Jim said a while ago it might be an idea for a diary and as there's few people this side of the pond to share (or relate) to baseball I hope none of you all mind if I chronicle my first year as a baseball player, here on the 'Pit.
I won't bother writing alot of personal background here, (that's already been done in the Hello my name is thread) but in a nutshell im a 21 year old guy from the UK living in the south of England who has never played baseball before in my life. However after 7 years of following the Diamondbacks and having returned from University I finally decided to take the plunge and seek out a local side to play for. Fortunately for myself the nearest time was only 10 miles away, the Thames Valley Bisons, who i'd learned of after doing some research on UK baseball for some work experience I did with my local BBC radio station back in the fall.
Despite my enthusiasm I still didn't really fancy joining a new team by myself so dragged my mate Steve along for the ride. Even though Steve had never watched yet alone played the game before he soon took a liking to the game and so we began to play some basic catch and took a few swings with the bat down our local field. With a view to joining the Bisons for their first practise session at the end of February.
When we got to the Bisons field it wasn't exactly Chase. The diamond was at the back of two football (I will not call it soccer dammit ;) ) pitches, and all that was there to show that it was ever a baseball diamond was a mound and some rough patches where the bases had been. When our hopefully future team mates arrived It turned out that 7 of the 8 or guys there were Polish (there's a heavy and growing Polish population in Reading) of which only one or two could speak English. Still the guys were very friendly and welcoming and made us feel part of the team straight away, but we weren't just there to make friends we were there to play ball (insert dramatic music here)
The first thing I'll say as someone who has never played before Now neither of us really expected to be the next A-Rod (Steve doesn't even know who A-Rod is..) but we didnt expect to be so far behind our team mates when we turned up to our first practise session. What we saw wasn't Major League caliber by a long shot but it still made us look like little leaguers. The biggest thing I took away from my first proper game of catch Is that you never really appreciate the intricasies and techniques required to do the simplist of things such as throwing a ball. Our captain Tomasz and coach Peter took us aside for 90% of that first session and literally taught us the very basics of how to throw and grip a baseball. On the surface being taught such remedial things was enough to make me think "what the heck am I doing here?!" and such feelings only grew stronger as most of my throws barely made 10 yards, flew over Steve's head or into the dirt, yet slowly and surely it began to come together.
Sadly for us just as we thought "ok this might work out ok..." we were called over to the main field where the other guys were practising to practise catching fly balls. Having played cricket before i was no stranger to catching a ball (bare handed at that ;) ) but even so there's no words to descrive the feelings you go through when you see that ball sail into the sky off the bat knowing you have to make the catch. As I stood there waiting for what seemed like an eternity I couldn't help but think how much I take for granted a routine flyball out when I watch a game on the TV, but now standing waiting for the ball to (hopefully) hit my glove all I could think was please don't let me make a fool of myself. Fortunately it did nestle into the webbing of my glove and I made the catch sadly for me though it was one of about 3 i caught out of 6 or so.
That first session we didn't even get to bat but we'd both enjoyed ourselves enough to make a return visit the following week….
That second week felt a lot better then the first as even though neither of us could throw worth a damn we were better then the week before and getting somewhere. It was with this growing confidence that we headed over to the diamond to have our first fielding practise and I was planted at 2nd base with Steve (being left handed) in right field. As I stood there waiting I had dreams of making Orlando Hudson type plays and turning double plays for fun, but sadly I ended up making Orlando Hudson plays of the wrong kind, you know the simple ones you just mess up… The hardest bit was learning where the hell I should be when the ball went where, when to stand on the base, when to be a relay guy etc etc and half the time I felt like a kid lost in the middle of the supermarket unsure of which way or where to go. Still my team mates took it in good spirits and helped me whenever they could which admittedly wasn’t easy in mostly broken English. After dusting myself down I finally got a chance to hit a baseball as we were shown how to stand and swing the bat before being let loose on a few soft throws. This is the one thing I can seemingly do alright in as I was able to make good contact with a fair few..
After a week off to go skiing we returned ready for my BP and fielding drills. This time I played centre field probably catching about 75% of the fly balls my way and during BP I once again seemed to do alright. But at the end of the session I had to face a pitcher for the first time, with a catcher behind me. The experience was quite surreal as I stood staring down the pitcher, our captain Tomasz. Sadly Tomasz was more huge manatee then Webby and he struggled with his control meaning I got around 10 balls and about 4 strikes. Our coach Peter then took over and gave me 5 or 6 strikes so that I had something to hit and I did make contact on a couple though without a base hit!
So that’s about where I am right now heading into my final before our spring training opener against Guilford on Sunday. I still have no idea where I’ll field or if I’ll even make the team, but with numbers at around 12 I stand a good chance of being involved. I think I’d like to field first or left field to be honest, at least to start with as there is no DH ;)
Anyways hope that this isn’t too long/boring and I’ll try and update later after practise. For anyone that’s interested our website is http://www.thamesvalleybaseball.co.uk/ which has some background info on the club and last season. I should have mentioned last year was the teams first and the results page reflects this!
Still, Go Bisons! ;)
I apologise for the sudden ending to this blog, but it honestly reflected the rather sudden ending to my time as a Bisons player, for this season at least.
As I mentioned in my last entry way back on August 4th I had no scheduled games for two weeks due to bad weather and work but little did I know I wouldn't play again that season. A combination of working commitments, postponed games, the weather and my departure to University meant that I didn't get a chance to play again for the rest of the year. I did manage to make a few practise sessions but with the light getting worse and worse even those became few and far between.
Never the less the Bisons did play on. Even though the season had 'ended' officially on the first weekend of September we still had a few games left to play and actually ended up finishing second in our division, a remarkable achievement given our sluggish start to the season. Below are the results of our final games.
SUNDAY 10th AUGUST @ SOUTHAMPTON: WON 27 - 5.
SUNDAY 7th SEPTEMBER @ GUILDFORD: WON 9- 0 (F).
SUNDAY 14th SEPTEMBER vs BRAINTREE - WON 14 - 4.
SUNDAY 21st SEPTEMBER @ OLD TIMERS - WON 13 - 3.
SUNDAY 12th OCTOBER vs OLD TIMERS - WON 12 - 9.
SUNDAY 19th OCTOBER @ ESSEX ARROWS II - WON 19 - 5.
So the Bisons ended the season well but I have found it difficult to stay in touch with people from the team as I haven't played for so long.
In spite of the anti climactic end I truly loved the time I spent out on the diamond with the team. Having been a follower of baseball for so long it was great to finally get out onto the field and actually gain an appreciation of how tough a sport baseball really is. My best moment was probably my debut, getting a hit in my first at bat was something I'd hoped for but never expected and sliding into first felt awesome (even if I later learned was quite unsporting...) Sadly as I've mentioned before the organisation of the side and some of the management decisions taken over the year caused some friction which was something that wasn't quite so great. Even so I'd like to thank the guys who ran the team and helped keep it going.
From a performance point of view I think I did alright, whilst I would have liked to get some more hits I got on base at a good rate and my fielding was improving game on game. Next year if I do play I'd like to try and be a bit more aggressive but in a non Special K kind of way ;)
DW: 16AB 5H 4R 6RBI 7BB 2HBP .313 Avg .560 OBP 3SB
In September I moved down to Falmouth to go to University to study for an MA in Sports Broadcast Journalism and I'll be here until June at least. Falmouth is in Cornwall in the South West of the UK and so I'm about five hours from home, meaning getting to practise/games will be near impossible at the start of next year. So I may well have thrown my last ball in anger with the Bisons, whether I'll be able to get back into the team next year, or have the time to play is something that I can't predict right now but watch this space :)
Finally thanks to everyone who read and commented over the year, and to Jim for letting me post this on the 'Pit. For anyone that's interested I'm writing a blog on my experiences/thoughts as a journalism student here and the link is http://www.wimbles.wordpress.com