The 2012 National Baseball League schedule has been released, revealing that this yearâ€™s competition will involve eight main teams, with the Great Britain Juniors gaining some valuable experience by facing the top-tier sides as well.
Goodbye Bulldogs, Farewell Flames
Eight NBL teams makes for two less than last yearâ€™s ten. The loss of the Mildenhall Bulldogs was perhaps to be expected after they were unable to field a team during the latter stages of the 2011 season; however losing the 2010 Champion Richmond Flames was more of a surprise. Hopefully both teams will rejoin the top-tier again in the future.
No teams have taken the place of the Bulldogs and Flames, after three straight years of new teams joining or progressing up to the NBL. However, the introduction of the GB Junior team ensures that there will be a new dimension to the NBL season in 2012.
The GB Junior team will get involved on four Sundays when a venue will host three games. Two NBL teams will face each other in one game and will also play a game each against the GB Junior team. The first takes place on 22 April, featuring the Southampton Mustangs and Lakenheath Diamondbacks.
This looks like being an excellent way to strengthen the important link between the British baseball leagues and the national team set-up. The GB Juniors will not only get to test themselves against the top teams in the country, they will also gain valuable experience of playing alongside each other on a more regular basis. Add on the fact that it will produce an interesting triple-header of baseball and it should be a positive and progressive development for the game.
As the GB Junior team are not specifically an NBL team, presumably the results of the games involving them will not be included in the standings (thatâ€™s not officially been confirmed as yet).
Season dates set early
The BBF, particularly Nick Hadley, BBF Southern Senior Leagues Commissioner, have done a great job in getting the season structure and NBL schedule finalized by an early date this year. Thereâ€™s no doubting that itâ€™s a difficult task, but the delays and late revisions of the schedule in 2011 were far from ideal. Credit should go to all involved for putting that right this year. Hopefully the postseason structure will be finalized and announced before the start of the season as well.
The regular season will run from Sunday 1 April to Sunday 5 August, followed by a playoff round over the 18-19 August weekend and the National Baseball Championships over the 25-27 August Bank Holiday weekend. This is slightly earlier than last year so that the end of the domestic season doesnâ€™t clash with the European Championships.
NBL Opening Day
The opening fixtures on 1 April will make for an intriguing start to the NBL season.
The defending NBL Champion Southern Nationals will immediately renew their burgeoning rivalry with the London Mets at the latterâ€™s Finsbury Park diamond. The Nationals knocked the Mets out of the playoffs with a 7-3 victory last season and London will be keen to get some revenge at the first available opportunity.
Lakenheath Diamondbacks, the beaten finalists from last year, begin their battle to go one step further in 2012 with a double-header against the Southampton Mustangs. The Diamondbacks narrowly defeated the Mustangs 12-11 in the National Baseball Championship semi-final last year, so we can expect two fiercely competitive games between these two sides.
Herts Falcons were disappointed with their 4-20 2011 season and will look to start 2012 off on a positive note with two home games against the Bracknell Blazers, while the Essex Arrows aim to build on their 9-17 season, starting with two games hosting the Croydon Pirates.
Now that the NBL schedule has been finalized, attention will turn to the schedules of the other levels of play in the South and the structure of the North.
We shall not be lacking for teams, with a recent BBF tweet explaining that â€œ56 adult teams have signed-up for the 2012 season of #BritishBaseball. In the south alone: NBL (8), AAA (7), AA (14), Midlands (5), A (8)â€.
That would leave up to 14 teams in the north (some of the remaining 14 may well be independent teams based in the south but not actually playing in the above mentioned divisions) and there has been some talk of a return to a single Northern League, which we last saw in 2009, rather than separating out into separate divisions.
There are arguments for and against a single league. From a purely competitive point of view (i.e. not as someone actually involved and therefore dealing with the logistics of it all), I would always favour separating teams into divisions modelled broadly on experience and ability. Throwing everyone together will inevitably produce complete mismatches and they donâ€™t do anything to help player development or enjoyment.
I’m sure the different merits of a single league or divisions will be fully debated and an agreement will be reached in due course.