Never too old for baseball

Can a complete novice turn up and participate in your training session on Sunday? Even if they’re in their 50s? Asking for a “friend”. Send.

An immediate reply came back from Cambridge Baseball Club that of course, my “friend” would be more than welcome to come and join the practice. I was told that the club is open to anyone of any ability level, so just come along and get involved.

Sunday arrived, but a road closure delayed my journey, meaning I missed most of the warm-up. Not a great start, but I received an enthusiastic welcome from Ben, one of the coaches, ran a lap of the indoor sports hall and joined the rest of the group for the final few stretches.

Six of us were complete newbies, yet we started by being taught how to pitch. Left foot half-step back, twist right foot towards third base, knee up, pivot and rotate, forcing your foot forward with a large stride and then release. We were still in the first ten minutes, so I realised that this was going to be one hell of a session. My expectation had been pretend fielding drills and a bit of wiffle ball hitting.

Next, we did glove work. Two things struck me. One, catching in one of their well-worn mitts was far easier than my only previous attempt in an unbroken-in glove. And two, even when catching with one of their well-worn mitts, backhand grabs don’t feel natural. It was difficult not to attempt a barehand catch.

We fielded slow rollers and short hops (remember this is in a sports hall, so it’s not too technical yet). It was great, and my confidence grew. Did they have a shortstop for the 2020 season?

Hitting was next. One of the coaches (whose name eludes me) offered an excellent explanation of swing mechanics, which made it seem far more like golf than I expected. Unfortunately, my golf isn’t that good, but my hitting partner, Jamie, and I made contact around 75% of the time. I could get addicted that sound of the ball coming squarely off my bat.

Considering I only made contact with about one in every 20 pitches at the Floodgate batting cage in Birmingham, this was very satisfying.

Next, we did a few twisting drills to get the feeling of hitting by rotating our hips rather than forcing everything through the arms.

Fielding was the final drill. Ivan, another of the excellent coaches, hit gentle grounders which we had to run and field, and then throw to another coach in a different corner. Pressure built with each fumbled easy play. I felt like Scott Hatteberg in the Moneyball movie, not wanting the ball to come near me. But hey, it was my first session wearing a mitt, so I needn’t have beaten myself up.

It did, however, give me a far greater appreciation of the relatively routine play of fielding, spinning 360 and throwing to first for an easy out.

Once in control of the ball, firing it to the other coach seemed easy. Throwing is definitely my best “tool”. Maybe my future is as a batting practice pitcher.

The two hours were up surprisingly quickly, but I guess that was to be expected. Baseball has been my obsession for 12 years, but this was my first hands-on experience. I don’t know why I was never inclined to be more than just an avid spectator. Maybe I just didn’t realise that clubs like this existed.

I’m unsure whether I will return. It was an exhilarating experience, but my body lacks flexibility and doesn’t have the recovery powers of my younger days. Although, one of my mates just texted “it would be a shame to go down as being the old bloke who only turned up for one training session.”

If I can do it, you can. The UK has lots of baseball teams, and I’m almost certain they will all be welcoming to novices. Check out the British Baseball Federation, Baseball Softball UK and British Baseball League for further info. And also give a listen to the new British Baseball podcast.

Finally, a special shoutout to Cambridge Baseball Club. I live a fair distance from them, but it was 100% worth the two-hour round trip.

Photo courtesy of Cambridge Baseball Club

Gavin is one of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @_tramps

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