It’s New Year’s Day and even if you’re not the sort to be conjuring up New Year’s resolutions, the changing of the calendar does offer the opportunity to reflect on the year that has passed and to look ahead to what may be in store in the year ahead.
Naturally, quite a lot of my thoughts revolve around baseball. Here are some of the things I’m looking forward to in 2013.
World Baseball Classic
The WBC returns for the third staging of the marquee international competition this March. Itâ€™s a shame that Great Britain couldnâ€™t make it through the qualifying stage, but Spain did come through their qualifier to add a third European team to the traditional pair of the Netherlands and Italy. The Dutch were a revelation in 2009 and have won the Baseball World Cup since then, so they could spring a few more surprises this time around.
Regardless of the fortunes of our European representatives, it promises to be another colourful and entertaining tournament.
A Spring Training surprise
The excitement of the WBC will have the unfortunate side effect of showing up how tame the pre-season Spring Training games are. The joy of having baseball, any baseball, back soon gives way to the feeling that Spring Training goes on a good 10 to 14 days too long for us fans eager to watch competitive games once more.
In spite of this, there is always a player or two that catches the eye, sometimes a highly-touted prospect getting some at-bats or innings before starting the year in the Minors or occasionally a youngster hoping to win a Major League roster spot. Last year, I watched part of an Atlanta Braves game and witnessed the dazzling defensive skills of Andrelton Simmons. He had to wait until 2 June to make his Big League debut and it was all the more enjoyable to watch him impressing having seen him back in Spring Training.
An encore from my Oakland Aâ€™s
I entered the 2012 season carrying very modest expectations for the Aâ€™s and they were exceeded in spectacular style with an unexpected AL West division title. Â The amount of young talent on the roster gives cause for optimism that 2012 can be built upon, although thereâ€™s no doubt that the level of competition in the American League will make it a real challenge to return to the playoffs in 2013.
Still, part of what made the Aâ€™s season so memorable was that they were a team full of character and full of characters. Even if they donâ€™t quite live up to their 2012 campaign this season, they should be a fun team to follow day in, day out.
Is winning the Blue Jaysâ€™ way?
As well as the Aâ€™s surprising playoff place, the 2012 postseason included the Baltimore Orioles (previous appearance 1997) and the Washington Nationals (their first appearance since moving to the U.S. capital in 2005).
Toronto havenâ€™t played in the postseason since 1993; however they have had the most impressive offseason of any team so far and â€“ even with the Miami Marlins being a recent warning from history on putting too much emphasis on ‘winning the offseason’ â€“ whether they can break through in the AL East will be one of the long-running stories of the season.
The Blue Jays have added the most Major League talent this offseason, but no team has undergone a more dramatic transformation than the Los Angeles Dodgers over the past year.Â Theyâ€™ve moved from bankruptcy proceedings to the largest payroll in the Majors. Whether manager Don Mattingly thinks itâ€™s fair or not, the Dodgersâ€™ spending has put the team firmly under the media microscope and there will be no middle ground in assessing their 2013 season. Like the New York Yankees before them, itâ€™s either success through winning the World Series or failure through any other outcome.
Year two from the baseballâ€™s new dynamic duo
Little captivates sports fans more than seeing young players bursting onto the scene.Â Mike Trout and Bryce Harper more than lived up to the hype in 2012 by producing incredibly impressive seasons and much is expected of them in 2013.Â They have quickly become stars in the game and, regardless of the team you support, it will be a lot of fun seeing how they get on.
Good times ahead for Great Britain?
2012 was an exciting year in prospect for the Great Britain Senior National Team and unfortunately it didnâ€™t go as well as we all had hoped.
Missing out in the World Baseball Classic qualifier to Canada, and being soundly beaten by the Germans along the way, was a shame, but the real disappointment came in an underwhelming European Championship showing that demoted Team GB to the B-Level qualifiers for the 2014 event.
2013 is a new year and the creation of a new GB Lions Development Team, combined with the appearances of Ben Pearson (Cartmel Valley Lions), Gary Davison (Southampton Mustangs) and Michael Trask in the Senior National Team last year, bodes well for the future. Team GB are provisionally scheduled to travel to Zurich, Switzerland, in July to compete against the hosts, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Slovenia and Ukraine to gain entry to the 2014 Euros.
Further progress in British baseballÂ
After another enjoyable year of domestic action in 2012, hopes are high that 2013 will be a year of progress with plenty of competition throughout the leagues in the adult competition, youth set-ups going from strength to strength and improvements to facilities.
The baseball and softball facilities at Farnham Park are coming along well and, subject to the grass bedding in, hopefully will be hosting games during 2013. Having good quality facilities that can act as a national centre should be another important step forward, coupled with plans to build a new site in the north a few years down the line too.
BBC MLB coverage
BBC Radio continued to support baseball in 2012 with Nat Coombs, Josh Chetwynd and the rest of the team doing a superb job throughout the season. The baseball community banter that was a hallmark of ‘Baseball on 5’ really came to the fore in the team’s best year yet.
Fingers crossed that the coverage will continue again in 2013 and perhaps we’ll even see a free-to-air TV return for MLB afterÂ NFL fans were treated to some TV games on the BBC red button in 2012.
The highlight of my writing year in 2012 was contributing two chapters to the Nine Aces and a Joker book (an excellent way to spend a few pounds of Xmas money if you’ve not already bought your copy, I may add!).
As for this website, 2012 saw the introduction of a new site design that seems to have worked well in combining the shorter blog posts with longer articles. I moved away slightly from regular columns to ‘writing on a whim’ which worked to an extent but also showed me that I quite enjoy having a structure and schedule to work around. So, my ‘Weekly’ Hit Ground Ball MLB column will return in 2013 alongside a modified British Baseball Beat column and a few other new features as well.
I can’t wait to get started.