The Northern divisions in British Baseball have experienced the most dynamic alterations over the past five years, going from the expansion of the sport to as far as Glasgow and Edinburgh to a Northern NBL division, but was reduced to just nine league teams last season, one of which the Menwith Hill Patriots failed to complete their schedule.
That said, the region won two of the three championships in which its teams were eligible to compete, with the Liverpool Trojans going unbeaten in BBF competitions in 2011 en route to the AAA crown, and the Bolton Robots of Doom doing something fairly similar as they overcame a strong field in AA.
The Northern Leagues will be especially interesting to follow this year, as the return of the Harrogate Tigers and the formation of the North Aycliffe Spartans, as well as a new senior team for Cartmel Valley’s highly successful youth programme to move into (the Lions) sparks some excitement.
No one should bet against the Trojans going all the way again in 2012, although the Club itself is faced with an ongoing saga over the redevelopment of Bootle Stadium, where they have played for over 30 years. No one in the baseball community wants this piece of history to be lost, least of all Club stalwart Norman Wells, who has over 70 years of baseball experience in the region, as he prepares to carry the Olympic torch when it travels through Liverpool.
Bolton could provide their biggest challenge in two seasons, but both Halton and Manchester will be keen to return to form following a summer that just couldn’t get going for the other sides in the division. The Lions will be an intriguing prospect, and will hope that their youth outweighs their inexperience of the senior game by causing some upsets, while the Patriots will look to be competitive and complete the season to make it extra interesting in the top half of the country.
AA is harder to call at this early stage, but I would hedge my bets on Hull and Sheffield being at the top again.
Manchester are the only Club with teams in all the divisions, so they will be hoping that quality as well as quantity shines through in the Jubilee summer, and many are eagerly awaiting the Tigers return after a season in the jungle.
Everyone’s optimistic that Oldham can build on their infinitely improved season last time out (which included their first win in five years), as well as closely watching the Spartans, who have made some great friends and contacts since announcing their planned arrival midway through last year.
Further developments in the North will be based around the progress that the Clubs can show in terms of player retention and development, as last season the region’s representatives showed they certainly have the talent to succeed.
In addition, the growth of softball leagues and competitions in the north provides extra ground for evolution of the two sports in tandem with one another.
Should Clubs develop youth programmes, with Halton, Manchester, Bolton and Cartmel Valley leading the way, then there is no stopping the possibilities for the leagues to get stronger, harping back to a yester-year when teams from Humber and the North West regularly took the titles at National Championships.