The 2011 British baseball season got underway on Sunday.Â All but the AA-North division started out prior to this weekendâ€™s Easter break, setting the opening agenda before we get right back to the action on Sunday 1 May.
The new British Baseball Federation (BBF) website provides a variety of ways in which you can catch up on all the Opening Day scores.Â This includes some excellent division round-ups for the AA-Midlands, AAA-North and AAA-South.Â
Our focus this week is on the teams that are either new to the league or who have changed divisions over the offseason.
Contrasting fortunes for D-Backs and Nationals
There are two teams new to the National Baseball League (NBL) and they experienced mixed fortunes on Opening Day.Â
Lakenheath Diamondbacks couldnâ€™t have hoped for a better start, winning both games of the â€˜Battle of the Basesâ€™ double-header against Mildenhall Bulldogs.Â They were two close contests and the Bulldogs will already have 26 June circled on their schedule, eagerly awaiting a chance to turn the tables on their United States Army Air Force rivals.Â Meanwhile at Finsbury Park, Southern Nationals suffered a pair of one-run defeats at the hands of the London Mets.Â
In fact, the main story from Opening Day in the NBL is that it looks like being an extremely competitive division.Â The Essex Arrows gained a split against the reigning champion Richmond Flames, while Croydon Pirates let a 12-5 lead slip only to grab a 13-12 walk-off win to split a double-header with Bracknell. Southampton Mustangs opened their season with an impressive two-game sweep away to Herts Falcons, although the latter will be encouraged by their battling performance in the second game while coping with a long list of injuries.
Kings reign over Knights
In the AAA-South league, last yearâ€™s AA Champion Richmond Knights started life in the higher league with a double-header against the AAA Champion Oxford Kings.Â
The Kings wasted little time in imposing their authority on the newcomers, taking the opener 13-2 with the game being called after five innings. So ended the Knightsâ€™ regular season game winning streak at 20 games and they took the loss in the second game as well; however they recovered from an early 7-0 deficit to take the game to its full seven innings, eventually succumbing by a score of 14-6.Â The Kings showed why they are considered the team to beat, but it shouldnâ€™t be long before the Knights get another patented winning streak going.
While there are no new teams in the AAA-North, itâ€™s certainly worth pointing out the double-header wins by Liverpool Trojans and Manchester Aâ€™s, over the Halton Jaguars and Menwith Hill Patriots respectively.Â Â The Trojansâ€™ 2011 goal is clear: win the AAA-North and then take the AAA title that so narrowly eluded them last year.Â With the type of strong pitching that Martin Godsall and Rob Vondy showed against the Jags, theyâ€™ve got every chance of doing just that.Â The question is whether any of their North or South rivals can stop them?
Bucks beat the Rebels, Mavericks slay the Dragons
In the AA-Midlands, the newcomer Nottingham Rebels faced a similar fate to that of the Southern Nationals and Richmond Knights.Â They lost both games to an established rival, in the Rebelsâ€™ case the Milton Kenyes Bucks, but showed they are more than worth their place in the division and that they have plenty of potential.Â
The same can be stated for the Essex Redbacks 2 in the AA-South.Â They were involved in one of the top games on Opening Day, leading the Brentwood Stags 7-3 heading into the seventh inning only to suffer a heartbreaking 9-8 loss with the Stags scoring three times in the bottom of the ninth for a walk-off win.Â
Guildford Mavericks took an 11-5 debut win in the AA-South against the Richmond Dragons.Â The Mavericksâ€™ pitcher Kevin Zanes recovered from conceding three runs in the first inning to limit the Dragons to only two more runs the rest of the way.Â The offence did the rest, with third baseman James Guerra leading the way with five RBIs.
Regal start for Royals
The Cambridge Royals celebrated their return to the British leagues in A-South with a comprehensive 33-5 win over Herts Raptors.Â The Royalsâ€™ next scheduled game is due to mark the return of baseball to Cambridgeâ€™s Coldhamâ€™s Common; however their opponents, Tonbridge, had to forfeit their opening contest due to a lack of players so we await confirmation that the game will go ahead as planned.
Tonbridge were scheduled to face the other A-South newcomers, the Guildford Mavericks 2, on Sunday.Â Both teams were keen to get their seasons underway so they did play a game with the Mavericks lending Tonbridge a few players and coming out on top by a final score of 16-8.Â It goes into the BBF books as a 9-0 forfeit in favour of the Mavericks 2, meaning a winning start for the new team, but it was good to see the teams enjoying a game regardless of the official outcome already being known.
Don’t miss our BSUK podcast
Following Opening Day, Joe Gray and I spent some time chatting to BSUKâ€™s Jason Greenberg about the 2011 BBF League structure, our opinions on the new BBF website, and offered some thoughts on teams and players to keep an eye out for during the season ahead.Â Why not take a listen to the podcast?