Since 2010 and likely earlier, it is not hard to predict which teams will play in the Holland Series. With a few exceptions, it has been Neptunus from Rotterdam and L&D Amsterdam Pirates. With this predictability, the interest for the Dutch hoofdklasse is declining.
Sure, die-hard baseball fans will always find their way to the ballparks but the casual fan? With the superiority of Neptunus and Amsterdam Pirates, the Dutch hoofdklasse isn’t all that interesting anymore. Of course there are other reasons for the decline of attendance but I think that the dominance of the aforementioned clubs is one of the main reasons.
How are these two clubs as dominating the way they are? Well, they have the biggest sponsors and with that, they can attract the best players. As a result, most of the players of the Dutch national team are playing with Neptunus or Amsterdam Pirates and because of that, the Dutch hoofdklasse is imbalanced. With Neptunus and Amsterdam Pirates lonely at the top, there is a big gap followed by the numbers three and four, mostly HCAW and Hoofddorp Pioniers. Then there is another (big) gap with the remaining four teams of the Dutch hoofdklasse.
Wouldn’t it be nice if more club could compete for a spot in the Holland Series? I really think that if there is a real competition, fans will come back to the ballparks.
With last year’s playoffs and playdowns, the game reports of the playdowns, written on this blog, got a lot more hits than those of the playoffs, which is significant.
One way to make the Dutch hoofdklasse more competitive is to introduce a licensing system. What does this mean? Well, to make it simple, let’s say that there are twenty-five players on the roster of the Dutch national team. Most of them play for the top two clubs which makes these two much stronger than the remaining six teams. With this licensing system, each team of the Dutch hoofdklasse gets four or five licenses to attract players of the Dutch national team; a license per player. The number of national team players may not exceed the number of licenses a club has. With this system, Dutch national team players will be divided among eight Dutch hoofdklasse clubs.
I realize that several of these “licensed” players play in the USA or abroad, so the number of licenses needs to be adapted. But still, there will be a bigger parity in the Dutch hoofdklasse with this system.
For sure this license system will have its flaws but that is something you can work on. I can imagine that Neptunus and Amsterdam Pirates are not willing to lose their homegrown players because of this system. But on the other hand, with the annual transition period, plenty of players come and go to and from those two clubs.
Also, there will always be players with a breakthrough year that will earn a spot in the Dutch national team even though they never played in that team before. This is something you cannot avoid. But there is a core group of players who are a fix for the Dutch national team, and for those players, this license system should be created.
As we mention home grown players we come to another important issue. Neptunus and Amsterdam Pirates both have a solid youth education system, farm system if you want to. When it comes to that, they are lightyears ahead compared to the other hoofdklasse clubs. It should be a must that hoofdklasse clubs have their own “farm system” in which they raise their homegrown players to full-fledged hoofdklasse players. But most clubs lack the infrastructure for that. It would be good if both Neptunus and Amsterdam Pirates would help the other clubs building a similar system. With this, those clubs will become more self-sufficient and don’t have to rely on import players only.
Of course, the place of the youth education system of ball clubs has been largely taken by the baseball academies. Once, these academies were created to raise players to become MLB worthy. As that has never happened, the academies now raise players to become hoofdklasse players at best. But the four academies are located in Amsterdam, Bussum, Haarlem and Rotterdam. The local hoofdklasse clubs benefit from these academies as most players that are fit for the hoofdklasse go to the local hoofdklasse clubs. A major advantage over clubs that do not have the facility for a baseball academy. So in the field of the location of the academies, or the division of academy players among hoofdklasse clubs, there is room for improvement.
I am convinced that if more teams can compete for a spot in the playoffs, fans will return to the ballparks, which of course is good for all clubs. Be honest, with a hoofdklasse that is far from competitive, what is the worth a a national title when the Holland Series is an annual small circle of the two same teams? A hoofdklasse in which at least six teams can compete for a spot in the Holland Series will be a consummate hoofdklasse. It will be good for Dutch baseball.