A new year always brings optimism, full of hope and good intentions.
Many of those good thoughts will turn out to be a load of hoopty, but one thing we can rely on to provide a genuine source of positivity in 2016 is baseball.
The past MLB season was a classic, with the Kansas City Royals, for so long a team with little going for it, coming out on top against a resurgent New York Mets club. The Toronto Blue Jays reached the playoffs for the first time since 1993, while the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros qualified for the postseason ahead of all expectations after several years of heavy losses.
Nothing demonstrated the competitive nature of the current MLB system better than the Pittsburgh Pirates reaching the play-offs for the third year in a row. They had spent each of the previous 20 seasons failing to win as many games as they lost and now the idea that they are a genuine contender is simply accepted rather than a source of amusement at their expense.
It must be acknowledged that the competitive landscape has come about in part through the lowering of the bar for playoff entry, or merely competing for a playoff place, via the second Wild Card spot. However, this has made the season more enjoyable for a larger percentage of fans and therefore is a trade-off worth accepting.
The trade-off also hasn’t significantly affected the quality of play. In fact, it could be argued that the game has never had so much talent.
Baseball celebrates its history more than any sport, and rightfully so, but anyone watching the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper whilst telling tales of the ‘good old days’ is doing nothing but denying themselves the opportunity to enjoy talents on a par with the best the game has seen. We may well look back at the 2015 rookie class of Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Kris Bryant and the rest in years to come as one of the greatest there has ever been. History will be the judge, but who couldn’t be excited at being lucky enough to watch their respective careers unfold.
Here in Britain, we can also not fail to be thankful for the wonders of MLB.TV and the rest of the online MLB content that allows us to follow the Stateside season in a way scarcely imaginable only 25 years ago. You have to be willing and able to pay for it, like everything else, but the opportunity is there to follow the season in as much detail as you could ever wish for.
Reports of the introduction of a team-based MLB.TV subscription (i.e. subscribing just to the Royals’ games etc) will give fans yet another option to choose from and the availability of free-to-view games and endless free highlights videos hopefully allows anyone with an interest to keep up with the action in some form.
The lack of any free-to-air TV coverage of MLB, or even a UK-based studio element to the odd game on BT Sport, is certainly a real shame and something always worth keeping on the agenda to gain support for, yet the recent cuts to the popular NFL coverage, let alone the sports rights the BBC is having to give up in the wake of significant cuts being imposed on them, go to show how difficult the marketplace is.
Much as we would all love to see free-to-air coverage that could help to create new baseball fans, we shouldn’t be surprised in the current climate that it’s not an ambition shared by any TV execs.
Still, there’s nothing stopping us baseball converts from shouting about the game from the virtual rooftops of social media. That includes celebrating baseball closer to home.
2016 could be a fantastic year for British baseball with the Great Britain team competing in the European Championships in the Netherlands, followed by a World Baseball Classic qualifying tournament in New York. Our national baseball and softball facility, Farnham Park, will also be the venue for the first European club tournament on British soil for 20 years, with reigning National Baseball League champions the London Mets hosting CEB Cup Qualifiers in June.
The only negative point today is that we’ve got a few months to wait before any of the on-field action gets going. The MLB rumour mill should keep us going until then as plenty of teams are still looking to add players in what’s already been a busy offseason.
Happy New Year to you all. For baseball at least, 2016 should be another good ‘un.