Preview: Herts Falcons gearing up for opening day clash with the Mets

The Herts Falcons were beaten in the semi-finals of the National Baseball Championships by the Harlow Nationals. Pictuure (c) Richard Lee Photography
The Herts Falcons were beaten in the semi-finals of the National Baseball Championships by the Harlow Nationals. Pictuure (c) Richard Lee Photography

After two years of reaching the post-season playoffs but missing out on the NBL title, the Herts Falcons are ready to go at it again – and hoping to make it third time lucky.

They open the 2014 NBL season on Sunday against bitter rivals London Mets at Grovehill Ballpark in Hemel Hempstead. It’s a doubleheader and the first game starts at 1.30pm.

Last weekend’s display of home run power was the boost which Herts fans needed. Cris Hiche launched two against the MK Bucks, going the opposite way for the first one and the second to the deepest part of the ballpark in dead-centerfield.

Two of the team’s new acquisitions also went deep. Lefty Abelardo Salas drove the ball over the left-centerfield wall, while a day earlier Jamie Gregory went deep over the left field wall.

There was more good news for the Falcons as starting pitcher, Mike Osborne, made his first appearance on the mound after sustaining an injury earlier in Spring Training.

The discomfort from the injury didn’t seem to affect him as he put on another of his solid performances which NBL fans have come to expect from him over the last 15 seasons in which he has accumulated 45 wins and 372 strikeouts.

The second week of Herts Spring League games gave the Falcons a chance to field many of the club’s youth team players who are part of the Great Britain U19 and U16 national teams.

They put on some very encouraging performances so that would suggest that we may be seeing more of the club’s young talent on the biggest stage in British baseball this season.

Over the last few seasons the series with the Mets have always been tense affairs with an average of one bench-clearing per game.

The two clubs have a healthy rivalry which has served both clubs well by motivating them to push harder to improve in every department, from on-field competitiveness to infrastructure and grassroots development. This has made them the two biggest clubs in the UK.

Among the Mets to watch out for on Sunday are catcher Grant Delzoppo batting .522 (3rd) with 3 home runs in 2013, pitchers Pietro Sollecito (7-2, ERA 0.95), Julian Somers (5-0) and Sam Sproule (1-1) not forgetting Erick Henson who is always a difficult batter to face.

Pietro Sollecito is expected to start one of the two games and perhaps Sam Sproule the other, however there may be one or two surprises as new players are usually unleashed to unsuspecting opponents at this time of the year.

For the Falcons, it looks as though 2012 home run leader Dave Tretheway may not be ready in time to make his return after his ankle operation kept him out for the whole of the 2013 season.

Louis Hare is in a similar situation having undergone a broken elbow and knee operations following a football accident. No date has been set for his return yet.

Hot and cold drinks, hot dogs, and other snacks and refreshments will be on sale at the ballpark and, with many HSL games scheduled on the same day, the venue is expected to be buzzing with home and away fans.