The past weekend saw America celebratingÂ the date in history when they declared their independence from Great Britain; however, strangely enough it also saw the UK reaffirming its relationship with Americaâ€™s National Pastime.
Coverage of Major League Baseball returned to a prominent position after an absence for a season and a half thanks to BBC Five Live Sports Extra, while the British Baseball leagues produced arguably the best weekend of action of the season so far.Â
Several teams were able to establish some daylight between themselves and the playoff-chasing pack and Herts Raptors gave the performance of the weekend by stunning a league-leader to earn their first victory of 2010.Â
National Baseball League: Pirates prideÂ at theÂ Independence Day event
The NBL Independence Day event in Croydon on Saturday was the second â€˜special eventâ€™ of the season and, as with the NBL Summer Classic, it was another successful exhibition of British baseball.Â
The home town Pirates (6-12) produced a shock by beating the second-placed Bracknell Blazers (15-3) in a pulsating encounter that ended up 12-11 in Croydonâ€™s favour.Â The league-leading London Mets (18-2) took full advantage of their rivalâ€™s loss by beating Richmond Flames (10-8) 12-5 and moving two games clear at the top of the standings.Â As noted by Joe Gray, Jason Roberts set a new modern record by recording his eleventh win of the season while Daniel Williams, who leads the league in the majority of the batting categories, went 2-for-3 with two doubles, two walks and three runs.Â The Metsâ€™ win combined with the Flamesâ€™ loss means that London could all but seal a top two place, and automatic qualification to the National Baseball Championships (NBC), if they win both games of their double-header against the Pirates on 18 May.
Southampton Mustangs (10-10) moved to a .500 record with a 7-6 win over the slumping Mildenhall Bulldogs (3-13), while Herts Falcons (5-11) ended a four-game losing skid by recording an 18-6 victory over Essex Arrows (3-15).Â
Full details and reaction from the NBL Independence Day event can be found in Simon Fitzjohnâ€™s report.Â Up-to-date stats from the NBL can be found on the Great Britain Baseball Scorers Association website.
AAA: Bracknell get the better of the Badgers
Bristol Badgersâ€™ (4-6) hopes of using their games in hand to charge up the standings in the AAA-South suffered a blow on Sunday as they lost twice to the second-placed Bracknell Inferno (12-4).Â The Badgers were without a number of key players for the double-header, although the replacements did their team proud by pushing Inferno all the way in the opening game, just falling short by a score of 16-14.Â Inferno were able to ease away in the second game; the result being called after five innings with the score at 11-1.Â
The other games in the south were forfeited, probably causing some frustration in Bristol and Bracknell.Â Herts Eagles (10-4) extended their lead over the Badgers for the final playoff place (third position) thanks to two forfeit wins against Kent Mariners (0-14).Â Meanwhile Infernoâ€™s two wins didnâ€™t improve their position all that muchÂ as the Eagles stayed just one game behind them and Oxford Kings (13-1)Â maintained their two-game lead at the top on the back of two forfeit wins over London Metros (1-11).Â Â The scheduled double-header in the AAA-North league between Harrogate Tigers and Manchester Aâ€™s was postponed.
This Sunday sees Oxford Kings travel to Bristol for a double-header, marking the Badgersâ€™ debut at a new home field.
AA: The hunt for playoff places continues
Bolton Robots of Doom (11-5) looked like they had started to make a break at the top of the AA-North a week ago; however Humber Pilots (7-4) reigned in the Robots with two victories on Sunday.Â Sheffield Bladerunners (9-5) picked up two more wins at the expense of Oldham North Stars (0-15), leaving the top four teams (also including Manchester Torrent: 8-6) covered by just two games in the standings.Â The teams in second and third are due to meet this Sunday, as the Bladerunners travel to Hull for a double-header against the Pilots.
While the standings have squeezed together again in the North, the top two teams in the Midlands division were able to gain some breathing space on Sunday.Â The second-placed Leicester Blue Sox (11-4) travelled to third-placed MK Bucks (5-7) knowing that they had never beaten the Bucks on their own patch and that the two teams would be closely matched in the standings if that trend continued.Â
The Blue Sox responded to the pressure brilliantly, securing both their first away win and their first sweep against the Bucks to move four games ahead of their rivals.Â Birmingham Maple Leafs (11-4) kept hold of their slender half-game lead over the Blue Sox in first place by sweeping the Blue Sox 2 (2-10) team.Â The Leicester ballclub took the defeats in good sprits, nothing: â€œthe Light Blues couldnâ€™t avoid another pounding at the hands of Birmingham on Sunday, but they will take from an improved offensive displayâ€.
In the South, it was a bittersweet day for Poole Piranhas (10-2).Â The Pool A leaders were dealt only their second loss of the season by Thames Valley Bisons (5-9), but the two losses suffered by Croydon Pirates III (4-8) at the hands of Essex Archers (10-3) meant that the Piranhas still ended the day with a playoff spot virtually secured.Â Windsor Bears (8-5) are on course to join Poole in the playoffs as they gained a forfeit win over Horsham Hurricanes (0-12) to put them 3.5 games ahead of Pirates III and the Bisons. The Archersâ€™ two wins pushed them ahead of Sidewinders (8-3) into second position in Pool B, while Richmond Knights (11-1) kept their hold on top spot with a 35-10 win over Herts Hawks (3-8).Â
A: Herts Raptors in raptures
In the A South league, few would have given the 0-9 Herts Raptors much of a chance of breaking their win-less run against the Pool B-leading Braintree Rays (5-4).Â Even the Raptors themselves knew that getting anything from the game beyond some playing time and useful experience might be asking too much.Â And yet the old baseball saying of â€˜thatâ€™s why they play the gamesâ€™ was ringing out in Essex as the Raptors produced the result of the weekend, and one of the results of the season so far, by winning 22-18.
After suffering the surprise defeat, the Rays would have been very grateful to hear that the Old Timers (5-4) had been beaten 21-17 by Richmond Dragons (9-2), meaning that the pair stayed level at the top of Pool B.Â That win for the Dragons put them 1.5 games ahead of Guildford Mavericks (6-2) at the top of Pool A and needing just one more win from their remaining three games to book a playoff place.Â Southampton Mustangs II (5-3) gave themselves a chance of pipping the Mavericks to second-place in Pool A by beating London Marauders (3-5) 33-21.Â That result puts them one game behind Guildford, with the two teams scheduled to meet on 1 August in what could be a decisive encounter.Â
The only game scheduled for this Sunday is between Chelmsford Clippers (5-5) and Tonbridge (3-4).
Full details on results and fixtures from the British Baseball leagues can be found on the British Baseball Federation website.
London Tournament in Croydon this weekend
The schedule of BBF league games is relatively quiet this weekend, but another big baseball event is being held at the Croydon Piratesâ€™ Roundshaw Field on Saturday and Sunday.Â The 2010 staging of the London Tournament involves clubs from France and the Netherlands and a cast of British Baseball league regulars in an 18-team event.Â Further details can be found on the Croydon Piratesâ€™ website.