Southern top-tier baseball to expand for only the second time since the 1999 season

BbfLogoIn 1999 there were nine teams in the southern bracket of the National Baseball League (NBL), but since then the yearly progression has gone eight, six, five, five, six, five, four, four, and four (in 2008). So there has been a drop five times (including a two-team drop between 2000 and 2001) and an increase only once.

The 2009 season should see a second increase, though, according to an article on the Herts Baseball Club website, which states that the club’s first team (the Falcons) will compete in the NBL South from next year. Of course, if the Mets were to not defend their title or if the Blazers, the Flames, or the Pirates were to not field a team in the top tier next season then we would not see a growth, but there were no forfeits in 2008, which is a good sign that the four teams are healthy at present.

While the growth of Herts Baseball Club can be celebrated by baseball enthusiasts up and down the country, it is not necessarily indicative of a reversal in the “shrinking south” trend. The progression of Herts Baseball Club has resulted more from an immeasurable amount of work from several members of the club than from national or local measures to grow the game.

Alongside the “shrinking south” trend sits a “narrowing north” pattern. Only two NBL North teams were able to complete the 2008 schedule, after the Liverpool Trojans pulled out mid-season. With the result that automatic berths in the Final Fours were available for the two remaining teams (Manchester and Menwith Hill), it could be argued that they were only involved in meaningful competition in 2008 for one game (both teams were eliminated at the semi-final stage). Clearly, then, a similar piece of news form the north, or at least a confirmation of Liverpool’s continuation in the top tier, would be very welcome. 

In other Herts baseball news, the petition to support planned grounds improvements, highlighted on BaseballGB, was clearly a success as the club has secured planning permission for the work.

24 thoughts on “Southern top-tier baseball to expand for only the second time since the 1999 season

  1. Tim

    *Refers to Geek Jotter Pad notes…*

    Sorry – I’ve developed this knowledge and I don’t often get to share it!:

    Technically the current version of British Baseball’s ‘National League’ didn’t come into existence until 2001 when it was essentially built on top of the existing Premier League. So while the numbers in the new top tier were reduced between 2000 and 2001 it was with the reasoning (by the BBF and BSUK) that the National League was about quality rather than quantity. In the few years leading up to that the two groups which formed the Premier League South had each been dominated by one team while the others pretty much all had losing records.

    During the 2001 season the BBF/BSUK did some analysis which showed that the creation of an ‘elite’ league seemed to be working. Not only was it another attempt at including the best teams from north and south in one division but there also proved to be a lot closer competition between many of its teams – both in individual games and over the season as a whole.

    Unfortunately, as Joe points out, 2001 seems to have been the high point for the NL/NBL so far. Since then it’s had to be regionalised as the long travel commitments between north and south led to many forfeits. And despite the NL aiming to foster sustainable ‘flagship’ clubs, it’s a sad fact that even successful and relatively long-standing teams like London Warriors, Windsor Bears and Brighton Buccaneers have blinked out of their National League existence once their group of players dissipated or the organiser stepped down. Hopefully Liverpool won’t succumb to the same fate.

    On a more positive note, Herts seem to be giving themselves the best chance of long-term survival in that they have developed over only a few years a thriving baseball club with adult teams which can feed their NBL team plus a booming Little League set-up. Off the field they also have enthusiasm in bundles and are obviously working hard to develop relationships with local authorities and funders as well as BSUK and the BBF.

  2. Joe Gray Post author


    In response to your second point (and an astute one it is too), it will probably come as no surprise (given the overall quality of the club) that Herts are very proficient at recording and supplying stats already. This is a big plus for the continuing drive to record full stats for the NBL South.

  3. Joe Gray Post author


    Now to tackle the first one…

    Firstly, thank you for the insight into the 2000-2001 transition.

    It is certainly true that a reduction in the number of teams competing in the top tier (whatever it happens to be called at the time!) is not necessarily a bad sign for baseball (I strongly believe that it is the close games that keep players wanting to take part year in year out – blowouts are good for neither the winning team nor the losing team in this respect – so if a smaller league means closer games then I am all for it). But if the decline happens consistently over a number of years, then it sends a pretty strong message that interest in baseball from top-level players is waning.

    At least in some cases, though, top-level players have continued to play after the their club lost top-tier status or folded (e.g. several Warriors players went to Richmond Flames, and you will find a number of ex-Brighton players on the Mets roster).

  4. Chico

    Hi Tim and Joe! I received a nice e-mail from the Herts Baseball Association thanking me for signing the petition. I basically said “May all you dreams come true” in regards to their situation. I am genuinely excited that their youth program is going to grow! As you well know, it is at the youth level that sports become successful. Baseball skills learned correctly at the youth level are so important. I have been around the game my whole life as a player and now long time coach and more than ever believe in many correct repetitions at each skill is the key to becoming a good player. Pitching, hitting and fielding skills have to become second nature to the player. We (our program) believe that the teams that catch and throw the ball the best usually win (that includes pitching). Not taking anything away from hitting, however, you usually can’t outslug your opponent all season long. Catching and throwing correctly are the keys to becoming a great ball player. And I love hitting!! Sorry to ramble on. I love listening to you both talk about the leagues. I have begun to know British baseball. My son and I were talking the other day and he said “Dad, I would love to go there and check things out”. I was pleased to hear that! Anyway, long live the best game on earth! Chico.(Maybe some day he could visit relatives in Leeds and surrounding area)

  5. Chico

    A question for you both. Do you live in the London area? If not, if you care to, I’d be curious as to where you reside. As I have said, I live in Wisconsin now, but was born and raised on the Southside of Chicago.

  6. Joe Gray Post author

    Hi Chico,

    I live just outside London, to the north (actually pretty close to the Herts club). I lived in south London when I got into baseball, so that is where my baseball team (the Croydon Pirates) is.

    Tim has great comments to make on British/international baseball and, like me, is based in the London area and so has decent baseball close by.

    You can find out where Matt, the site’s Editor/main contributor is based on!

    Maybe if and when you visit Britain with your son, there will be decent baseball in Leeds too (see here).

  7. Matt Smith

    Thanks for pointing out my (very slight) moment of fame Joe!

    Norwich is a small city in Norfolk, which is a rural county and generally the butt of many a joke about us being a bunch of farmers etc! The university (college) based in Norwich, the University of East Anglia, does have a baseball team (the Blue Sox), but they really represent the only baseball anywhere close to where I live.

    Chico, your emphasis on repitition being so important calls to mind some of the things I’ve read about the Japanese approach to the game. It’s sometimes said that many Japanese players are better drilled at the fundamentals than their American counterparts. With your involvement in youth baseball, have you come across many Japanese youth teams playing in tournaments? If so, have you seen any great difference between American and Japanese players in terms of their ability to execute the fundamentals of the game?

  8. Pingback: Herts Falcons to compete in National Baseball League South in 2009 - News - British Baseball Leagues - Mister Baseball

  9. Chico

    Matt: I have seen Japanese teams play here. I once saw the Japanese National team (pre Olympic year) play at the Cell vs. a young group of college allstar type players prior to a White Sox vs. Cleveland Indians game. I also coached a foreign exchange student at our high school. We have since stayed in contact and he is playing college ball in Japan near Tokyo. From my observations and being able to coach a Japanese trained young man I would say they are generally better bunters, do more double cuts on relays from the outfield and tend to not try to hit with as much power as American kids. I think it varies from program to program here as to how sound fundamentally players are. An interesting study found that Northern HS and College players tend to be somewhat better on doing the little things than their Southern counterparts. The reason being: In the North, much time is spent indoors because of weather in the spring, consequently every available space and corner is used in an indoor facility. In other words, countless drill stations have to be used in a smaller space and the reps are many more than if players were outside most of the time as is the case in the South. Outfielders tend to suffer the most in the North because they get little fly ball work until teams are ready to go outdoors. Pitchers pitch off artificial portable mounds indoors and can get tons of work. Hitters can hit live or with machines in an indoor batting cage. Infield practice can be done on a gym floor also. Southern teams are way ahead at the beginning in game conditions and being on a real ball field. There is a “rivalry” between the North and South as to who is better. In my opinion,if a kid has the God given ability and has the “gift” and works hard it does not matter where he comes from as far as advancing to the pros.

  10. Matt Smith

    Thanks for passing on those observations Chico. Very interesting to read. As you say, ultimately the best talent should rise to the top regardless, so long as they are prepared to put in the hard work as well.

  11. Bart

    I’ve been reading your comments and do think you are right. But there is one thing that I think you are forgetting in the development of youth players. Goals must be set realisticly, american kids see the draft every year and know that if you put in the hard work, there is a good chance that you will end up in the pros. For a kid living in europe what they see is the odd signing of a youth player to play pro. It’s difficult for these kids to put in the hard work over here, keep in mind that they need the facility’s to put in the hard work as well. Even if they have the dream, the people around them have to share that dream to make it true.

    I’ve just joined Herts (before this news got out) so I have no first hand knowledge about the club and how it supports its kids but from what I have heard it does a great deal in the support and development of it’s youth players and hopefully one day we will see a big league signing of a Herts player.

  12. Chico

    Bart: I was talking in terms of where a kid comes from in the geographical United States. My apologies if I wasn’t clear about that. I fully understand your point and I would agree with you. As I am learning a lot about baseball in Great Britain from Matt and Joe and by reading as much as possible, I realize that you are very certainly right in what you say. Organizations like the Herts Baseball Club with it’s plans will really go a long way in developing young players. At least kids can dream and hope to at least play for the Great Britain team. Kids here have no idea that baseball is played in Great Britain or anywhere in Europe. They simply play because “every” kid plays T ball and Little League. The drop off begins here after LL when millions of kids realize how hard it is to play the game and simply drop out to go on to other pursuits. At each level, there are fewer and fewer playing until not that many play in high school and even fewer in college. The odds of playing at the professional level are probably millions to one, but if the dream is still there, a young guy certainly has the facilities and coaching almost everywhere to pursue that dream or goal. I am getting familiar with British players who have or are in the Pros in the U.S. or Canada. They can be heroes to kids there. I just think it is exciting to see organizations such as Herts. It surely would be awesome to see a Herts kid in MLB someday! Good luck to you in your involvement! Let’s keep in touch through BBF. I’d love to hear what’s going on. I’ll let you know how our high school program is doing if you would like. Chico

  13. Paul A

    I was interested to read where you live.
    I’m from Norwich originally and indeed that is where I first started playing baseball.
    Having picked up the game whilst in the States on a uni exchange program, I returned to Norwich and found out there was a team – Norwich Wanderers.
    I joined up and had a mediocre start to the game, competing in the then division 3 south (I think) within the BBF.
    The club overall were successful, winning the division, but like so many teams followed success with the departure of several key players (some of whom were US forces personnel) and the club folded.
    A few years of social baseball / softball with some of the old guys and some new guys followed, before I moved to Herts in 1999 and found that there was a team here too!
    Been involved ever since.
    Is there any likelihood of a team (other than UEA) being started again up in Norwich?

  14. Matt Smith

    Hi Paul

    Thanks a lot for your comments. I hadn’t heard of the Norwich Wanderers before and would be interested to learn more about them. Whereabouts (location wise) did you play?

    I’m not sure what hope there is for a team being started up again here. As you mentioned, these things are heavily dependent on a core group of enthusiastic and dedicated individuals. I know there is a developing softball team in Fakenham. I guess the main hope for baseball would be if some of the UEA Blue Sox stay in the area after graduating and decide to keep on playing. Perhaps I could get off my behind and help out as well?!

  15. Joe Gray Post author

    Hi Paul,

    This is funny (or at least I think it is). A good friend has just today sent me some copies of a British baseball fanzine produced in the mid-1990s called Linedrive. I know that as of 24 July 1994 the Norwich Wanderers were leading the slightly strangely named Southern Division Three North with a 10-2 record. Until I read this half an hour before seeing your post, I was not aware of Norwich baseball.

  16. Matt Smith

    Wow! Looks like my home city has more of a baseball history than I ever imagined. This is exciting news for me! If anyone else has any details about Norwich’s baseball past, I’ll be delighted to hear from you.

  17. Paul A

    The diamond was on a council field in the Heartsease estate – behind three tall tower blocks.
    I have no idea whether it’s still there or not (chances are probably not).
    The social softball / baseball was mainly played in Eaton Park (big wide open spaces) but with no proper diamond or anything.
    One thing I do remember about the diamond is this(it seemed quite funny at the time, but wasn’t when you look back on it):
    There was a car park around the back of one of the tower blocks. This would be so far into foul territory down the left field line as to be out of sight, and almost in line with where our HR line was.
    One of our hitters stepped up to the plate. Big bloke – worked as a bouncer in the city. He absolutely crushed the ball but was way out in front of it and it just kept on carrying into foul territory – right into the car park and smashed the quarter light (I think it’s called) on the back on window of his mates car!! Incredible shot – probably never to be repeated!

  18. Paul A

    Also – we had a quite incredible 3rd baseman. Nicknamed Hoover – cos he seemed to field absolutely everything that came his way.
    Worked on the farms, so was built like the proverbial brick out house and had a bullet of an arm (still don’t think I’ve seen one as good). I was playing 1st base in a training session, and he picked one up to fire over to 1st. I just put my glove out and prayed he’d hit it cos it was travelling about 8 inches above the ground at about 90 mph!!!!

  19. Matt Smith

    I’ve heard of the shot heard round the world. This must have been the shot heard round the Heartsease estate. Wouldn’t be the first! The diamond isn’t there any more unfortunately.

  20. Joe Gray Post author

    Some more on Norwich…

    In 1992 the BBF had an “Anglia League” with these teams:
    – Norwich Wanderers
    – Bury Saints B
    – Stevenage Knights
    – Tiptree Hotsports Rays
    – UEA Anglians

  21. Joe Gray Post author

    The Wanderers played in Red and White, the Knights played in black and grey, the Hotsports Rays played in white with navy pinstripe, and UEA played in blue and gold

    The Saints first team played in the National Premier League in purple and white

  22. Pingback: A History of Norwich baseball | BaseballGB

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