Sunday, April 30, 2006

Going batty at Northwick Park

Today, after seeing the weather brighten up, I decided to head off to try out Northwick Park Golf club's batting cages.

I had been told by Manjiv, that they were worth a visit, so I went trekking the whole way across London on the trusty Bakerloo line. Once there, after a short walk from South Kenton tube station, I discovered that they have a really great set up. There are 3 baseball cages (1x Fast, 1x Medium and 1x Slow), and most importantly for us softballers, 5 softball cages (3x slow pitch, 1x medium pitch and 1x fast pitch)

The main building was reminiscent of the 'hub' in Regents park (where Andy, Alison and I did our Softball umpiring course) and inside I stumped up my money to buy 5 tokens. I even managed to get 10% discount for mentioning 'Baseball Softball UK', and signed up for a permanent discount card.

The way it works is each token is used to feed the machines in any of the batting cages (I wimped out and headed for the slow pitch softball one). Once inserted, a button is pressed, and then you have 10 seconds before the first of your 15 balls is launched at you. I must admit the first one did take me by surprise, but from then on I did do fairly well in cracking a good percentage of balls into left field (mostly with line drives or ground balls). Speaking with an experienced softball player in the next cage, he told me to try and take the ball as late as possible over the plate, so as to enable me to hit into right field. After taking the advice, I started hitting them straight back from where they had come from, but eventually I did manage to pull a few to right field.

The other thing to mention is that the machines don't use proper softballs, or even indoor ones. They launch hard, dimpled plastic ones, that although feel strange at first, are still substancial enough to jar your arms, if you miss hit one.

After exhausting my first lot of tokens, as it goes pretty quickly when you get into it, the bug had definitely bitten, and so I felt the need to count up my change and get another couple of tokens. By then the other cages were filling up, with everyone from dad's and their children to amateur baseball players, to professional looking American's who were ripping the balls into the back fence with regular aplomb. I stood and watched the someone in the 'Fast' baseball cage in wonderment as each ball rocketed out of the machine at great speed, whacking into the backstop mat, before the poor baseballer had a chance to wave his bat at it. I think eventually after a couple of tokens, the guy was getting a nick on a ball or two, but I thought that he should probably try his luck with a 'Medium' speed machine at least to get his morale up.

Before leaving, I was asked by one of the staff there to sign a petition to keep the batting cages from being removed by the local council. I signed and would recommend anyone reading this who is thinking about going, to sign it (see me for a form). It is such a great resource and it would be a real shame to lose it so soon after discovering that it existed.

Monday, April 24, 2006

"introductory" umpiring course - 22nd April

Jane and myself pitched up bright and early to the 'Hub' in Regent's park for what we thought was going to be a gentle introduction to the whys and wherefors of softball umpiring. It turned out that instead we were getting the full 2-day course squeezed into one day! Ok, a few of the finer details were left out and we didn't do very much 'practical' but slightly hungover head was ready to explode by the end of it.

All in all though, it was very useful. I think we have picked up some hints and tips which will help with our game - for example, when you have more than one forced out, always go for the runner who is furthest around first and work your way back to the first base runner. Not only because they will be first to score, but also to avoid taking the 'force' off the other players. Also, in order to get an out the ball has to make it to the base before the runner. Therefore, if both ball and runner get there at the same time, the runner is safe as the ball has not beaten them.

We were both quite surprised and intrigued by the 'in-field fly' rule....which I think I just about understand the logic behind...but am not going to attempt to explain here.

Informally, it seems that the umpires let a lot more go in division 4 games, (for example, I don't think they enforce such rules as 'if one player is wearing a pink cap then the whole team must also wear a pink cap!) and the trainer admitted that he is as much a coach as an umpire at these games.

It was good to meet people from other teams, and reassuring to know that even players from teams in divison 2 were unsure about a lot of the rules!

The trainer explained that it is the umpires job to 'look for the out', get the game 'over with as soon as possible', and stay in control. In other words, don't mess with the umpire, they can remove or eject you and they are always right - much like librarians!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Barn Elms tournament (Xposted from my LJ)

Demonstration softball tournamment, as part of a "touch rugby" and netball event. As it turned out, the expected four teams didn't make it - just us Loan Wolves and the Barracudas, plus a couple of guys from Oblivion (both experienced sides). We ended up with the Oblivion guys on our team, as we were short-handed (our captain having decided to go sailing).
Weather was good - mostly sunny, though somewhat chilly, but not the overcast and rainy day which had been threatened.
We had supporters, which was nice - Ben's dad and brother were there to encourage us from the sidelines.
The "tournament" effectively became a series between the two teams. We lost the first game conclusively, paying the price for our relative inexperience (only three competitive games played before yesterday). The second game, however, was much better. We were actually ahead by two runs after the first innings, then level after the second. The Barracudas pulled ahead, but we managed to level the scores again (with 10 runs made in one inning), though in the end they won in the bottom of the last.
Third game, after lunch (£2.50 for a sausage in a bun), soon became a practice session for both sides, with no meaningful result. Some of the Barracudas, and the Oblivion guys, had left, and various rugby and netball players came in to try the game for twenty minutes at a time, with spare players (and organisers Darren, Tim & Wendy) filling in for whichever side was short of players at any given point.
Acting-captain had Ben put in a lot of work drawing up team lists for each game to try us out at different fielding positions, and working out a batting line-up. I played at second base, then short stop, then at left field. I was also lead-off batter, opening our batting line-up. We had Julian, Alison and Manjiv as our pitchers for the three games, all gaining vital match-play experience. Manjiv was flattered to be told by Darren that she had "real potential" as a pitcher. Paul, our most experienced player, was a real asset in the field, and Jane did some tremendous batting. Alex made runs, and, importantly, batted a lot of other runners in, and Julian learned that he favoured a lighter bat, and did well with it. I think we all did well, individually and as a team. We scored runs (including a home-run made with my bat - though not by me], took catches, made double-plays, struck batters out (nice work Alison, who also proved to be very much at home at third base), and were far more aware of the game and how to play it than we were six months ago. We also became less self-conscious about shouting out where the "play" is (which bases to throw to for forced outs), and shouting encouragement to each other, like the other teams tend to. e.g.:
[batter swings wildly at a pitch and misses]
Runner on base [to batter]: "Nice swing!"
Me [to Julian, the pitcher]: "Nice pitch!"
Runner [to me]: "Touche!"
Having novice players in the last game meant we got to be the "experts", which was fun. It was quite gratifying acting as base-coach to a rookie player, and getting her round to score. Explaining how to use the glove to catch safely, I found myself comparing broken fingers with someone who'd fractured hers playing netball. Sport, eh - why do we do it?
My fielding contibution was nothing special (what a surprise), though calling out plays from short-stop was cool. I did enjoy batting and base-running. Put a line drive cleanly through the infield, ran to base, and the baseman commented ruefully; "you found the hole there!". Also was complimented by a scorer on my speed running in to home past a fielder going for the ball. Also managed to trip over the bat when setting off at one point, but somehow scrambled to my feet and reach first base.
The pre-season game experience was really valuable for us all, in many ways. Not least that in that second game we were able to give a credible account of ourselves against a superior side in a competitive environment.

Barnes tournament day

The Loan Wolves fielded 8 for this excellent day of match practice. Alex, Ben, Alison, Manjiv, Jane, Julian, Andy, Paul.

There werent enough people there to have a tournament but we were able to have a series of matches playing people from the Development team and I think there were some there from a group called the Barracudas.

It was an extremely useful day for working together as a team. There are real signs of improvement. Alison, Manjiv and Julian all had a go at pitching. Andy gained some experience as a base coach. There was some fine batting from Jane and Alex. Ben was a real livewire organisng everybody. Paul, Alex Ben and Alison all made some great catches. Also thankfully there were very few injuries apart from Alison making a brave stop.

The weather was fine all day although chilly when the sun went in.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Umpiring course

Went on umpiring course this weekend, along with Alison & Ben.
write-up from my