This article is all about the historical context of the upcoming National Baseball Championships, specifically with regard to the top-tier level that is the National Baseball League. We now know which four teams will contest the finals, and their rosters are being frantically finalized behind the scenes as I write, but what is at stake from a historical angle?
Harlow Nationals (seed #1)
If Harlow make it back-to-back titles in their first two seasons of existence, this would, surprisingly perhaps, not actually be a unique achievement in the modern era. The London Mets did just this in 2007 and 2008. Nor would they be the first Essex-based outfit to successfully defend a national title. Thames Board Mills (or “TBM”) – of Purfleet – were overall winners in 1959 and 1960. The Nationals qualify as the top seed courtesy of their pennant-securing split with the Herts Falcons on the Sunday just gone. But not even a pennant–championship double would represent a unique achievement in their county’s history. TBM claimed the Southern League title in 1960 with an 11-1 record on the season before advancing to a final in which they bullied the Liverpool Tigers to the tune of a 6–1 reverse. None of this will be on the players’ minds, though, as for this week at least they will be purely focused on the present.
Herts Falcons (seed #2)
For the first year in the steady progression of Herts Baseball Club they offer a top-tier team with a legitimate shot at bringing a title to their county. If they do so, it would be only the second time that Hertfordshire (home to yours truly) would boast a national champion team. The first was back in 1969, when the Watford Sun-Rockets upset the Liverpool Trojans in an 11-inning final. The raft of talent that was brought in during the last off-season has certainly helped the Falcons to become serious contenders, and while some had them billed to claim the pennant, the disappointment of their second-place finish in the league will not live long in the memory should they claim the title. A victory on home soil would be particularly fitting to reward the club development led by Aspi Dimitrov and supported by a number of important former and current helpers. But baseball has a habit of shunning fairy-tale thinking, and the Falcons will need to be at or near the best to win through to Monday’s final.
Southampton Mustangs (seed #3)
The Brighton Buccaneers’ titles of 1999, 2001, and 2002 represent the only occasions on which the ultimate silverware has journeyed down the map of Blighty to the south coast. That trio of wins is something that Southampton will be desperately striving to augment. The Mustangs have continued to grow since joining the National Baseball League a few years back and, in spite of their disappointments at the last two finals, must be considered genuine championship contenders. Their brand of well-drilled baseball punctuated by sometimes-stellar play is enough to take any scalp on offer. They might be considered a dark horse outside of their camp, but within they have every reason to be confident that a first title may beckon.
London Mets (seed #4)
The Mets had the most nerve-wracking route to the finals, having to overcome last year’s losing finalists, the Lakenheath Diamondbacks, in a one-game play-off on Sunday. They fell at the same stage last season to the eventual champions from Harlow, and would have been bitterly disappointed to fail to convert two seasons of strong, deep rosters into at least one National Baseball Championship appearance. Should their back-door entrance lead to a national title, they will become only the 10th team in British baseball history to win at least three national titles.
Will has won titles in 2001 and 2002 with Brighton, 2008 with London, and 2011 with the Nationals. If his Harlow team wins it all this year, he will become only the sixth player in British baseball’s 122-year history of competition to have at least five championships to his name. His multi-faceted contribution to the Nationals, and British baseball more generally, has been exceptional, and his is a name worthy of being written in large letters in the history books. Of course, he may still have a fair few playing years ahead of him yet.
George, younger brother of Will, will also be looking to make it four national titles. He won a championship with the Mets in 2007 and 2008 and, last season, with the Nationals, a team he is still with. As George is still only in in mid-20s, it is hoped that he will have many years to come at the top level of British baseball. Who knows? He might even have a shot at Brad Thompson’s British record of nine titles.
Someone once commented to me that Will’s baseball brain combined with George’s baseball physique could have probably gone pro in the Indie leagues in the States. Personally, I think it’s better to have two of them.