The four play-off teams from last year – the Harlow Nationals, Herts Falcons, Southampton Mustangs and London Mets – should all be strong contenders once again.
Lakenheath Diamondbacks, Essex A’s, Bracknell Blazers and South London Pirates will all be intent on improving on their 2012 showings and we welcome a new team to the top-tier as the Essex Redbacks complete their rise through the ranks having been promoted from Triple-A.
It is hoped that this year’s National Championships will be staged at the new Farnham Park facility near Slough, which isÂ rapidly taking shape. Winning the first top-tier title at this new venue will provide one extra incentive, if it were needed, to make 2013 a successful year.
History in the making?
It’s always exciting to see a new team tasting glory, but arguably the most intriguing story of the coming season concerns a potentially historic achievement by the reigning champions.
The Harlow Nationalsâ€™ triumph last year meant that they joined twelve other teams to have managed to retain a top-tier National Championship.
As this Project COBB graphic shows, the Nationals have already put their name among some rarefied company, but they enter this season knowing that they could earn a place in an even more exclusive group.
According to the available records, housed at Project COBB, there have only been two teams in British baseball history to capture three National League championships in a row. Those teams are the Cobham Yankees and Enfield Spartans and they managed to achieve the feat back-to-back.
Cobhamâ€™s titles came between 1986 and 1988, with Enfield capturing their terrific trio between 1989 and 1991. It should be noted for accuracy that from 1987 to 1989 there were two national championships, the â€˜Main Competitionâ€™ (that won by the Yankees and Spartans) and the Scottish Amicable championship.
The Harlow Nationals therefore will be bidding this season to become only the third team in history to achieve a â€˜three-peatâ€™.
Since the turn of the new millennium, the Brighton Buccaneers, Croydon Pirates and London Mets have all been in the same situation and haven’t quite been able to join that elite group. It will be fascinating to see if the Nationals can buck that trend, or if one of the other NBL teams thwarts their effort and – perhaps – takes the first step to doing it themselves.
The games ahead
The Nationals have been dealt a tough trio of double-headers to begin their attempt at claiming three national titles in a row. After travelling to Southampton on 7 April to take on the Mustangs, the Nationals will host the Mets and then the Falcons at Northbrooks Park. Manager Marty Cullen will need to ensure his team hits the ground running to get through those early fixtures, which promise to make the NBL season start with a bang.
The Opening Day match-up in Southampton gives the Mustangs a chance to lay down a marker against the reigning champions. Southampton will face the Nationals again on 16 June and it will be interesting to see where they are in the standings at that point. Their remaining five match-ups from then on will be against the Pirates (twice), Diamondbacks, Arrows and Blazers: all teams that the Mustangs finished ahead of in 2012. With their final four double-headers all being played at home, that could amount to a favourable run-in for Southampton.
As for the Herts Falcons, they will welcome the South London Pirates to Grovehill Ballpark on 7 April before setting off on four road double-headers in a row, including back-to-back trips to the Nationals and Mets. Hertsâ€™ payback for their early season travels is a run of four home double-headers to end their regular season.
The London Mets will also hope to make good use of home-field advantage in the run-in as four of their final five series will take place at Finsbury Park, including a double-header against the Blazers on the final day of the regular season. As with the Falcons, the Mets’ late season homestand is counterbalanced by five consecutive series on the road during the middle of the season.
Lakenheath Diamondbacks will hope to make home-field advantage at Feltwell count in the mid-season as after their games against the Redbacks on 30 June, they will finish up their season with four consecutive double-headers on the road. Similarly the renamed South London Pirates end the season with five consecutive road double-headers.
The Bracknell Blazers will be hitting the road to start their 2013 campaign, with their first three double-headers being contests away at the debuting Redbacks, Diamondbacks and Arrows. Westmorland Park will host its first games of the NBL season on 12 May when the Mustangs make the trip to Bracknell.
The Essex Aâ€™s have to wait a week before getting their season underway on 14 April. They will then play three home double-headers at Town Mead Ballpark, the middle set of which will see their first NBL Essex derby against newcomers the Redbacks.
As for those Redbacks, their Opening Day double-header against the Blazers promises to be a day of celebration for a club that has quickly earned its way to the top-tier.