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British Baseball Beat: Back on the Beat

by Matt Smith

British baseball followed MLB’s lead this year in deciding that one Opening Day just wasn’t enough.

While the top-tier National Baseball League got started on 1 April, the Opening Day for the rest of the leagues took place on Sunday 15 April. That made last Sunday the first full day of British baseball league action and it provided all of the twists and turns seasoned followers have come to expect.

The BBF website has plenty of division reports and scores to peruse, but these are the stories that caught my eye.

Northern sweeps

There were double-header sweeps all over the Northern baseball landscape on Sunday.

Least surprising were the two wins taken by the relentless winning machine that is the Liverpool Trojans Baseball Club. After a perfect 22-0 regular season and an AAA National Baseball Championship title in 2011, the Trojans got right back to it with a pair of victories over the Halton Jaguars.

Reigning AA National Champions Bolton Robots of Doom began their new era in Triple-A baseball with two home games against fellow newcomers the Cartmel Valley Lions. The Lions are a new adult team added to the club this year following nearly two decades of T-ball, Bronco and Pony baseball in the North-West. The double-header didn’t answer the important question of whether a robot or lion would win in a fight, but it did result in the Lions earning two victories to start their season in style. Meanwhile Menwith Hill Patriots were awarded two forfeit victories over the Manchester A’s.

In Double-A, the Sheffield Bladerunners would be seen as pre-season favourites for the division after finishing second last year behind the promoted Bolton. They picked up two wins over Oldham North Stars on Opening Day and are joined on 2-0 records by Hull Scorpions and Manchester Torrent thanks to sweeps over the reformed Harrogate Tigers and newcomers Newton Aycliffe Spartans respectively.

Redbacks rise above the Royals

Liverpool Trojans’ perfect 2011 season was matched in Single-A by the Cambridge Royals, who went 12-0 in the regular season before defeating the Birmingham Maple Leafs in the Single-A National Baseball Championship.  After such a successful first season back in the British leagues, the Royals took the brave decision to skip the Double-A level and move directly up to Triple-A.

Sunday proved to be a challenging introduction to the new division for the Royals as the Essex Redbacks travelled to Cambridge and came away with two victories by scores of 11-0 and 9-2. The Redbacks put together a strong 21-9 campaign last year and will be one of several contenders in what looks like being a very competitive Triple-A South.  The Bristol Badgers and Oxford Kings, and the Richmond Knights and Bracknell and Windsor Bears, both split double-headers to provide further evidence that many of the teams will be evenly matched this year.

The Royals have two more home double-headers in a row coming up and they will hope to take advantage of home comforts at Coldham’s Common to gain confidence for the rest of the season and to potentially give them a shot at being in the mix down the stretch as well.

Mustangs II make a winning Double-A debut

The Southampton Mustangs II, the Royals’ main adversaries in Single-A last year, have made the step up to Double-A in 2012. Coincidentally, like the Royals they also started against the Essex Redbacks club, their Redbacks II team in this case, and Southampton were able to gain a winning start with a 21-9 victory.

Guildford Mavericks and Poole Piranhas both had strong seasons in 2011 and they picked up victories on Opening Day, against the Sidewinders and newcomers Daws Hill Spitfires respectively, to quickly state their credentials for being at the sharp end again this year.

We could also see a new team come to the fore and challenge the established Double-A teams this season. The London Mammoths are the latest addition to the successful London Mets club and Matt Cartwright’s team got off to a great start with a 17-7 win over the Latin Tigers (another team that were making their debut on Sunday).

In the Midlands, Nottingham Rebels and Leicester Blue Sox started their seasons with a win, while last year’s Midlands champions the MK Bucks sat in wait to make their season debut this Sunday with a home game against the Birmingham Maple Leafs.

A tonic for Tuesday

Single-A contains eleven teams this season including newcomers Hove Tuesday, who put in plenty of work to get Pavilion Field in Brighton in good shape for their inaugural game and capped off a memorable day by earning a 14-1 win over Tonbridge.

The division includes two teams from Herts Baseball Club, the Eagles and Raptors. The former picked up a 28-6 victory over Richmond Dukes, while the latter played a final Spring Training game against the London Marauders. With the Herts Hawks also winning 13-4 over Richmond Dragons in Double-A, the question was whether the NBL Herts Falcons would be able to make it a perfect day for baseball fans in Hemel Hempstead and keep up their unbeaten start to the season.

Mustangs temporarily ground the Falcons

Herts Falcons had lived up the hype of their offseason headline-grabbing moves with four wins to start the season, but they were grounded by the Southampton Mustangs in their fifth game of the year. The Mustangs took the first game of the double-header 7-5 to quickly end any thoughts of the Falcons powering their way to a perfect season, but the fight and talent that Herts showed to win the second game against the Mustangs was a reminder – if one was needed – that they have what it takes to mount a serious challenge in the NBL this season.

The same could be said for reigning champions Southern Nationals and the London Mets.  The Nationals and Mets split a double-header on opening day at Finsbury Park and they have both won all their games since.  The Mets didn’t play on 8 April but followed their Game Two win against the Nationals with two comprehensive victories over Croydon Pirates on Sunday.  On the same day, the Nationals defeated the Essex Arrows twice at Harlow to make it five wins from six games after earning two home wins against the Bracknell Blazers on 8 April.

Highlights from this Sunday’s fixture list

In the NBL, the Mets host two games against the Bracknell Blazers, while Sunday will hopefully mark the first games played by the GB Juniors team against the Mustangs and Diamondbacks respectively, with the two NBL teams also set to play a game against each other.

In Triple-A, Liverpool Trojans have two home games against the Menwith Hill Patriots, the Essex Redbacks put their 2-0 record on the line against the London Metros and the Cambridge Royals look to bounce back as they host the Latin Boys.

In Double-A. after celebrating their debut win, the London Mammoths face a tough test on the road against the Guildford Mavericks. Herts Hawks and Croydon Pirates III meet both intent on inflicting the first loss of the season on the other, while things could either tighten up or spread out in the North as the 2-0 Bladerunners, Scorpions and Torrent are all facing 0-2 opposition.

In Single-A, Hove Tuesday have another home game, this time against the Old Timers, while the Herts Eagles and Guidlford Mavericks II meet at Grovehill Ballpark with the Herts Raptors also playing against the Essex Redbacks III to make for a good day of baseball in Hemel Hempstead.

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Damien April 20, 2012 - 9:59 am

The Redbacks pitching was dominant on sunday against the Royals and when Royals players were making contact it seemed there was always a Redback glove awaiting. There were quite a few costly errors on the Royals part which should have been outs. That coupled with poor weather on the day, intermittent hail and rain, meant the Redbacks earned their wins on the day. Heres to hoping the weather improves moving into the season!

Matt Smith April 20, 2012 - 5:33 pm

The Redbacks are a good established team, so there’s no disgrace in dropping a couple of games to them. I guess the Royals’ season is firstly about settling into the league and gaining some more experience as a team together. See where you are half-way through and set your goals accordingly from there as it is a decent jump up from one year in Single-A to moving to Triple-A. Hope the weather holds off and the two games against the Latin Boys go well.

Matthew Crawshaw April 20, 2012 - 3:50 pm

This Sunday sees youth baseball return to Leicester after a 28 year hiatus.

On the undercard to the regulation AA home fixture against Stourbridge Titans, Blue Sox Juniors will stage their first ever intra-club game at Western Park, which will also coincide with the official unveiling of our BSUK-funded permanant backstop.

The action starts at 10.00am with the Bronco face-off between Blue Sox Dodgers and Blue Sox Brewers. The Dodgers take their name from the last youth baseball team to play organised baseball in Leicester back in 1985. On the day the team will be managed by former Leicester Dodger veteran Shaun Hill.

The Western Park opening ceremony is then to be held at 11.30 before the AA first pitch at midday. We are keeping fingers crossed that heavy rain stays away!

Matt Smith April 20, 2012 - 5:34 pm

Great to hear of yet more improvements and expansion at Leicester. You’re definitely becoming a real baseball hub within the country, and that’s great to see. Hopefully the weather plays ball as well as the players!


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