The Flames Baseball Club
Began back in the winter of 1991/1992. Wayne Nash, club founder, had seen a baseball movie at a local cinema, and became very interested in the sport. He did some research, found that baseball was played in Britain and then contacted the British Baseball Federation (BBF), the sport’s national governing body.
Wayne was a youth worker, so he naturally thought of starting a junior baseball club. Over the winter months, he worked together with a colleague, Colin Bushell, on the newly formed Brunswick Braves.
As the 1992 spring slowly approached more youths joined the club. Wayne knew he needed a professional approach and worked to become a fully qualified Baseball Coach.
The summer rolled by and less of the younger members stuck with baseball due to football commitments. By the end of the year, only an adult team survived. At the end of the 1992 season, the team went to watch a BBF league game between Hounslow and Cambridge – this prompted the club to enter into the league for the 1993 season.
On joining the BBF league, the players voted the team to be called the Fulham Flames (even though the team never actually played in Fulham!). There was little money in the early days – Wayne even had to sew an ‘F’ on each of the players’ uniforms, but the Flames organisation had begun its journey into British Baseball.
Today, the club has blossomed. Moving to the Richmond area brought a change of name to the Richmond Flames. The club grew prodigiously, to become the largest adult baseball club in the country. The crowning glory in September 2006, 15 seasons in the making, was for the first time seeing the Flames win the National Championship.
The club now has multiple teams across almost all divisions of British Baseball, a burgeoning youth program and one of the best facilities in the entire country.
The club’s first season as a fully fledged league team was a steep learning curve for the club. What looked so easy on TV and in practice was a totally different story on the diamond. However what the team lacked in skill and knowledge was made up for in enthusiasm, as the club members played out their fantasies as big leaguers. The turning point of the season followed a game where the bold prediction of beating local rivals Bracknell was delivered as a guarantee. The promise was so emphatic that one of the Richmond players even brought champagne to the game!
The champagne would turned out to be very useful to drown the sorrows as Richmond lost 42-2. The only thing to do after this game was drink heavily, which the team did with the Bracknell opposition, forming a long friendship with the team and players.
The first elusive win finally came, anticlimactically as… a forfeit.
The club’s first real win was also a bit shallow as some Aussie guy who could pitch a league or two higher than than Richmond’s division appeared from nowhere, won the game and was never seen again.
The final game of the season at Brighton Buccaneers became the first truly earned win, where future Richmond Hall of Fame member Nick Doddy, normally a first baseman pitched for the first time. Spencer Jenkins, the regular starter got the save.
This club also made its presence known at the inaugural London Tournament as founding member Steve ‘Joey’ Jarnet stole the show behind home plate by making a diving catch into a bench, ending with a trip in the ambulance, concussion and 40 stiches in the face and head.
Joey’s fame spread around the league and the scars became a well told anecdote in Richmond history.
The following year saw an overall improvement in the teams play and a new home as the team moved to what is now Flood Field. Over 2 days, volunteers constructed a backstop and mound. Although little has changed, at the time it was like Fenway Park for the club.
The team changed location moniker from Fulham to Richmond Flames but the next 3 seasons saw very little momentum gain, resulting in a lot of disappointment and frustration.
While the team and the players had learned how to play, lost innings, silly errors and not playing fundamentals resulted in an inability to win a lot of games. These aspects were typical of what the players liked to call ‘Channel 5 baseball’ and whilst there was a lot of fun had, this kind of approach often led to a nasty looking box score.
Then disaster struck. Wayne Nash, the club’s founder and responsible for 95% of the running and much of the financing of the Flames, suffered a devastating blow when his father died from a long-running illness. Despite efforts to finish the 1996 season, the vacuum left by Wayne’s absence spotlighted the need for the team to become a club, Richmond Flames was drifting towards oblivion.
As a result, no baseball was played in 1997 and it looked like the show was over.
However, all was not lost as Wayne started to rally all former players and recruited some new ones for Spring Training. Expectations were low but it was soon pretty clear the something had changed – the Flames had learned how to win games and the season was dominated by Richmond.
A convincing final playoff against Croydon sealed an amazing comeback season and the team dedicated this achievement to the memory Wayne’s father. The clubs chief awards were engraved ‘In memory of Christie John Nash’ for the absent 1997 season. At last the champagne really could be sprayed and not a dry eye in the house!
Flood Field was given a makeover and the Mayor of Richmond threw out the first pitch of the season. This tradition should probably have been upheld as the Flames shut out their opponents on opening day.
The season ended in a two horse race between Richmond and Bushey (now Herts Falcons) culminating in a pretty fiery play-off at the then GB training camp, Upper Heyford. The game was won by Richmond in extra innings with Greg Russell recording the final heart-in-mouth out on the warning track. The team was also becoming a club as the Knights team was born as a second team and named in honour of a former Richmond team that played on Flood Field many years ago. The club also embarked upon it’s first road trip to Venray in Holland, a tournament that would become a favourite of the club over many years.
The Richmond Knights were created and had a great first season with many baseball first-timers involved. Richmond Baseball Club was born, no longer being just the Flames.
The Knights inaugural season began with playing, at the time, Chanel 5 baseball but having fun and benefiting from the experience of the Flames veterans. This accelerated the learning process and the Knights would quickly evolve into a highly competitive team with many players progressing to first team baseball for Richmond and other clubs.
Richmond also participated in an additional international tournament in Dortmund, Germany plus and won the London Tournament for the first time.
The Flames were dominating the league again and faced a 3-game playoff over two days against Premier League’s last place Essex Arrows to win promotion to the top division.
Richmond had hoped to split the Saturday double-header and take their chances on Sunday. However, the Flames took both games on the Saturday including two, 1 out, bases loaded, home to 1st double plays that completely took the wind out of the oppositions sails, twice.
The Flames also reached the Knockout Cup Final, losing 4-1 to Yorkshire at Brighton as part of the Final 4 National Championships.
Another trip to Venray closed out the season on a high and at this time Richmond felt pretty much unstoppable but circumstances would soon rain on the club’s parade in 2001.
As the Flames looked forward to premiership ball in 2001 there were rumblings that the Premier League was to become “The National League”, sponsored by Rawlings and a wood-bat competition.
This was no problem for the Flames but the club was struck a blow when the BBF refused entry to the Flames, insisting a merger with Bracknell Blazers in order to be eligible. The joint team would be a hybrid of the best players from each team but was run predominantly by Bracknell – despite relationships between the two clubs being good this wasn’t what either team wanted, resulting in a lot of tension within the Richmond club as frustrations and passions began to boil over.
A lacklustre Dortmund tournament seemed to sum up the situation coupled with the news that Wayne Nash would be leaving the club to move to Germany to manage the Dortmund baseball and softball teams in addition to marrying his German partner Britta, a member of Dortmund’s women’s fast-pitch softball team, where he still lives today.
Nigel Stephens took over from Wayne as club general manager.
The club moved to its new ground, Connare Field, at Ham Riverside. This “field of dreams” brought a new heightened interest from players. The club invested in a batting cage and pitching machine; the weekly practice sessions really picked up.
The club launched a third adult baseball team the Richmond Dragons to cope with demand from new players. Like the Knights before them, the Dragons were a developmental team for mostly novice players. The rookie Dragons confounded expectations and finished eighth in the league amassing six wins in the team’s inaugural season.
The Flames went to the Final Four championship and the Knights were promoted into the Premier League (now AAA), after winning a perfect five games out of five in the post-season. The season was capped when Richmond sent a team to the European invitational tournament in Venray, Holland, and came back with the winner’s trophy.
The Flames were invited into the BBF National League – the highest level in the country. The Knights played its first season in the Premier League (now AAA) and the club were invited to the CEB Cup in Vienna. 2004 also saw the creation of a non-league development team, the Richmond Riverdogs, to cope with further growth driven by new players.
The club become Richmond Baseball and Softball Club with a second foray into running softball. Like the first attempt it proved short lived, although the club name lived on.
Ian Cox succeeded Nigel Stephens as Club GM.
The club became the largest adult baseball club in the country, with four teams playing in the league for the first time, a huge milestone for the organisation.
The Flames stuttered in the National League, finding the going very tough. Success came via the Knights in the Premier Division and Dragons in Division 1 (now AA); both had their best ever seasons, with the Knights making it to the Premier playoffs for the first time. The Riverdogs went into Division 2 (now A), struggled for wins, but provided great experience for a broadly rookie squad.
There were high hopes for the Flames which had recruited hard in the off-season. Strong performances saw them finish one game back of Croydon in the National League regular season, only to beat Croydon in the post season three-game series National Championship, coming back from being one game down.
The Knights finished top of the Premier Division for the first time, and in post season play made it to the Final Four final, only to lose to arch rival Cambridge. The Dragons and Riverdogs found the going tough in the lower divisions, but were still providing great development opportunities for rookie and less experienced players.
John Walmsley took over from Ian Cox as club general manager.
Further demand from new players saw the creation of a fifth team the Richmond Isotopes as a non-league rookie team, in the same way every team back to the Flames in 1992 had been launched. The pressure was on the Flames as reigning national champions, narrowly missing a playoff berth to perennial rivals Croydon and the ultimate new champions London Mets, a start-up club in 2007. The Knights went one better than in 2006, not only topping the Southern Premier Division but also beating Essex in the Final 4s for the National Premier Division title. The Dragons and Riverdogs went head to head in Division 1, with honours even, although the Dragons finished 10-10 and the Dawg scratching out just four wins.
The club saw an influx of new rookie talent, and also a squeeze in the top teams and decided to move the Riverdogs back to non-league status and rebuild. The Flames looked to put 2007 behind them finishing second in the National Baseball League behind London Mets. The Flames lost the National Baseball Championship series to the Mets. The Knights started in the new look AAA-Division (old Premier Division) finishing mid table as did the Dragons in AA-Division (old Division 1). The Riverdogs played a number of non-league games.
The club merged with London Angels, a women and girls’ fastpitch softball programme. Driven by this and a desire to round-out the club, a youth programme for 6 to 12 year olds was started in the summer months. The club also saw the opening of the new £600,000 clubhouse, with changing rooms and bar/lounge facilities. Richmond can now be said to be one of the best clubs in the country for baseball and softball.
Richmond Baseball Club consolidated the competitive teams in 2009 and entered the year with the Flames looking to improve on their solid 2008 National League performance. The Knights remained in AAA whilst the Dragons took on the roll as the club’s development team by entering into the A division.
An exciting season followed with the Flames taking the National League pennant, however defeat to Bracknell in the Championship game denied the club its first honours since 2006. The Knights battled out for another mid-table finish whilst the Dragons did well to finish top of their pool, only to lose out in the early playoff rounds.
The club’s 18th year would become the most successful year ever. Richmond entered three teams in the BBF leagues. The Flames, with a strong roster were pushing for one better than in 2009, while the Knights decided to take a step down to AA while the Dragons were hoping for the Single A championship.
The Flames, run by head coach Freddy Vibert, played well through the regular season, finishing with a 17-11 record. In the NBC qualifier they convincingly beat Croydon 11-2 to gain the third spot at the NBC behind the Mets and the Blazers. However, once in the finals the Flames could not be denied as they upset both the Mets (8-2) and the Blazers (6-3) to earn a spot in the title game. The Blazers, having taken the long route through double elimination, then had to face Flames ace Cody Cain at his finest and could not produce as Cain struck out 12 en route to a complete game 10-1 win.
The Knights, led by manager Dan Lally, lost the season opener at home to Sidewinders but then didn’t lose again all season. Finishing the regular season 19-1 they then faced Leicester Blue Sox in the AA National Championship game at Grovehill Ballpark, which would turn into one of the most astonishing comebacks in British baseball history. Down 15-5 after 5 innings the Knights were in danger of losing to the dreaded mercy rule before they began to claw back runs. At the bottom of the 9th the Knights needed 5 runs to force extra innings when final MVP Nick Osborne hit a 3-run bomb to tie the game. In overtime the Blue Sox would not fade and drove home two runs before Osborne’s 2 run walk-off double sealed the most improbable of championships for the Knights, winning 20-19.
The Dragons led by manager Nick Hadley and returning club veteran Ian Cox, wanted the division title after having fallen in the first post season hurdle in 2009 and sailed through the regular season 11-2, only losing the series to long time rivals Guildford. In the first round of the play-offs the Dragons faced newcomers Chelmford, who they had beaten convincingly in the season opener, but unable to produce through their normally strong running game the Dragons lost 16-12 in a play-off upset for the second year in a row, ending the season with the regular season pennant with an 11-3 record.
Richmond continued to strive for more success and both the Knights and the Dragons were promoted to AAA and AA respectively, while the Flames wanted more silverware in the National League.
The Flames stormed through the regular season, finishing 19-5 at the top of pool A, giving them a guaranteed semi-final berth. At the finals the faced newcomers Southern Nationals who were too strong, knocking out the Flames in an upset 18-6 game. Both the Knights and the Dragons faced a tough season in their new divisions. The Knights, now led by manager John Irving, lost ace Dave Keynes and slugger Nick Osborne in the offseason and finished 5th in AAA South with a 5-23 record.
The Dragons, facing much stiffer opposition than previous years ended their first season in AA South with a 5-15 record, last place in Pool B.
2012 was a year of great transition for Richmond Baseball Club. The departure of Freddy Vibert as head coach of the Flames lead to an exodus of senior players; some retiring after many years of outstanding service for the club and others departing to rival NBL teams Herts Falcons and London Mets.
The club turned their focus to creating sustainable growth on and off the field. The off-season recruitment was very successful and more than 20 new members joined the club, leading to the introducion of the Richmond Dukes into the BBF Single A South league. The Dukes, named after the borough of Richmond’s long history of nobility and the Dukes Avenue, the extension of Riverside Drive, the location of RBSC was led by club newcomers David D’Urbano and John Anderson. With an energetic and passionate squad, the Dukes continued RBSC’s tradition of great team spirit. With a squad dominated by members new to both club and sport the results didn’t necessarily reflect the growth seen among individual players. The Dukes finished 5th in Single A South Pool B with a 1-9 record, but the win came through a forfeit by Braintree Rays.
The Knights, again led by John Irving, gained some significant players in the off-season, but the mid season departure of ace Nate Aderhold affected an already thin pitching squad. Despite this, the Knights improved on 2011 to .500, finishing with a 12-12 record, good for 3rd place in AAA South Pool, but behind Oxford and Bristol in the hunt for the play-offs.
The Dragons, also bolstered by some key additions, lost some heartbreakingly close games and couldn’t improve on their 5 win 2011, finishing 7th in AA South Pool A with a 5-14 record. As the only team in the division to complete their entire fixture list, they tied Croydon Pirates with 5 wins and was only 1 win behind 3rd placed Thames Valley Bisons (6-4).
A year of on-field consolidation and off-field growth saw RBSC enter its third decade as a club with three teams; The Knights in AAA South, The Dragons in AA South and The Dukes in A South.
Off the field, an increasingly close relationship with landlords Kew and Ham Sports Association saw the construction of a new £14.000 backstop and dugouts for Connare Field and the complete refurbishment of a new two-lane batting cage facility complete with astro-turf, flood lights and pitching machine.
The Knights added several veterans and were aiming for a play-off spot. Led by John Irving, Charlie Pratt and Gary Lam, the Knight encountered a significantly improved standard in AAA.
The Dragons, led by club president Nick Hadley, entered the year with a goal of .500 results, but began very strong with a 6-1 start before struggling against the top teams. A final day split with Herts Hawks gave the Dragons a 7-9 record for the season, including four losses in games where Dragons had control until the last innings.
The Dukes, led by David D’Urbano and John Anderson, got their first on-field win in week 3 against the Old Timers as the significantly improved players played competitive baseball every week.
The second half of the season would witness an improbable run of nine straight wins, including a sweep of the post season as the Dukes were crowned 2013 Single A National Champions, a mere 17 months after the team’s first ever game!
After a year what was supposed to be a “bridge” year, the organisation entered 2014 on the high note of unexpected success of the Dukes, now managed by Karl “Muzza” Murray. Several players from the 2014 Dukes moved up to AA with the Dragons while the Knights had a fantastic recruiting off-season with some standout players joining.
After entering a U11 team in the Herts Futures tournament in 2013, Richmond is moving closer to fielding a youth league team. After initially hoping 2014 would be the year, the club is now looking to 2015-16 for expanding in to fully fledged youth baseball.
The club also entered an affiliation agreement with Southern Nationals NBL team, allowing player movement between the Knights and the Nationals. The return to the top level of British Baseball has been a long term goal of the club’s management after the folding of the Flames squad after the 2011 season.
However, the biggest change without comparison was the complete refurbishment of Connare Field thanks to a spectacular £50.000 grant from Sport England’s Inspired Fund.
Connare Field was laser levelled, had a complete dirt infield installed, dugouts constructed and a brand new automated sprinkler system installed.
Together with the new batting cages and backstop, Connare Field now rank among one of the very best facilities in this country.
With very few players leaving in the off-season and another bumper crop of recruits expected, Richmond looked to further expand their adult baseball section.
The club reached more than 60 active members in 2015 and due to a now annual influx of members new to the sport the club entered a new development team in the BBF Single A south Division, the Richmond Squires.
The off-season practice started early as Coach Tony Oliva began his baseball fundamentals sessions on November 1st with a mix of indoor video analysis and outdoor sessions.
Spring Training began in January under the tutelage of Coach Tony and the teams entered the league year with great hopes.
The Squires, led by John Irving, saw great player development and the newcomers managed to finish 4th in Pool C with a 3-8 record
The Dukes were led by Karl ‘Muzza’ Murray, supported by newcomer Dean Coupar. Struggling with scheduling issues, the Dukes were only able to play 10 of their 14 games, finishing with a 5-5 record, 3rd in Single A Pool B.
The Dragons, led by club president Nick Hadley, were aiming for the post season. With probably the strongest AA squad the club had ever seen, the Dragons sailed through the regular season with two 8-game winning streaks, winning the first team pennant in history with a 18-3 regular season record. The quarter final was played at the new Connare Field against Latin Boys, only one of two teams to beat the Dragons in the regular season but the Dragons stormed out of the gates and held an 8-3 lead after 6 innings. Unfortunately the Latin Boys fearsome lineup could only be contained for so long and in the end Dragons were on the disappointing end of 17-8 loss
Tony Oliva led the Knights on their chase to silverware and after a surprising sweep loss in the opening day double header against rivals Oxford Kings the Knights went on a tear. Winning 5 straight and 10 out of the next 12 saw the Knights rise and qualify for the NBCs with an 11-5 regular season record, good enough for 2nd place.
In the playoffs the Knights faced local rivals Oxford Kings in a tough match-up, but despite taking a 4-2 lead into the 5th, the Kings were too strong and the Knights were knocked out in the quarter finals.