2010 NBL expansion and European Championship schedule announced

BbfLogoJust before we take a break for Christmas, there’s time to pass on some interesting news about both Britain’s domestic league and the senior men’s international team.

An expanded National Baseball League for 2010

We reported two weeks ago that a number of new teams could be added to the British Baseball Federation League system and stated that “it seems likely in one way or another that the creation of new teams will lead to another revamp of the BBF league structure in 2010”.  That’s proved to be correct as the National Baseball League (NBL) is effectively going to increase from five to twelve teams next year. 

This year’s NBL, the highest level of competition in Britain, consisted of Bracknell Blazers, Croydon Pirates, Herts Falcons, London Mets and Richmond Flames.  The Essex Arrows, Mildenhall Bulldogs and Southampton Mustangs will join those five to form an eight-team league in the south.  All three fully merit their promotion.  The Arrows’ ascent to the top league had been predicted here after their incredible 25-0 regular season campaign in AAA South, while the Mustangs were close behind them with a 20-5 record at the same level.  The Bulldogs won the AA Championship in their debut season, continuing a long line of success by United States Air Force (USAF) teams in British baseball. 

The Harrogate Tigers, Liverpool Trojans, Manchester A’s and Menwith Hill Patriots (another USAF team)will form a new four-team NBL North.  2009 was the first season for several years in which the north was not represented in the top level of British baseball, after it was decided to create one large Northern Conference rather than have Northern divisions of the leagues used in the south.  That situation will change next year with a two-tier Conference containing the NBL North and a six-team lower level. The Trojans and Patriots competed in the NBL North in 2008 alongside a disbanded team from the Manchester A’s organization, the Eagles.  The Tigers won the 2009 AAA Championship and will make the step up to the top level for the first time in 2010.

The postseason structure, including who will qualify, has not yet been announced and there is a bit of uncertainty over the status of the NBL North.  The BSUK statement refers to the NBL as increasing by three teams only, which suggests that the southern section could be seen as the NBL proper and the NBL North will be a step between this and the AAA level, or maybe even part of AAA for the purposes of the postseason.  Further news on this, and how the other leagues will shape up with new teams coming in, is expected in the new year.

Great Britain’s European Championship schedule

Mister-Baseball.com has published the schedule for next year’s European Baseball Championship, held in Germany.  Great Britain will play five games in the first round, starting out against recent World Cup opponents Croatia and finishing with a game against Greece.

  • Friday 23 July 2010: Croatia vs GB (10.30, Stuttgart)
  • Saturday 24 July: GB vs Sweden (14.30, Stuttgart)
  • Sunday 25 July: GB vs Italy (10.30, Stuttgart)
  • Monday 26 July: GB vs Spain (13.00, Heidenheim)
  • Tuesday 27 July: Greece vs GB (17.00, Neuenburg)

The games in Stuttgart should be particularly worth attending as the stadium (which has a capacity of 5,000) will be staging three games per day during the first round.  The other games on those three days will be:

  • 23 July: Italy vs Spain (14.30), Ukraine vs Germany (19.00)
  • 24 July: Spain vs Croatia (10.30), Germany vs Czech Republic (19.00)
  • 25 July: Germany vs Belgium (14.30), Spain vs Greece (19.00)

Moving on to Heidenheim on Monday would also give you a chance to see the Netherlands vs Germany game at 19.00, while GB’s game is the sole one being staged in Neuenburg on the Tuesday.  All twelve teams will play an additional game either on Wednesday 26 or Thursday 27, with the date, opponent and venue being determined by the final standings in the two initial groups. 

Great Britain qualified for the European Baseball Championships after finishing second in the tournament in 2007: the last time it was held.  Our ability to participate in major tournaments always seems to be under slight doubt at the moment due to the difficulties faced in funding the trips.  The Great Britain Women’s Fastpitch Softball team recently took a novel approach to covering some of the cost of attending next year’s Softball World Championship.  As highlighted here at BaseballGB, they entered a “Great Britons” competition run by British Airways to win free flights and it was announced on Monday that they were successful.  Not only did they win 16 free flights, the team has also been offered £10,000 in corporate sponsorship “by a firm in the Midlands”. 

It’s great news for the softball team and hopefully our senior men’s baseball team has similar success with their future fundraising efforts.

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13 Responses to 2010 NBL expansion and European Championship schedule announced

  1. Matthew Crawshaw December 23, 2009 at 9:11 pm #

    I’m really pleased to hear about Mildenhall graduating to the NBL in 2010. By pooling elite players from both the Bulldogs and Braves squads, they really have a stong chance of shaking up the order of the NBL next season. One of their players last season was originally rostered with the Cincinatti Reds but had to settle for a career in the armed forces following injury. The USAF Feltwell set up also has a really nice ballpark with a proper sand infield, home run fence and spectator stands.

    I also think the expanded quota of teams will prevent the southern NBL from going stale. The 2009 post season was pretty much a foregone conclusion after the Pirates squad was decimated before their campaign even started.

    It will also be nice to see a northern presence in the NBL next year. I don’t think the super league format panned out the way it was intended in 2009, with many of the fixtures forfeited/unfulfilled by the season end. There was also a severe mismatch in squad abilities, with teams like the Tigers running riot with a 20-1 record and at the other end of the table, the lowly North Stars yielding a record 439 runs and finishing 2-22.

    Lets hope in spite of Baseball coverage in the UK being at an all time low, the BBF can enjoy a vintage season in 2010.

    The EBC news is also exciting, looking at the dates/venue announced, I think there is a really good opportunity for fans to fly over to Stuggart for a long weekend and enjoy some great baseball (and German beer!)

  2. John Clark December 24, 2009 at 3:56 am #

    Great to see more teams in the NBL and hopefully the teams are going to the top league for the right reasons. Maybe there can be a Mid-season All Star Game?? Will be interesting to see what the BBF and BSUK roll out as a playoff format. They essentially turned 09’s season into a weekend tournament and not a playoff series (hence why some of the best teams in all leagues weren’t ‘League Champions’, and some inflated scorelines. Here’s an idea for a better playoff set-up in 2010 for the NBL:

    NBL North – Top 2 teams qualify for Playoff Series

    NBL South – Top 2 teams qualify for Playoff Series

    Wildcard Playoff – 3rd & 4th Ranked teams from each League ( North & South) qualify for a wildcard weekend where top 2 teams go through to the playoff series.

    Divison Series – The No.1 ranked teams then play the Wildcard winners, and the No.2 ranked teams play each other. These are all best of 3 game series.

    The winners of each Division Series qualify for the League Series (3 teams). To make up the 4th spot the two highest ranked losers from the division series have a one game playoff.

    League Series – The winners of the Divison Series and the 4th place team then have a 3 game series to decide the teams to go through to the Championship Series.

    There you go the base for the Playoff Series will only go over 3 weekends. Think it would be great to have all the games at one venue for the weekend and spread them around between the clubs and see which venue can put on the best show as well. Weeks 3 & 4 you only need 1 field so that would leave a place for clubs whose venues don’t have multiple fields.

    Week 1

    Wildcard Weekend Sat & Sun (Could play this in a tournament format similar to Final 4 or London tournamnet)

    Week 2

    Div. Series – 2 games on Saturday, 1 on Sunday (if required)

    No.1 (North) v Wildcard 1 (Best of 3)

    No.1 (South) v Wildcard 2 (3)

    No.2 (North) v No.2 (South) (3)

    Highest ranked loser 1 v Highest ranked loser 2 (1)

    Week 3

    League Series – 1 game on Saturday, 2 on Sunday (if required)

    No.1 Rank team v Winner of 1 game playoff

    No.2 Rank team v No.3 Ranked team

    Week 4

    Championship Series – Best of 3 between the winners of the League Series.

    With this format essentially

    * More teams get a chance of playing in the playoffs
    * Regular season record and winning percentage will become more important right throught the regular season & the playoffs.
    * More games
    * Playoffs will see different grounds host games each weekend. So everyone doesnt get sick of going to Croydon all the time.
    * Hopefully lead to better crowds at games as more teams will be present.

    Would like to see some other ideas and what else can be done to improve the format and also during the season.

    Lets get British Baseball really going in the right direction in 2010!

    John Clark

  3. Matt Smith December 24, 2009 at 10:13 am #

    Matthew – I agree with all your comments. Grouping all the Northern teams in one conference seemed a good idea, but it doesn’t look like it really brought the benefits hoped for and the top teams now get a chance to play competitive games week in, week out. I’ve already had a quick look at flights to Stuttgart and hope I can get out to the Euros.

    John – As noted, I expect the playoffs will undergo a few changes and the more ideas about that, the better. Any improvements that could be made should be looked at, although ideally a format can be agreed on and then broadly stuck with for a number of years.

  4. Matthew Crawshaw December 24, 2009 at 12:19 pm #

    John – some good ideas about the post season. I would prefer to see a longer post season next year and perhaps a slightly shorter regular season.

    Having a more compact regular season should hopefully avoid the many forfeits and incompleted games that we saw last year.

    A longer post season, as you say perhaps over 3 weekends, would be ideal. The first two rounds of the playoffs could be played at the clubs own diamonds, with the final weekend held in a similar style to the existing “final four” format, at a single location.

    Here’s hoping as many of the proposed new teams can get their rosters in order for the season start.

  5. Mark December 24, 2009 at 12:29 pm #

    This is very good news.

    I also agree with Matthew & John regarding the post season – a shorter regular season and longer playoff structure are needed imo.

  6. Adam Brown December 24, 2009 at 6:03 pm #

    Great news. I’m pleased for Mildenhall – and I would happily put a bet on them as dark horses for next year. Anyone watching the National League final on one pitch and the AA final on the other might have been confused as to which game was which judging by the respective pitching velocities.

    and good for the Mustangs to take the jump. I’ve played against them several times and they’re a good team. I hear they were very pleased to beat Essex in the semi final this year!

    I would be greatly in favour of an increased postseason (I’ve been saying this for a while) The playoffs are by far the best bit of the season, playing teams you actually match up well against. lets send 8 teams along in each division! This should be considerably easier to organise once Herts complete their second diamond.

  7. Tim December 26, 2009 at 11:04 pm #

    In the short term it is good to see the NBL continue its expansion from last year and, based on last year’s dominant performances, the three new teams in the south deserve the chance to test themselves at the higher level. It will certainly freshen up the level of competition in the league and the fight for post-season places, and it is something to look forward to as to how that plays out in 2010.

    I just hope this isn’t going to be another brief peak in the size and quality of the top division before another dip in a year or two when the squad on one or more clubs disperses and they have to drop out of the division due to lack of players, or throw together a team which is unable to compete with others at that level. All of which defeats the original aims of the NBL which was to establish sustainable clubs and continually improve the quality of baseball on show in the country’s top division.

    It will also be interesting to see how the pre-existing NBL clubs cope with the bigger range of locations and distances they need to cover over the season.

    In terms of the playoff system, the BBF has to decide whether it wants to adopt a longer postseason schedule which involves more teams spread over more locations and ultimately rewards those which are stronger over the distance, or whether it prefers the current ‘Final 4’-style set-up which can take place in one weekend. As well as being more compact to organise, the latter is also perhaps better suited as a ‘season finale’ event to promote baseball to the outside world if that is the aim… although they do still have a lot of work to do to create that ‘festival of baseball’ atmosphere.

    A longer postseason might work if they extended the season beyond the usual finish in late August/early September so that teams which didn’t make the postseason didn’t find that their competitive season is over by the start of August in order to leave room for make-up games and playoff weekends. We tend to get our best weather in Sept/Oct these days!

  8. John Clark December 27, 2009 at 1:38 am #

    Good to see this is generating some interest and we have much to look forward to in 2010. Sounds like Mildenhall are the team to beat then already! I think the main point about the playoff system and for it to be good quality baseball that is gives more teams a chance at competing in and to have the best players available and playing in games like they have all season.

    What’s better to decide a championship, Tournament or Playoff format?

    So competing in Playoff baseball and Tournament baseball are very different styles in terms of pitcher use, who you matchup against and player availability on a certain weekend which I think we saw a couple of teams in a few levels miss some key players at the ’09 Final4. Basically, if you want to play in a tournament format then that what the London tourney is for but real baseball is played over more then 1 weekend or 2-3 games in a couple of days to decide a season. Its easy to set-up and run from an administration point of view but teams don’t deserve to play 25+ games to lose 1 or 2 with a ‘B’ squad and your season is finished with nothing to show for it.

    The other question is that with more teams does it equal more games? How many times do teams play each other? Will it be a balanced fixture? Is having 8 teams in the South and 4 in the North going to have any problems?

    Will be interesting which teams are set-up in which divisions or even what kind of overall set-up is proposed for the NBL North & South. So it looks like there will be a 4 team North and an 8 team south which is great that there are more teams. The balance of the schedule will be the biggest hurdle I think for teams this this year with travel and who plays what teams how many times.

    Lets look at the regular season and take the current system, 8 team South. First it will be tough to keep everyone happy I’m sure in terms of how many games played, travel, player availability, how many weeks in a row a team plays and ground availability. This will obviously affect how strong the NBL can become.

    Here are a few options as to what could be a possible regular season set-up

    #1
    With 8 teams if all the teams play each other home and away with a double-header each time that would equal 28 games over 14 weekends.

    In 2009, 5 teams played each other 6 times for a total of 24 games over 12 weekends. If the North were then to play on this system they would play a total of 18 games or 8 times for 24 games. But with the proposed two-tier conference for the North next season something else will have to be worked out. Does anyone know how the 2 tier system will work? And how many games will they play?

    So even with the added teams it looks like there could be about the same amount of regular season games.

    #2
    Another option could be to have 3 sub-divisions of the NBL consisting of 4 teams in each. There could be a North and 2 South divisions. Using the double-headers during the regular season effectively all teams could play each other at least once during the season. You would then play the teams in your division twice.
    Total games would come to 28 over 14 weekends and you play every team in the NBL. The biggest drawback would be the travel for all teams so I can’t see this happening. Though it would probably be the best indication as to who the better teams were across the country for the season.

    I think the BBF & BSUK could come up with something close to the first option which is just about the same games as last season an hopefully a longer post season.

    Tim brings up a good point about the timing of the season and totally agree that a later finish could be on the cards for this season. The scheduling towards the end of the season will have to be well planned as the youth finals are also happening around the same time period. Should there be a mid-season break instead of random weeks off? How many rain dates?

    If you break the season up into 3 there is time off and all teams could go deep into August.
    Possible start dates of the 2010 season;
    Sun April 18 – Sun June 6 (7 weekends with 1 spare rain date June 6)

    Sun Jul 4 – Aug 22 (7 weekends with 1 spare rain date Jul 25)

    Aug 29 – Sep 19 (4 week playoff series)

    Lots of options there. More ideas the better I think and

  9. Tim December 27, 2009 at 10:53 am #

    In 2009 the National Baseball Championships were brought forward by a weekend to the end of August in order to accommodate the Baseball World Cup which began a couple of weeks later and to allow time for any GB-based players to prepare and join up with the GB squad ahead of the World Cup.

    Even so, in previous seasons the finale has still been held relatively early (the first weekend of Sept). Perhaps this was to allow subsequent time for a reschedule if the Final 4 was rained-out. Or maybe it was about venue availability. Other than that I don’t see why we couldn’t extend the season through to the end of September if a longer playoff scheme was devised.

    In 2010 the GB team will take part in the European Championship from July 23 – August 1 so it may be that the BBF builds in a mid-season break in the league as John suggests.

  10. David December 27, 2009 at 11:37 am #

    Tim, the ironic thing is that there were only two players who are based and play in the BBF leagues that were chosen to play for the GB team. The rest reside and play in countries outside of the UK. So the season could have quite easily continued into September.

    Also, I prefer the playoff format with two teams playing in a series like the MLB.

  11. Matthew Crawshaw December 27, 2009 at 6:16 pm #

    Southampton to Feltwell (Mildenhall) = 350 miles/7 hour round trip!

    I wonder whether the NBL south will be broken into 2 “pools”, with the 4 most southern teams in one and the remaining 4 in the other?

    Another alternative would be to schedule games on a neutral ground to reduce travelling distance/time?

  12. Adam Brown January 4, 2010 at 3:28 pm #

    Essex, Mildenhall, Herts and London in the East

    Richmond, Croydon, Southampton and Bracknell in the South

    Manchester, Liverpool, Harrogate and Menwith Hill in the North

    Each team would play their division rivals twice and the opposite division once – all double headers – thats 6 + 8 = 28 games over 14 weekends.

    Playoffs could either be MLB style division winners + wildcard with best of 3s over 2 weekends, or let 8 teams qualify for a double eliminator weekend at Croydon narrowing it down to a final two – followed by a best of 3 final the following weekend.

    The lower divisions will be AAA, AA and A in the south, combined with the AAA/AA standard of the Midlands and the AA/A standard of the remaining teams in the North.

    I see no reason why we shouldn’t allow 8 teams in each level to qualify for the playoffs either over two weekends or one big weekend. That would really test the pitching depth of the teams.

    More work this year needs to be done on accurately assessing the relative strengths of the divisions. Last year there were a few mismatches.

  13. John Clark January 7, 2010 at 12:22 am #

    Those divisions seem to make the most sense that Adam posted. The east division looks like the toughest division going on last seasons form. Certainly the more teams there are the stronger the league will hopefully be. Looks like we should be in for a terrific 2010 season and that there is improvement on last years fixtures and finish to the season.

    I guess it is also up to the individual clubs to suggest what teams they enter their teams into also to make the divisions as even as possible.

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