by Joe Gray
After a 2-week break following RICHMOND’s do-or-die sweep of LONDON to secure the National Baseball League (NBL) pennant on 16 August, the British season reaches its climax this weekend.
The qualifying teams for the National Baseball Championship are listed below.
- NBL 1st –
RICHMOND FLAMES (17-7)
- NBL 2nd –
LONDON METS (17-7)
- NBL 3rd –
BRACKNELL BLAZERS (14-10)
- NBL 4th –
HERTS FALCONS (12-12)
The venue is Roundshaw, which is the home of the CROYDON PIRATES (0-24) – the only NBL team not to qualify. The PIRATES have hosted the finals since 2005, a year in which they won the event, but their absence from the tournament for a second straight year will serve as a reminder of their steep decline from the country’s premier team to a side barely clinging onto top-tier status.
In 2006, it was RICHMOND who won the event, defeating CROYDON in the deciding game of a best-of-three series to become National Champions for the first time. They will enter the 2009 tournament as top seed and have reason to be confident about claiming a second title. Ryan Bird emerged towards the end of the season as outstanding back-up for regular catcher Grant Delzoppo, and he should be able to shut down the opponents’ running game better than any other catcher at the Championship. More crucially, the team has the best pitching depth of the four qualifiers, and should have the luxury of not having to risk a weak arm in any of the games.
The LONDON METS – who swept CROYDON in a best-of-three series in 2007, the team’s first year in the league, and then defended the title in 2008 by defeating RICHMOND in a single-game final – would be the strongest threat to RICHMOND’s attempt at a second title, were it not for the absence of several star players. They have had to promote several AAA players to complete their roster, but they could still prove dangerous, particularly if their opponents underestimate their quality. Still, their pitching will probably not be deep enough
With the weakened LONDON METS roster, BRACKNELL are probably the team behind RICHMOND most likely to win their way through to the final of the National Baseball Championship. Their roster combines the experience of several wise heads with some of the most exciting talent coming through the British system. They are very capable of beating any of the other teams and have a range of options on the mound. Still, if they are to lift the first Chamionship trophy in the club’s history on Sunday afternoon, they will probably need to save a strong pitching arm while attempting to win their way through a competitive field.
The fourth team in the finals are the HERTS FALCONS, and 2009 has been their debut season in the top tier. They have beaten all the other teams in the National Baseball Championship at least once during the regular season, and they will not be turning up just to make up the numbers. On their day, they can play baseball deserving of a place in the final, but to get that far they will probably need to use all of their recognized pitchers: they have fewer quality arms than RICHMOND or BRACKNELL.
The format of the event is shown in the chart below.