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British Baseball Beat: A new season begins

by Matt Smith

Just as the start of the MLB season creates plenty of excitement, so does the thought that the British baseball season is just around the corner.

BBBThe Herts Spring League is already in full swing, whilst other teams are playing friendly games and working hard in pre-season preparations.

On my part, the off-season has been a useful time to re-evaluate this weekly British baseball column. The main aim over the past couple of seasons has been to try to bring together all of the key stories from around the leagues. Whilst the National Baseball League naturally gains the most headlines, I’ve always wanted to make sure here that a no-hitter in Double A or a long-awaited first win for a team of rookies in Single A would get just as much attention as a key top-tier double-header.

The only problem with that is it takes a fair bit of work every week, from all of the initial research across the leagues to then planning out the article and then writing it all up, adding links (and some pics where available) along the way. I’m far from being the first person, and certainly won’t be the last, in and around British baseball to find that over several years other commitments have come along that have left me with less spare time to dedicate to the task than I once had.

The result last year was that the column fell by wayside during the second half of last season as I always work on the principle that if you’re going to do something, you should do it properly. Just knocking up a quick half-baked article for the sake of it is not my style.

So, I’ve been thinking about the format of the column and what I can do that adds something to the mix of British baseball coverage, whilst committing myself to a realistic amount of work. I’m going to stick to the aim of publishing the column every Thursday; however I’m going to rid myself of the self-imposed obligation of trying to give everyone space in the resulting article. I’m going to pick out the key things that caught my eye, as well as highlighting some of the main fixtures across the leagues to look out for on the coming Sunday, and then make that a starting point so that others can then use the Comments section to add in other stories that deserve a mention.

In short, don’t be offended if I fail to mention that Team ‘x’ picked up a great double-header sweep or player ‘y’ had a brilliant day on the mound, give the team/player a shout out in the Comments instead.

Fixtures published

The 2014 league fixtures have now been published on the British Baseball Federation website, with a ‘Road to Farnham Park’ guide coming soon to explain the playoff qualification and postseason format.

The late withdrawal of the NBL team Lakenheath Diamondbacks was both a real shame (to lose a top-level team as the latest consequence of US military personnel and operation changes on these shores) and something of a pain (as the timing meant that large swathes of the original schedule had to be completely re-worked).

Although the fixtures have now been uploaded onto the website, the full details for the two AA South Pools and the AAA South and (new for 2014) AAA Central divisions are still to be published. Triple-A, Double-A and most of Single-A will get their seasons underway on Sunday 13 April, with the exception being a Single-A contest between the Richmond Dukes and London Musketeers at Finsbury Park this coming Sunday.

NBL Opening Day this Sunday

This Sunday is Opening Day in the National Baseball League and there are three exciting double-headers to look forward to.

The Southern Nationals come into the season looking to earn a historic four top-tier titles in a row, although there have been some changes over the offseason. The team has reverted back to their original Southern name after two years as Harlow and they have moved from their previous base to the impressive new Farnham Park facility. Meanwhile catcher Will Lintern will be a tough man to replace following his decision to join up with the fast-developing Hove Ballclub.

Youth set-up changes

A new structure for youth baseball has been introduced this year. Four new age categories have been introduced - Under-17 (ages 13-16), Under-15 (ages 12-14), Under-13 (ages 11-12) and Under-12 (ages 7-11) – to replace the previous Pony and Bronco age groups and to align the British set-up with more conventional Little League age groups. There will also be greater local flexibility over fixtures so that travel considerations can be taken into account more easily.

The overall aim of the changes is to create a framework that allows for a set-up that can match up with the Little League structures of other countries – factoring in European and World Series timetables, for examples – whilst keeping some freedom within the structure so that the kids, parents and teams can enjoy games in a way that suits them locally.

Team GB

On the National Team level, Glen Robertson of Brentwood Baseball Club has taken on the role of General Manager for the Great Britain Men’s National Team. He will work alongside  National Teams Programme Director, Marty Cullen, Head Coach Sam Dempster and the rest of the staff as the senior team prepares for this year’s European Championships in Germany and the Czech Republic in September.

The 2012 European Championship was a disappointment for Team GB as they lost four of their five games and were forced into qualifying for the 2014 event. However, Dempster’s men did just that thanks to winning their B-Level qualifying tournament in Zurich, Switzerland, last July.

Team GB will face a tough task at the Euros, playing a group that contains the reigning champions Italy, a strong host German team and good national set-ups in Belgium, France, and Sweden. Still, with Liam Carroll’s GB Lions roster giving young domestic players a great opportunity to develop, hopefully the event at the impressive Regensburg facilities will prove to be a positive experience for all involved with the Brits determined to spring a surprise as underdogs.

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