Photos: Newcastle Nighthawks
MSL talks to Alex Mills about his recent foray into our sister sport, baseball.
Name: Alex Mills
Softball tenure: 5 years
Position: Centre field
How old were you when you first picked up a softball?
When I first picked up one? Yeah, probably like, two. I don’t know, two? Very, very young. Younger than I could be playing in the league. So I got into the league when I was 14.
Hackers is a family affair with Ian Mills spearheading the team. Daughters Grace and Ella play alongside their brothers Alex and Joe (Joe is out with an injury) and their cousin Jack. Grace currently leads the Division 2 SBH Home Run leader board with a total of five.
And now you’ve started training for baseball?
I started this year. ’cause there’s no softball in Newcastle. I’m studying up there at uni. Okay, I looked for softball, there was none. So I started playing baseball.
What are you studying in Newcastle?
Is there a large baseball league up there?
It was the North League but then, travelling down to places like Liverpool just wasn’t worth it. So we had a single-A team and a triple-A team. And, just having, like, a four hour journey down somewhere to play maybe a double header and then come back up just wasn’t worth it. So this year, they’ve set up a local league.
So it’s two teams from my team, the Nighthawks. Durham put in a team, York put up a team, and then the universities all have teams. The universities obviously finish their term and break up, but they’ll play in the league as long as they can to get more games in the season. We merged the single-A and the triple-A teams and mixed up the players, so the skill level’s about even.
Have you been playing down here in Manchester as well?
No, I’m not good enough! I wasn’t good enough for baseball. I only train with the Nighthawks.
And how do you find the differences between softball and baseball?
The bigger diamond makes less of an impact than you think it would because the ball is so much smaller. It’s like, significantly smaller than a small ball here [in softball]. It flies so easily when you hit it. So the ground balls are so much faster, which means the longer distance, you’ve got about the same time to judge it. It’s so much easier to throw, I love doing that.
A standard baseball has a 9 inch circumference, much smaller than our 11 inch small balls. There is a whopping 90 ft between bases compared to softball’s 65ft and the pitching distance is 60 ft 6 inches (30ft for softball). The pitcher’s mound is 10 inches taller than the home plate.
The base pattern is lined with gravelly sort of stuff, which is really nice. Great to slide on. It feels a lot more professional as well than just white lines in red. Not quite gravel because it’s a lot nicer than that, but not quite sand. Somewhere in the middle. And then the pitcher’s mound is also raised.
So does the pitcher step to pitch?
Yeah, so as long as they’re touching the plate, so usually you’ll stand with the side of your foot touching it and take a huge step as far as you can, and throw. And the throw will just go straight down. There’s no rise in it.
Have you tried batting?
I did one bat in a practice game and struck out with not really any resistance. I swung once and missed the ball by a mile. I’m used to the ball travelling in an arc, so I didn’t have time to judge it. You kind of have to start a swing and then stop the swing if it’s bad [(a ball)], rather than not swing at all. We have batting cages and we’ve got the batting tees. So I’ve done some of that, that was fun. There are some really good players there who helped me watch my form a little bit.
So will you be playing for the team next season?
Yes, I hope to start playing with them next season. I’ll make sure I get in the early games and then I’ll come back to softball when the term is over.
So do you prefer baseball or softball?
He’s smiling now, because he doesn’t want to answer.
‘Cause I grew up on softball, so it’d be impossible to say it’s not softball. But I think if I’d have put the same amount of time into both, yeah. I think I’d prefer baseball.
The people who play baseball are a lot more serious. There’s no hesitation of, will they catch it when I throw it hard at them? I just absolutely throw it full speed. And the person on first base will always make the catch. If you throw it anywhere, anywhere near them, they’ll do the splits and they’ll catch it.
As someone who occasionally plays first base for Hackers, I was a little perturbed by this. I am trying to improve, you know…
So the level of experience is a bit higher?
Yeah. A lot higher. The fact that it’s a nicer ball to throw as well. I like the feeling of just sending one flying. It’s great. And we have a bar! It’s the clubhouse bar. So after every game, every training session, we all go up there. That’s very important when you’re a student.
MSL’s nearest baseball club is Manchester Baseball club who play at Wythenshawe Park.
Newcastle Nighthawks baseball club: https://newcastlenighthawks.co.uk
Manchester Baseball club: https://www.manchesterbaseballclub.co.uk
British Baseball League: https://www.britishbaseballleague.com