Great Britain’s National Baseball League (NBL) began play as the calendar turned to April and, after the first day of competition ended, two teams found themselves atop the table for the first time. The first was BC Vėtra, a team started by Lithuanians immigrants based in Bristol, one of two teams making their debuts in Britain’s top-rated circuit. The other was London Legends, a team of young players with international potential that showed last year that learning on the job did not mean guaranteed wins for their teachers. Their hosts were the debutants Sheffield’s Bruins club. The two juggernauts of British baseball in 2021, the London Mets and the London Capitals, started the season with a rematch of last year’s title bout, while the Lancashire Legends served as host for Vėtra and the Essex Arrows received a bye.
Both of the new clubs ended long droughts of representation in the nationwide circuit for their respective regions. Vėtra represents the first club from the South West in a national league since 1995, when the Bristol Black Sox were relegated after consecutive seasons in the cellar, having been the first from the region to ascend to the top level of British baseball. Vėtra won both ends of its christening doubleheader, blasting the Lancashire Legends in Game 1 and surviving a much closer nightcap in Hemel Hempstead, home of former national league club — and likely to return quickly — Herts Falcons.
Adding to the fanfare of the club’s NBL opener was the possibility that Vėtra set a record in its 14-3 romp. Despite fielding three substitutions, the West Country club stole 19 bases in five innings, including four each for Giedrius Janulevičius and Domarkis Moreta. Vėtra scored its 14 runs on nine hits, six walks, and eight errors. Despite both starters flashing no-hit stuff in Game 2, a porous defense for both nines led to eight unearned runs in total. Six walks and four miscues by Lancashire, coupled with a further five thefts, staked Vėtra to a 9-1 lead by the middle of the fifth, but a gradual comeback by the Legends resulted in a five-run seventh and near-equalization in the eventual 9-8 loss. Vėtra starter Viktoras Ratkevičius earned the W after tossing four hitless frames, striking out seven.
Meanwhile, no club from Sheffield has contested the national league since the 2007 campaign, the penultimate year of the old BBF National League – North. The occasion marked not only the first National League games in the South Yorkshire city since Aug. 5, 2007, but the first-ever NL contest in Sheffield involving a team from England’s southern half. The Bruins’ celebrations were somewhat tempered by their guests, the more southerly named of the two-club Legends prganization, in a pair of close matchups, 4-3 and 13-11.
In the final pairing, London’s Mets and Capitals tangled, with Christopher Messer (1-0) delivering four no-hit innings for the Metropolitans in a Game 1 win. He faced only two batters over the minimum, walking one and punching out five of the last six batters he faced. A balanced Caps lineup then ensured the visitors would go home with a split in a 10-3 rubber match.
Home team listed second. Box scores [link].
Week 1 (April 3)
Capitals 2 – Mets 8
Lon. Legends 4 – Sheffield 3
Vėtra 14 – Lancs. Legends 3 (5)
Capitals 10 – Mets 3
Lon. Legends 13 – Sheffield 11
Vėtra 9 – Lancs. Legends 8
Bye week: Essex