will be playing at the same venue in back-to-back games which are expected to attract bumper crowds, with social distancing of course.

The season is about to begin but new players are still registering to play and the managers have deliberately left room in the rosters at all league levels, in order to be able to welcome new players, from beginners to advanced, throughout the year.  For more details about joining the Herts adult and youth league teams or to try baseball at a free open session, contact us.

Photos by photograher Tony Small

Ballparks are starting to take shape ahead of 2021 Opening Day

Diamonds starting to take shape ahead of 2021 Opening Day

At Herts Baseball Club’s annual general meeting in January, it was reported that the club has put a more comprehensive field maintenance programme for Grovehill Ballpark in order to preserve it as one of the best baseball venues in the United Kingdom.

On 29 March Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, confirmed that outdoor activities for organised sports can resume. A few days later the first event for Herts was its annual field maintenance day. Since the end of the 2019 baseball season it has been difficult to carry out any significant work at the ballpark due to the pandemic.

The focus on Saturday, 3 April, was to remove weeds and grass which had grown into the infield clay areas. The club hired specialised machinery for this and it delivered visible improvements on both diamonds in Hemel Hempstead. A day later players from the five Herts adult teams were back for their first Spring Training session of the year and that included some field maintenance work which everyone contributed to.

https://twitter.com/HertsBaseball/status/1379425686184718338

Two days later the project continued with aeration and light rolling of the turf which is expected to improve the surface not only in the short run, but over the medium term as water and nutrients will be able to reach the grass roots, resulting in healthier, stronger growth and a denser grass surface.

The club’s branch in North West London is also being prepared for the new season with rolling implemented in March. Of course that venue is at a very early stage of development and the more significant upgrade of the facility will come as part of the larger Basing Hill Project which the club is currently crowdfunding for.

Countdown to HSL – first chance to see the teams ahead of the 2021 British baseball season

Countdown to HSL – first chance to see the teams ahead of the 2021 British baseball season

The Herts Spring League (HSL) will see 22 teams play 21 games on the weekend of 24 and 25 April. Organised by Herts Baseball Club, it is Britain’s version of MLB’s Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues, and it signals that the season is just around the corner.

FORMAT

The 22 teams have been placed into four HSL divisions – NBL, Triple-A, Double-A and Single-A – based on the ranking of the teams going into the 2021 baseball season.

Most of the teams have been placed into pools of four teams. The semi-final pairings have been confirmed and the winners will face each other in the final, while the losing teams in each pool will also play each other in their second game of the day.

The teams finishing at the top of their respective division will be the HSL champions.

THE VENUE

The action will take place at Grovehill Ballpark in Hemel Hempstead, the home of Herts Baseball Club.

SCHEDULE

The HSL is usually played over three weekends, but the national lockdown reduced the time available for Spring Training ahead of Opening Day on 2 May.

21 games will be played on two diamonds. The competition begins on Saturday, 24 April, with the Double-A division followed by afternoon and evening games from the Single-A division. Among the Single-A teams are the Belles who will make history as the first ever all-women’s baseball team to play in the HSL.

On Sunday, 25 April, the NBL and Triple-A divisions will be in action with several interesting matchups including the London Archers and BC Vetra, a team which will play in the BBF Triple-A league for the first time this year.

Click to view full 2021 HSL schedule

EXCITEMENT BUILDING UP

The Herts Spring League adds a competitive edge to Spring training. It’s the time for managers to work out their winning formula going into the BBF league season. It is an opportunity to evaluate existing and newly recruited players. Which players will earn a spot in the pitching rotation and who will be batting where in the batting order? Who will make the first team and who will have to work their way up through the minor leagues? Not forgetting, it’s a chance to size up your rivals for the year ahead. It’s the first big challenge and the first big excitement of the baseball year. Don’t miss it.

GET IN THE GAME

Players, from beginners to advanced, are now registering for the 2021 baseball season. For more details about how to join the Herts baseball teams in Hemel Hempstead and in NW London or for more details about the HSL or if you are interested to give baseball a try to help you decide whether to join the team contact Herts Baseball Club.