Home British baseball Roundshaw Hop: The long season?

Roundshaw Hop: The long season?

by Joe Gray

Roundshaw-Hop-(128x128)Maybe I should have waited a few weeks before committing to a new name for the column. I was after a title that would be linked to the National Baseball League (NBL), but with the top-tier status of the Croydon Pirates, and therefore Roundshaw Playing Fields, suddenly looking far from safe, the choice already looks unfortunate. (Even the name of my BaseballGB Head 2 Head fantasy league team [the Rio Crande Typos] is tied to the Pirates, albeit a little more cryptically.)

On the train down to the Pirates’ opening double-header against the Herts Falcons, I was reading The Long Season, Jim Brosnan’s seminal insider account of Major League Baseball. This seemed apt, as I was expecting the 2009 season to be a long one for a Croydon team that had lost the heart of its line-up after the end of the 2008 season, and had still not found pitching depth to come close to the 2006 league-besting one-two punch of Adam Lemke and Ben Percey. What I did not consider is that the loss of players has been so dramatic that the Pirates’ season might actually end up being very short.

The successful Pirates teams of recent years have been built around Australians, Americans, Canadians, South Africans, and other overseas players. The squad has featured some exceptionally talented players who have paid money to put on high-quality baseball entertainment for free on British soil. When you run a team of this make-up, you are aware that players may be around for only a couple of years, but as long as you don’t get too many players leaving at the same time you can keep the team healthy by topping up the squad over the winter. Of course, there is no protection against the bulk of your squad leaving at the end of a particular season. This is what happened to the Windsor Bears after the 2004 season.

For Croydon, the problem has not so much been one bad year, but instead a run of seasons in which the club has lost more decent players than it has been able to recruit. This leaves the Pirates with insufficient NBL-calibre players to compete at the moment. They survived week 1 because they were able to fill the roster with players from their AA-level team, who were not playing. But in week 2, the Pirates were forced to forfeit an NBL game for the first time since I became involved with the club in 2004. There are two possible scenarios that will take shape over the next few weeks: one, the Pirates are able to recruit a number of NBL-standard players in a hurry; two, the Pirates have to pull out of the 2009 NBL competition.

The results in the NBL so far suggest that no team is going to dominate the others, so with the first scenario it is possible (although not particularly probable) that the Pirates could still be contenders for the National Baseball Championship. At this stage, though, just completing the season would be an achievement.

I think everyone involved in the NBL will want clarity on Croydon’s top-tier status as soon as possible, so that the other teams can concentrate on what could quite easily turn out to be a classic battle for the National Baseball Championship. The Bracknell Blazers are one of those other teams, and their club philosophy – in stark contrast to that of the Pirates – is based on bringing young players through, even if it means suffering a string of losing seasons. With their two wins against the Richmond Flames on Sunday, there is optimism in the club that the philosophy is on the verge of paying off.

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5 comments

Matt Smith April 29, 2009 - 7:37 am

That’s sad to hear. As you wrote, the NBL looks like it could be a very competitive league this season. Hopefully the Pirates can find some more players and make it a five-team classic.

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Adam Brown April 29, 2009 - 11:46 am

This is the one thing that frustrates me most about British baseball: the attitude that its better not to play at all than to put out an imperfect team. Half the teams in any competition are going to end up with losing records, thats just the nature of sport. We will never successfully grow baseball in this country with the attitude that only a winning team is a worthwhile team to play for. Surely the whole point of playing is because we enjoy playing baseball, even if it means losing almost every game by the mercy rule? If Croyden Pirates have 9 players available on a Sunday, then why would they ever forfeit a game?

As you mention, its great to have a selection of talented foreign players raising the standard of the team, but when you base your entire philosophy around them, then you are bound to run into trouble at some point.

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Joe Gray April 29, 2009 - 12:33 pm

The Pirates were due to travel to Bracknell this Sunday, but the double-header has been postponed till Sunday 16 August, which combines with an off-week next Sunday to give Croydon 18 days to get a team together for their next NBL fixture.

So the only NBL baseball this weekend will be up at Grovehill Park (http://www.hertsbaseball.com/fields/), with the double-header set for an early start time of 11 am.

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Joe Gray April 29, 2009 - 10:32 pm

Adam,

Thanks for the comment. You raise some very relevant points, and I fully agree with your sentiments.

For the record, if the Pirates had had nine guys available for Sunday, I’m sure they would have played the Mets – the problem was they didn’t even have this many.

In addition, I feel it is important for the league that they do not just strive to get nine players out each week, but nine NBL-standard ones.

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Tim May 1, 2009 - 4:14 pm

I echo both comments above.

When a team gets into the predicament the Pirates find themselves in, they’re caught between doing what’s necessary to simply get a team out while also trying to uphold the “NBL-standard” as Joe says. Whether you see the Pirates as a victim of circumstances or having put themselves in this situation, they’re not the first club to suffer this. Windsor, London Warriors and Brighton Buccaneers were all winning clubs which seemed to blink out of existence over an off-season once club leaders and/or significant squad numbers departed.

That’s sad for the club but also a step backwards each time if the BBF is trying to build a strong top division.

Unfortunately, unless the Pirates dig NBL-level players out of the woodwork quickly the NBL’s credibility is going to take some kind of hit: it’s going to have either a high number of forfeits in ’09, a team much weaker than the rest or see another long-established team drop out.

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