In 1999 there were nine teams in the southern bracket of the National Baseball League (NBL), but since then the yearly progression has gone eight, six, five, five, six, five, four, four, and four (in 2008). So there has been a drop five times (including a two-team drop between 2000 and 2001) and an increase only once.
The 2009 season should see a second increase, though, according to an article on the Herts Baseball Club website, which states that the club’s first team (the Falcons) will compete in the NBL South from next year. Of course, if the Mets were to not defend their title or if the Blazers, the Flames, or the Pirates were to not field a team in the top tier next season then we would not see a growth, but there were no forfeits in 2008, which is a good sign that the four teams are healthy at present.
While the growth of Herts Baseball Club can be celebrated by baseball enthusiasts up and down the country, it is not necessarily indicative of a reversal in the “shrinking south” trend. The progression of Herts Baseball Club has resulted more from an immeasurable amount of work from several members of the club than from national or local measures to grow the game.
Alongside the “shrinking south” trend sits a “narrowing north” pattern. Only two NBL North teams were able to complete the 2008 schedule, after the Liverpool Trojans pulled out mid-season. With the result that automatic berths in the Final Fours were available for the two remaining teams (Manchester and Menwith Hill), it could be argued that they were only involved in meaningful competition in 2008 for one game (both teams were eliminated at the semi-final stage). Clearly, then, a similar piece of news form the north, or at least a confirmation of Liverpool’s continuation in the top tier, would be very welcome.