By Andy Tong andy@timesoftonbridge.co.uk

PLAY BALL The Kent Buccaneers practise in Williams Field

 

A NEW baseball club is pitching up in Hadlow this summer and will play their first pre-season friendly on March 18 at Williams Field in the village.

The Kent Buccaneers will be taking on South Coast Pirates at the venue near the village hall from 11am. Entrance is free and there will be music and a family atmosphere with hot and cold drinks and snacks available to buy from the clubhouse.

Jon Carter is General Manager and Head Coach of the new outfit, and said: “Hadlow had nothing to offer in terms of an all-inclusive sport for the locals, especially the youth, so baseball fits perfectly into this community.

“We have had a fantastic response from the local community and beyond. The youth of Hadlow have really been keen to come along and play, which is great.”

Jon is a former pitcher for Team GB and a regular in the national team from 2002-04. He played for the LA Dodgers in the Men’s Senior Baseball League (MSBL) World Series in 2015, the first British player to take part.

MSBL, the premier amateur baseball league for adults, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. It has 3,200 teams and 45,000 members, with clubs from Holland and Australia taking part.

Last year Jon, a baseball and softball UK Level 2 Coach, took a team from Northern Ireland to play in the MSBL Over-35s World Series, the first time a club from the UK had taken part.

“I had such a great time there in 2015, I made it my mission to take my own team there so players from this side of the pond could experience it,” he said.

The 45-year-old lived in Ireland for ten years, opening a baseball and softball academy and bringing together children across the secular divide in Belfast, before returning to his home town of Tonbridge.

‘Baseball is a family-friendly, fully inclusive sport – and is one of the fastest growing sports in the country’

“The work in Northern Ireland was a great experience,” he recalls. “Working at interface areas uniting Catholic and Protestant children through sport was a highlight of my time there, along with opening the first purpose-built caseball facility in the country.”

Jon was born in Tonbridge and after attending Hayesbrook School he was a semi-professional footballer with Tonbridge Angels, Tunbridge Wells and Crowborough Athletic.

In the 1990s he became a player, coach and the general manager at Tonbridge Baseball Club, which has been running for 30 years and produced a number GB players.

He then joined the Brighton Buccaneers, helping the club win three National Baseball League titles between 1999 and 2002 and reaching the European Cup final.

The Hadlow club currently have 25 players over the age of 14 for the two senior sides: Kent Buccaneers, who will play in the more experienced Double A standard; and the Kent Bucs who are in a Single A development division.

There are also more than 20 children who play for the two youth teams, Kent Knights for six to nine-year-olds and Kent Bucs Youth from 10 to 14.

The club is fully inclusive, catering for male and female players from the outset.

The players come from diverse backgrounds, with members from Venezuela, Lithuania and Romania

BALLPARK FIGURES The players are ready for their first season

They will be playing in the British Baseball Federation (BBF) leagues against teams such as London, Brighton, Southampton, Norwich, Guildford and Essex.

Jon’s side ‘will also be squaring off against local rivals Tonbridge and Kent Mariners Baseball Club’.

The Tonbridge Wildcats team were runners-up in last season’s Double A competition and also came second in the Ulster Baseball Tournament, which was started by Jon.

He says baseball is a rapidly growing summer game in the UK and he believes it’s an excellent alternative to the more traditional cricket.

“Baseball is a family-friendly, fully inclusive sport – and is one of the fastest growing sports in the country,” he says. “It is now an Olympic sport too.

PITCH PERFECT Jon Carter played for the British team

“Although cricket is deeply engrained into the English way of life, I think baseball is an exciting, different alternative which is attractive to both genders and in particular youth.”

Mischievously he adds: “Also, why would you want to play or watch a game like cricket that lasts for five days and ends in a draw?”

The club will also be holding a free baseball umpiring clinic in Hadlow Village Hall on March 31 from 11am to 3pm.