Mets vs Falcons on Opening Day – Robbie Unsell may have returned to America, but he is only a transatlantic flight away from Grovehill Ballpark (photo by Will Baxter)
(this article by Joe Gray was first published on britishbaseball.org)
Southampton Mustangs @ Harlow Nationals
Opening Day in the National Baseball League (NBL) on 6 April will see the Southern Nationals and Southampton Mustangs continuing where they left off last season, with the national finalists from 2013 squaring off in a double-header at Farnham Park.
The Nationals are shooting for a record-breaking fourth consecutive national title, having become the first club in British baseball history to win national titles in each of their first three seasons. But they will be doing so without talisman Will Lintern, the most successful active player in the British game, with six national titles to his name. Will is competing this year for Hove Tuesday in AAA South.
The Mustangs recently completed the most exciting off-season transaction to date, picking up catcher Jose Lopez, who reached the AAA level in his professional career in North America. Southampton will be hoping they now have the final piece in place to claim a first-ever national title for the South Coast city.
London Mets @ Herts Falcons
In another mouth-watering match-up, the Herts Falcons and London Mets, first and second seeds from 2013, will resume their rivalry on Opening Day. The teams played out several nail-biting contests in a closely-fought battle for the league title last season. The Mets were propelled by a league-leading seven wins on the mound for Pietro Sollecito, but the Falcons held off their charge to claim a first-ever NBL pennant.
The Falcons retain Ryan Bird, the league’s Most Valuable Batter from last season, but have lost Robbie Unsell, winner of the Most Valuable Pitcher award, who has returned to the States. However, their roster is strengthened by the recently-announced addition of Abel Salas, a left-handed hitter from Mexico, who previously played for the Mildenhall Bulldogs.
Bracknell Blazers @ Essex Arrows
The Bracknell Blazers and Essex Arrows – fifth and sixth seeds respectively in last season’s play-offs – are paired up in the third and final double-header on Opening Day. Both teams might feel that they need to be sweeping match-ups like this one to have a chance of figuring in the 2014 playoff picture. The Blazers are competing in the top tier for a league-leading 17th straight season.
The South London Pirates, entering their 16th season of top-flight baseball, have a rest week on 6 April in what will be a seven-team league this season. The Essex Redbacks have moved to AAA South and the Lakenheath Diamondbacks will play this year in the newly created AAA Central Division.