Category: Welcome to the Show


Report by Herts Baseball Newswire reporter, HUNTER DEVINE

The Herts Raptors suffered their second walk off loss of the season on Sunday, falling 18-17 to the Braintree Rays. In both cases the Raptors had sizable leads only to watch them slip away through poor defence.

Leading 10-2 through the first half of the game, Jake Kikel had thrown a gem of a game and the Raptors bench were talking of slaughter rule victories a bit too soon as the Rays struck back reducing the once sizeable lead to a mere few tallies.

The Raptors refused to surrender however, never actually giving up their lead, and adding extra runs on heading into the bottom of the 9th with a three run lead and Mark Hoffman on the mound. With two outs, bases empty and the game tied, the Rays relief pitcher smacked a ball, splitting the outfielders whom could not retrieve it in time due to their lack of speed and the lack of a fence, allowing the runner to come home and win the game.

It should be noted that the Raptors played with exactly 9 players all day, where as the Rays had 15 and made numerous substitutes. However, that is still no consolation.

There were positive aspects in the game, though. Andrew Slater, in his first game back after a two week break, hit the ball exceedingly well getting a double, as well as being robbed of a second.

Not only was the game lost, but two of the team's favourite bats; the red 33″, much to Slater's despair, and the standard 32″ were too.

Herts Raptors at Braintree Rays
Score By Innings 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 R H E
Herts Raptors 1 0 1 0 8 1 0 3 0 3 17 26 3
Braintree Rays 1 0 0 1 1 7 1 3 0 4 18 21 1

Braintree Rays 18, Herts Raptors 17
Braintree Rays Herts Raptors
  ab r h bi   ab r h bi
Player 1 p 4 5 2 1 Hunter Devine 2b 5 3 3 1
Player 2 c 6 3 4 2 Jake Kikel p-1b 6 2 4 4
Player 3 1b 4 1 1 2 Mark Hoffman 1b-p 6 2 4 0
Player 4 2b 6 0 2 1 Jonathon Lewys c 6 3 4 2
Player 5 3b 6 2 3 0 Paul Hawes cf 5 2 3 3
Player 6 ss 3 2 1 1 Steve Nippress lf 5 1 2 1
Player 7 lf 6 2 5 2 Andrew Slater 3b 6 2 2 3
Player 8 cf 5 2 3 1 Ilya Dimitrov ss 6 1 3 1
Player 9 rf 5 1 0 1 Robert Crouch rf 5 1 1 1
TEAM TOTALS 45 18 21 11 TEAM TOTALS 50 17 26 16

E: Player 5, Andrew Slater(2), Ilya Dimitrov. LOB: Herts Raptors 9, Braintree Rays
12. 2B: Player 2, Andrew Slater(2), Mark Hoffman, Jake Kikel, Paul Hawes. HR: Player
2. SB: Player 1(8), Player 2(3), Player 7(3), Player 8(3), Player 9(3), Player 6(2),
Player 3, Jonathon Lewys(4), Mark Hoffman(3), Jake Kikel(2), Paul Hawes(2), Hunter
Devine(2), Ilya Dimitrov(2), Andrew Slater, Steve Nippress.

Braintree Rays IP H R ER BB SO
Player 1 W 9.00 26 17 16 2 6
Herts Raptors            
Jake Kikel 6.00 13 10 8 6 10
Mark Hoffman L 3.00 8 8 7 3 2

HBP: by Player 1 (Steve Nippress). , by Jake Kikel (Player 1). . , by Mark Hoffman
(Player 1). . . WP: Mark Hoffman(3). T: 4:00. A: 30.


Last Sunday’s win, the first in Raptor history, was thebest I’d seen us play as a team. Everything was rolling along really. Pitching,Jake was awesome, defence, was awesome despite the rough infield which caused anumber of bad hops and the offence, which has put up 19 runs or more in thelast two games.

On a personal level it was another successful game,probably my best of the young season. It was the first time I’d really beentested in regards to working the count- before all I was looking for were hitsregardless of the count- but on Sunday I was forced to work really hard for twoof my walks. Both times I fell behind in the count 0-2 and managed to draw awalk, by fouling pitches off and taking some borderline calls. That wasprobably the part of my game on Sunday I was happiest about, or felt thebiggest improvement in, since it is very easy to just give up in anunfavourable count.

Defensively, despite being errorless in the season sincebecoming a second baseman, I have to improve. It seems at training everybodyhas their opinion on what needs fixing mechanically, which is fine since I wantto be the best I can be, but a lot of information I get can be conflicting soit’s hard to sort it all out mentally. Luckily last Wednesday I was fortunate enoughto observe Kimi as he trained with me at second- so hopefully some of hisfielding, well general baseball, magic rubbed off on me.

Also, since the scoring machine has been broken for thelast two games I kept track of what I’ve done this season in case anybody isinterested.

GP    AB    H    AVG    R    2B    3B    HR    RBI    BB    SB    K    OBP    SLG
3       15      9  .600   7     2       1     0       5       3       7      2     .667     .867

OP-EXTRA: OLD TIMERS’ RESPOND (Letter to the Editor)


Herts Baseball legend and current Old Timers' ace, PAUL RAYBOULD, gives his vews on umpiring, field standards and other topics raised in the “Welcome to the Show” Column in the wake of the clash with the Raptors on '08 Opening Day.

With reference to “Newswire Game 1 Recap”, although I understand the criticism made of the umpire and the field conditions at Enfield for the Raptors game against the Old Timers, unfortunately these limitations have to be accepted as a part of the British game.


During my 23 years playing for a variety of BBF teams, I’ve been to some quite scary baseball fields around the country. The field in Tonbridge in Kent backed onto an archery range so you took your life in your hands when retrieving a foul ball. Meanwhile, the Tonbridge outfield had deep tractor treads gouged across it so attempting to gather a ground ball was something of a lottery. At the home field of the Leeds City Royals, I remember having to take great care when trying to catch a fly ball to deep right field. The flimsy plastic fence was little protection from the steep ravine on the other side. The Sutton Braves field in south London had a nice level infield. However, once past second base, the ground sloped downhill. From home plate, all you could see on the horizon was the caps of the outfielders!


Many members of the Herts Baseball Club know of my feelings in respect of the Grovehill field. Although Kal, Aspi, and others go to great efforts to keep it in shape, when the cut-out area gets dry, every footprint leaves a giant crater in the soft sand. I’m surprised that nobody has been seriously injured by a hard hit ground ball bouncing up out of one of those divots.


The Enfield diamond that the Old Timers share with the Sidewinders was once one of the best in the land. This was back in the days of the almighty Enfield Spartans. The majority of Spartan players lived locally and regularly maintained the field. None of the Old Timers live anywhere near Enfield. We come from all over the country. I don’t think the Sidewinders live local either. So, we have to rely on the uneducated and disinterested Enfield Council ground keepers to look after the field. They cut the grass and that’s about it.


There are several rolls of that orange plastic fencing in the changing rooms behind the Enfield diamond. The Old Timers should have erected it as a home run fence before the game and I will have a word with the old gits before the next home game. That doesn’t mean that I will be able to get them off their lazy asses.


Very, very Old Timer John Thomas umpired the game on the day. John is a lovely character with a great Liverpudlian sense of humour and in terrific shape for his age. He tells some wonderful stories including playing ball with Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown. I know he didn’t but he’s nearly old enough for it to be true.


In the top of the first inning of that game, I was playing second base. Being left-handed, it’s not a position I’ve played very often but as we say in the Old Timers, we are all utility players which means we’re not very good at any position. I was looking over our pitchers shoulder towards home plate (as you do) and noticed that the umpire was calling some very low strikes. When we came in to bat in the middle of the inning, I mentioned the low strike zone to Mike Harold, our shortstop. He agreed and called to our other players to watch out for the low zone.


I was batting sixth in the order and came to bat in the bottom of the first with the bases loaded and nobody out. Jacob’s first pitch to me was on the inside corner and I fouled it behind. I then took a couple of balls before swinging like an idiot at a pitch that was high and inside. With a 2-2 count, Jake threw a fastball over the plate but at my ankles so I left it. “Strike 3!” shouted the ump. Sometimes I should listen to my own advice.


The point I am trying to make is that John Thomas may not be the greatest umpire around but at least he is consistent and that’s what really matters. He may be a member of the Old Timers club but I didn’t notice any bias on the day. He got many calls wrong for both teams.


When the Old Timers requested to join the BBF league, we also asked for some special conditions. We asked for a reduced Membership Fee as many of the players are pensioners. We also asked if we could continue to use metal bats and a “runner” if any of our less-able players got on base. The BBF kindly agreed to all of our requests.


Although our games count as far as the standings are concerned, the Old Timers cannot get promoted. We will try to win but don’t want the stress of playing in a higher division. And when teams play us, we don’t mind if they want to use their metal bats or break any other stupid BBF rule. We just want to play baseball and poke fun at each other.


I started this contribution by saying that British baseball has to accept the limitations of sub-standard umpiring and field conditions. I don’t actually agree with that statement but over the last 23 years, I have not seen any great effort by the governing body to make things better. Don’t criticise the teams. Ask BSUK why they don’t spend some time and money on umpiring, coaching, player, and field development. Rumour has it that they’ve got loads of money.


Well it’s been a while since I updated this,and for good reason. The HSL did not end well for me. Snowed out games andhorrific stomach bugs led to some serious frustration at the lack of baseball Iwas playing.


However, opening day finally arrived andwith it the chance to, not only play baseball for the first time in almostthree weeks, but help start a new team, in it’s first season, off on the rightnote, as well as prove myself as a player.


Nothing really went the Raptor’s way on theday though…


After arriving at the field and meeting upwith our skipper, I was warned straight away that the infield was not in thebest condition. Erm… a huge under statement.  When the infield gravel has more weeds and flowersgrowing on it than the outfield… you have to wonder exactly how old these ‘OldTimers’ are. But, as I later learned, youth is no substitute for experience(and metal bats).


Down by four in the second inning, the gamewas still in the balance, as I stepped up for my first at bat in the season.When I was batting last year I just couldn’t connect with the ball for somereason, it’s not like I don’t have an eye for a ball so I guess it was a mentalissue. Maybe I was thinking about it too much. At spring training I tried a fewthings out and was connecting with the ball but hitting them right at fielders,so I had decided before the game to just go up and not try to do too much. Iled of the inning off with an infield single which was a huge relief to kickthe season off in the right way.


However, in my mind, I wasn’t done yet. Iwanted to get us a run ASAP, so I proceeded to steal second and then third, butwasn’t greeted by Jake with the praise I was hoping for, and rightly so. It’svery important to remember this on the base paths, do not steal unless you’retold do so. I hadn’t really thought about it at the time, I’d just wanted toget us a run and get back in the game, but if you steal when the batter doesn’tknow you are going to then there is a very good chance they could get a pop upand then you’re both out. I could’ve actually hurt the team more, but luckilyit worked out and we sent on to score two in the inning. I won’t be doing thatagain though.


The game progressed and we had kept the scorecloser than in any game we’d played so far at 5-3. However, it was the fourthinning where we collapsed. I refuse to accept that it was Jake’s pitching thatlet us down. I respect umpires; their call is the final one. But, I’m sorry,when you are being so obviously biased and it results in 12 runs then I kind ofput my respect for you on the shelf. For starters the Old Timers had been usingmetal bats all game and Jake had done well to keep them in check, but then hisstrike zone seemed to get smaller and smaller until he was basically forced tothrow down the middle of the plate and of course metal bats turn little hits inbig ones. The defence messed up completely as well with bad throws to first,but that was the single most frustrating inning I have ever played in my life.


I went up to my next at bat (I’d been 2-2 onthe day so far with a wooden bat) and was determined to use a metal bat, notcaring what the other team or anybody thought. I was convinced that since I hadtwo singles with a wooden bat, I’d smoke the ball with a metal one. I popped upin the infield. And after that I just wasn’t angry anymore. We had played welland the official had let us down, though I’m not saying that is the only reasonwe lost- though  I think I remember him calling a ball that bounced before the plate a strike…


So much more happened in this game that I could talk about.  My first doubles, an awesome hit by Paul that could have been a home run if they'd bothered to set a fence up, another dozen  bad calls… but there would be too much to write about to keep you interested, if you're even  still reading that is.


Despite the scoreline, I felt there were lots of positives to takeaway from the game such as our sudden ability to score runs (something we'd struggled to consistently through a game in the past). So, hopefullytomorrow if we’re able to stop the other team scoring as many runs as last week(can it happen two weeks in a row? Surely not…) we can walk away with the firstwin in Raptor’s history.


I’d already made a fielding error earlier inthe game which had cost us the lead. It’s funny, when you’re a rookie the onlyperson who seems to get particularly annoyed with your mistakes and errors isyourself. That or your team mates probably don’t let on that you’re now theirleast favourite guy on the team. I was pretty down after bobbling that basicground ball to second, though, which is silly since you’re only more likely todo it again if you aren’t focusing completely on the next play. It had been adouble play situation and the runner was bearing down to my left, the ball wasin front of me and took a bad hop at the last second (on the dodgy grass I feelinclined to add)… so we got no outs on the play and the runner scored fromthird. In practice it’s a lot different. You only have to really focus onmaking the play and imagine that there is a runner; the game is totallydifferent though as that runner will try to get in your way or distract you. Laterin the game, though, I drove in the tie breaking RBI, redeeming my errorinstantly clearing me of my guilt- baseball is odd like that. Your mood canchange from inning to inning, pitch to pitch.

I thought it might be nice to start the blogwith that short story. I’m not going to pretend like it was a particularlyimportant RBI since we beat the Sidewinders 12-3, or a particularly good hiteither- but every little helps when you’re developing as a player. Anyway, as Ialready said, this will be a blog- but unlike Bruce’s and Marty’s. It won’tdeal with issues in the sport or really even talk about the mlb, it’s going tofocus on what it’s like to be a rookie in the club. The trials andtribulations, the ups and downs. So, hopefully, any new guys joining the club will be able to relate to this blog and realise that they are not alone in any mistakes they  make.