The biggest pre-season baseball tournament in Britain is back. Commencing on 26 March, the Herts Spring League will see a record 20 teams travel from as far afield as Leicester and Southampton to hone their skills and compete for the title. Organised by Herts Baseball Club, it’s Britain’s very own version of the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues currently under way in the US, and it signals that the season is just around the corner.
As in previous years, teams from the British NBL, AAA, AA and A Leagues will be placed in the Majors and Minors Divisions, based on the team rankings going in to the new season. This time around, the HSL will also feature the Great Britain Juniors National Team as they prepare for the international schedule in 2011. They will face NBL opposition throughout so it will be a beneficial competition for Will Lintern’s men.
Bracknell has dominated the HSL winning the Majors Division two years in a row. Will any of their opponents manage to dethrone them this year? They open the 2011 HSL with a mouth-watering clash against the Richmond Flames in a repeat of the 2010 National Baseball Championship Final. The HSL Majors division is packed with teams of the highest calibre including most of the NBL teams. This includes the Lakenheath Diamondbacks and the Southern Nationals which the BBF is expected to add to the ever-expanding National Baseball League (NBL). Similar to the Mildenhall Bulldogs, the Lakenheath Diamondbacks are made up predominantly of US air force personnel stationed in East Anglia so they are expected to be a very tough opponent.
The HSL Minors will once again see some off the best teams from the British AA and A Leagues and, as always, it will be fascinating to see how teams from the Midlands will fare against their Southern counterparts. The Leicester Blue Sox won it last year in a dramatic final against the Sidewinders and they are back to defend their title. There will be two new teams in the Minors groups – the Cambridge Royals who were recently resurrected and will enter the British Leagues this season as well as a second Essex RedBacks team who are proving themselves as a fast-growing force in British Baseball.
With so many teams entering this year the Majors and Minors are divided into several groups and at the end of the group stage the teams will go head to head in the HSL Finals to determine the overall standings and the 2011 HSL Champions.
The action will be spread across three weekends – starting on Saturday, 26 March and ending on Sunday, 10 April – and at four excellent venues, Grovehill Ballpark in Hemel Hempstead, Ham Ground in Richmond, Townmead Field in Essex and RAF Feltwell which is the home of the Lakenheath Diamondbacks.
Herts Baseball President, Aspi Dimitrov was delighted with the surge in interest: “We have once again broken the previous year’s record with 20 teams entering the HSL, but Herts Baseball Club would not have been able to satisfy this demand without the other organisation who have so generously agreed to host HSL events at their own ballparks. Richmond, Lakenheath and Essex have been so supportive and professional over the last few months and our club is very grateful to them.”
GET THE KIDS INTO THE GAME
The HSL may be a tournament for adult players (14 and over), but Herts Baseball Club will be looking to get the youngsters involved as well. Saturday, 26 March will be an Open Day for boys and girls aged between 6 and 16 who may be interested to give baseball a try. They will be able to join in with the other players from the Herts youth teams for an intensive and fun day of baseball.
It will start at 10:30am at Grovehill Ballpark in Hemel Hempstead (click for map and directions) and is absolutely free and open to everyone. Baseball equipment will be provided. After play the youngsters and their parents can stay and enjoy baseball of the highest quality including the Herts Falcons vs Southampton Mustangs and the British Champions, Richmond Flames vs Bracknell Blazers.
If the event has to be postponed due to rain, this will be announced on the Herts baseball Club website. If in doubt, contact the club or check the website before you set out for the Ballpark.
EXCITEMENT BUILDING UP
The Herts Spring League adds a competitive edge to Spring training. It’s the time for managers to work out their winning formula going into the BBF league season. It is an opportunity to evaluate existing and newly recruited players – which players will earn a spot in the pitching rotation and who will be batting where in the batting order? Who will make the first team and who will have to work their way up with the minor league teams? Not forgetting, it’s a chance to size up your rivals for the year ahead. It’s the first big challenge and the first big excitement of the baseball year. Don’t miss it.
The opening weekend will feature games at Herts, Richmond and RAF Feltwell. For a full games schedule and other HSL details please visit the official HSL website .