Richmond Baseball Club are hoping to get back to winning ways by entering a new team into the National Baseball League.
The club, founded in 1992, enjoyed success on the biggest stage as the Richmond Flames were crowned National Baseball League (NBL) champions in 2006 and 2010, before three new teams were formed in 2012.
With the Flames disbanded, Richmond’s three teams, the Knights, the Dragons and the Dukes, play in the lower divisions of the British Baseball Federation (BBF).
The best team of Richmond’s current teams is the Knights, who feature in the AAA division, the second highest in the country.
Spencer Huet, a member of the Richmond Committee since 2018 and a player since 2015, believes that Richmond can once again emulate the success of the Richmond Flames by entering a new team into the NBL.
“We have got really good players from our Richmond Knights team who have won the AAA league on three occasions and we have some of the best players in the UK who are going to be joining us as well.
“We are also trying to use some of the funds that we get from memberships and player recruitment to hire more talent, such as an ex-professional coach from the States to take us to the next level.”
However, Huet does not expect success to be imminent, and believes that in order to be successful and assert dominance within the BBF, it is vital that teams focus their coaching and resources on young talent.
He said: “I think the way that teams are going to win championships is to create an established youth system within the club and I think a lot of clubs in the UK are starting to do that.
“Because we are non-profit and may not have people to lead the youth programme, we are lacking that but it’s something we want to do. Once you have a good foundation of youth you have a better chance of success.”
Huet said that baseball has become far more prevalent and competitive in the UK since the Richmond Flames racked up their two NBL titles over a decade ago.
He added: “The leagues have become far more saturated and as baseball continues to grow, it has definitely attracted more players and as a result you lose players to other teams along the way.
“The popularity of the sport is definitely increasing. The London Series really put the spotlight on baseball and several clubs in the UK have expanded their player base and now enter far more teams.
“I think one thing that would open up the sport further would be to play it in schools. I think that’s a significant barrier because baseball isn’t being played from an early age.”
Huet also explained how the coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on all levels of the club and caused three of their teams to be condensed to two for the season, with the Knights forced to merge with the Dragons.
He said: “This year has been a strange one. It was a condensed league that was done over six weeks so we only put two teams in as opposed to three.
“To begin with, there was so much uncertainty and eventually we started to introduce very limited practices of six people per session. We gave our players an hour time slot when they could practice before we switched the groups.”
Describing the impact of coronavirus on the playing conditions and regulations, Huet alluded to the way that the equipment was used and distributed.
He said: “We had to introduce incredibly strict rules such as having someone dedicated to just cleaning the baseballs. They would wear an apron and gloves and collect each ball that went out of play.
“We also had to designate equipment to each player whereas before each player would use any helmet or bat that was available.
“You even had to hold the bats in a different way if you were to pick one up to avoid contamination.
“The matches definitely had a different feel but once everyone got used to it and understood what was required it ran really well.”
The club currently has three teams, and it is yet to be decided whether the Knights will join the NBL after their recent success or whether a fourth team will be formed.
“We will always have the Dukes and the Dragons. Depending on what our numbers are like near April will depend on whether we have the Knights and another brand new NBL team or just the Knights in the NBL.”
Featured image credit: Richmond Baseball Club