Traditionally a tough division to call and one that often throws surprises into the mix of British Baseball, the Midlands division (which plays as AA standard, with representatives sent through to both AA and Single-A playoffs at the end of the season) often ebbs and flows. This time out is no different, and sides will be looking for some magic to obtain the Championship ring that proves they rule them all.
Five teams will fight for the BBF Midlands title in 2012, with the Stourbridge Titans replacing the Leicester Blue Sox II in what promises to be an incredibly competitive division this time around.
Last year, the MK Bucks dominated the division, having won the Single-A championship in 2010. Their record of 19-1 was plenty too much for the rest of the league, although the Nottingham Rebels, new to the leagues in 2011, pushed hard all the way before they and the Birmingham Maple Leafs were left to battle it out for second place.
With the addition of the Titans, the league gains a new dimension, and surely adds a more competitive element to the fight for the title and position. In previous years, all teams have ended up qualifying for post-season action, but this time out will be a genuine scramble for the best places for August’s title run-in.
The Leicester Blue Sox have continued their expansion, and after enjoying five years of baseball in the town, they have now launched the first full youth programme in the region. This is a great chance for the Club to build and develop their membership, meaning the chance to gain new players and bolster their two teams.
The Maple Leafs will look to bounce back to championship form and compete for the AA-crown again, having finished as runners-up in the 2011 Single-A final to the impressive Cambridge Royals (who themselves have stepped up to AAA in 2012).
The Rebels will be looking to prevent them from doing so, having only just gotten used to the league and rather fancying their chances of going one better. To do that, the Nottingham club will have to topple the Bucks, and it would be a brave person to bet on that.
The Bucks only missed out on a place at the NBCs last year to the Bolton Robots of Doom, who went on to win the whole thing, and the AA competition should be similarly well contested in 2012.
A new addition to the schedule this season is the Leicester Spring League (LSL), which aims to emulate the success that short competitive games a few weeks before the start of the season that the Herts Spring League (HSL) has achieved.
Six teams will enter the LSL this year, giving new teams such as the Titans and Newton Aycliffe Spartans the chance to demonstrate their competitiveness prior to the season, as well as getting some organised baseball under their belt before kicking in to the summer.
Pool A will see the Spartans, Hull Scorpions and Blue Sox taking on one another, while the Titans, Rebels and Sheffield Bladerunners will complete Pool B. After consecutive Sundays of round-robin action from March 25 and April 1, finals day will pit the third-against-third, second-against-second and first-against-first placed teams to determine the LSL champions, a week before the start of the league seasons.
As a further dedicated sign of development, Midlands clubs will operate an unofficial minor league division in 2012, with the Bucks, Blue Sox and Maple Leafs operating second teams to play against each other and the West Midlands Razorbacks where games can be arranged, perhaps with an eye to move into an official Single-A division in 2013.
It’s highly likely that a Midlands team will pick up a Championship in 2012, as with promotions in other divisions in the North and South, many of the strongest teams at AA and Single-A are now playing their baseball in the middle of the country. But knowing which one will be there representing the region, and at which level, is incredibly tricky to guess at this stage.
One thing is for sure – it’s going to be a really good year of baseball for the division.