Details of the 2010 British Baseball Federation (BBF) league structure and fixture list were released at the end of last week, revealing that there is much to look forward to on the domestic circuit this year.
Provisional plans of new teams and divisions for 2010 were being mentioned as 2009 came to a close.Â The optimism that they caused has proved to be well-founded.Â The finalized details reveal that teams are continuing to progress through the divisional structure of the BBF leagues, established organizations are expanding and new teams are joining the fold.Â
These are all clear signs that the sport is in a healthy position and, bit-by-bit, is building on its successes to put in place firm foundations from which to build a positive future for baseball on the British Isles.
The top tier of British baseball, the National Baseball League (NBL) is expanding from five to eight teams.Â Essex Arrows and Southampton Mustangs have been promoted from the Triple-A league while Mildenhall Bulldogsâ€™ Double-A winning debut last year has seen them move straight up to the premier class.Â These are fully deserved promotions, expanding the NBL without watering down the level of competition, and each organization brings its own qualities to the table.Â The Arrows are an established club who are making impressive renovations to their facilities, the Mustangs have strong links with university baseball, while the Bulldogs continue the long tradition of United States Air Force teams competing in the British leagues.Â
Mildenhall are not leaving the Midlands League behind them completely as they will field a second team in that class this year.Â That means all eight NBL organizations have at least one additional team in a lower league. It is important for British baseball that the NBL contains strong organizations to represent the sport more widely and multi-team organizations are well-placed to doÂ just that, as well as providing a direct path for some players to progress to the top tier of domestic baseball.Â Â
The NBL once again will be based solely in the south, after initial plans to include an additional four-team NBL North ultimately failed to come to fruition.Â The top teams in the north (Harrogate Tigers, Liverpool Trojans, Manchester Aâ€™s and Menwith Hill Patriots) will instead compete in a six-team AAA North division alongside the Halton Jaguars (5th placed finishers in the 2009 Northern Conference) and the Glasgow Baseball Association.Â The inclusion of Glasgow, who previously competed in the Scottish National League, is a very welcome sign of the â€˜Britishâ€™ leagues extending beyond the confines of England.
The six-team AAA North will be joined by a six-team AAA South.Â The promotion of the Essex Arrows and Southampton Mustangs to the NBL left some places open in this division.Â These have been filled by the Kent Mariners and Bracknell Blazers II who have been promoted from AA and A respectively, while the county of Essex will continue to be represented in AAA in the form of the newly created Essex Redbacks organization.Â
The AA League will contain four divisions, each containing five teams.Â The five teams from the 2009 Northern Conference that have not moved on to the AAA North division will form the AA North.Â The Midlands division has lost the Mildehnall Bulldogs and Alconbury Braves from 2009, but has gained a Mildenhall Bulldogs II team and a Leicester Blue Sox II team.Â The south provides two divisions (A and B) including two new teams (Horsham and Poole Piranhas) and the Essex Archers who were promoted from the A League.
The A League will contain two southern divisions of five teams each.Â Chelmsford Clippers and Tonbridge are the two newcomers to the BBF leagues, while the Blazers II have filled the void created by their promotion to AAA by forming a third team, the imaginatively titled Bracknell Blazers III.Â
All of which means the 2010 BBF competition will include 51 teams competing over four leagues, with the regular season beginning on Sunday 18 April for the NBL and on 25 April for the other leagues. The postseason will include a playoff stage split over two weekends (21 and 28 August) before the annual final event: the National Baseball Championships.Â
With an impressive structure in place, and the promise of several â€˜Special Eventsâ€™ to promote the sport further, 2010 should be a great year for British baseball.
Full details on the 2010 season can be found on the BaseballSoftballUK website.
Herts Spring League action continues
The second round of the Herts Spring League (HSL) took place over the previous weekend.Â The six games at Richmond were postponed due to rain, meaning all eyes were on Grovehill Ballpark.
The final three games from the â€˜Majors Bâ€™ division were played on Saturday.Â It proved to be a tough day for the MK Bucks as they lost twice to leave them with an 0-3 record.Â The Triple-A Herts Eagles took the first game by a score of 7-1.Â Eagles pitcher Darrin Ward starred with both bat and ball, striking out nine over nine innings while giving up just three hits and an unearned run on the mound and going 2-for-4 with 3 RBIs.Â All eight runs scored in the contest were unearned.Â The Bucks made nine errors, but the game did at least give their players the chance to get some work in at different positions through a variety of in-game fielding changes.Â The MK Bucks were then defeated 12-2 by their former Midlands League rivals the Mildenhall Bulldogs.Â The Bulldogs jumped out to an early 8-0 lead, plating four runs in each of the first two innings, with the game being called after five innings.Â Second baseman Berry was the player of the game, going 4-for-4 with 2 RBIs and 3 runs scored.
Mildenhallâ€™s victory set up an exciting final game against the 2-0 Herts Falcons. The contest gave us an early chance to see how the Bulldogs might fair in the NBL this season and, as expected, the game showed that they will be competitive.Â The Falcons edged a close game 5-4 following a fielding error with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning that allowed Herts to walk off as winners and to top the division with a perfect 3-0 record.
On Sunday it was the turn of the â€˜Minors Bâ€™ Division to take to the field and the day belonged to the Leicester Blue Sox. After losing to the Thames Valley Bisons the previous week, they rallied to win both of their Week 2 games by a combined score of 50-23.Â The Blue Sox won their first game 26-10 over the Windsor Bears, although the winning margin was greatly padded by a 17-run fifth inning.Â Leicester then continued their free-scoring form with a 24-13 win over Herts Hawks.Â The Hawks were able to put runs on the board in all but two of the seven innings played, but eleven errors contributed to their downfall.Â In the other game played, Herts Raptors shut out the Thames Valley Bisons in a 9-0 victory.
There are three games scheduled to be played at Grovehill BallparkÂ this comingÂ Saturday, all involving teams from the Herts Baseball Club.Â The Eagles take on the Essex Redbacks in the â€˜Majorsâ€™ game to start the day at 10.00, before the Hawks face the Guildford Mavericks and the Raptors face the London Marauders.
On Sunday, the Sidewinders and Leicester Blue Sox meet at 10.00 as the first and second placed finishers from the Minors competition.Â NBL newcomers will collide at 13.00 with Southampton Mustangs playing against Mildenhall Bulldogs and then the day will finish with a game between the first and second-placed teams from the Majors competition: Bracknell Blazers versus Herts Falcons.Â Subject to the field being playable, Richmond will host Windsor Bears vs Richmond Dragons and Milton Keynes Bucks vs Richmond Flames.
Further details can be found on the Herts Spring League website: http://www.hertsbaseball.com/HSL/index.html
MLB to come to Europe?
One of the key ways in which to get more people involved in British baseball is to increase the amount of interest in MLB among Brits.Â Thatâ€™s a notoriously difficult task, but recent news that MLB is considering bringing some Spring Training games to Europe, with Italy being the main destination cited, could provide a potential platform from which to promote the sport.Â Whether MLB would extend the plan to the UK, as all the other major U.S. sports have done, remains to be answered. Encouraging teams to leave the warmth of Arizona or Florida for London in mid-March seems like a tough sell and thereâ€™s then the problem of providing a suitable venue.Â
A potential solution to the latter point was raised in a recent BBC news story which stated that baseball was one of the sports that had expressed an interest in using the Olympic Stadium after the 2012 London Games.Â Considering even athletics looks like it might be bullied out of the place by a football team, because London is in desperate need of another big football stadium of course, that would appear to be something of a pipedream.Â Still, itâ€™s a nice thought at least.
(Hat tip to Mark from British Baseball Data for pointing out the MLB Spring Training story).