What with the long winter only now grudgingly giving up its icy grip, it's hard to believe that Munich and its suburbs are once again going to see a lot of baseball and softball action between now and next October.

Little-reported in mainstream media, a lively baseball and softball scene, including some storied rivalries between the clubs, continues to grow. The good news for fans is that these clubs are open to new members, be it those seriously into the sport, those who want to take it up again after perhaps a few years away, or those who might simply want to join a casual game of slow-pitch mixed-team softball.

As the baseball season is on the verge of getting underway, fans can choose from among seven clubs in Munich and the surrounding suburbs. The action will be at various levels of play, including the top three leagues of the German Baseball and Softball Federation (DBV) and three leagues of the Bavarian Baseball/Softball Federation (BBSV).

Only one club - the Munich Caribes (www.caribes.de) - is located directly in Munich's city limits, playing at the Oberwiesenfeld Ballpark in the northern part of the Olympic Park. Six other clubs - Haar Disciples, Baldham Boars, Gauting Indians, Garching Atomics, Freising Grizzlies and Gröbenzell Bandits - are in outlying areas.

In terms of level of play, the Haar Disciples (www.disciples.de) merit first mention as their top team plays in German baseball's 1. Bundesliga South division made up of eight teams. The Disciples have built up a solid program with the help of loyal, local sponsors and have spent several years in the top league.

Haar will be entering 2013 under a new American coach, Keith Maxwell. Maxwell's appointment is a development that reflects some turmoil that the club went through last season when some dissension broke out on the team under German coach Dirk Fries. Despite the problems, Fries did a good job to lead the club into the post-season playoffs. Nevertheless, Fries and the club parted ways at the end of the season. Haar announced another German, Chris Dresel, as the new coach, but Dresel backed away, citing other commitments. The club then hired the 37-year-old Maxwell, who in his professional career had played a number of seasons in the Minor Leagues in the United States.

Many local baseball fans will be watching to see how well Haar have adjusted after all the turmoil. The Disciples' task is made all the more daunting by the fact that their home opener on April 20th will be none other than the Regensburg Legionäre, a side who have won the German baseball title three years running and are loaded with a number of high-calibre players. Right off the bat, Haar will have their work cut out.

The eight-team 2. Bundesliga South includes Baldham (www.boars.de), a club in the process of rebuilding in the hope of recapturing some of its past glory. Last year, the Boars posted a 20-8 record to finish atop the eight-team Regionalliga South-East, earning re-entry to the 2. Bundesliga after a four-year absence in the process.

The Boars open their season on April 14th, hosting the Regensburg 2nd team, which again will be no easy task given the strong baseball program in Regensburg. Baldham's roster will once again feature a tough, American pitcher, Ryan Williams as well as a number of newly-signed, experienced players from other German clubs.

The third level of the DBV is the Regionalliga and for the Bavaria-Baden Wuerttemberg region it's the Regionalliga South-East where two local teams will be battling against one another: The Munich Caribes (www.caribes.de) and Gauting Indians (www.gauting-indians.de).

In Munich, a season of strong promise awaits the Caribes. After finishing a solid 4th place with a 16-12 record in their first summer in the Regionalliga South-East last year, the team, under American coach Steve Walker, looks to be very solid and a possible contender for the league title.

The Caribes roster from last year is returning in full and the club has picked up a number of top-level and experienced players, including US outfielder Ty Eriksen, who arrives 1. Bundesliga experience having previously played for the Haar Disciples. The Caribes open their season on April 14th at home against Fürth Pirates.

Fans with a romantic spot in their heart for "village baseball" might favour the Gauting Indians, a club which had once made it as high as the 1. Bundesliga before losing its main sponsor and was forced to drop down several league notches due to financial reasons. Last year, Gauting posted a perfect 28-0 record in the Bavarian League, the top division of the Bavarian baseball federation, to gain promotion to the Regionalliga South-East.

All these clubs - Haar, Baldham, Munich and Gauting - also have teams playing at the various other Bavarian federation levels, be it Bayernliga, Landesliga-South, or Bezirksliga. Other regional clubs in those divisions include the Gröbenzell Bandits, Garching Atomics and Freising Grizzlies.

With all of these teams and leagues ranging from the Bezirksliga up to the 1. Bundesliga, the upcoming baseball season in the greater Munich area will see literally hundreds of baseball games and plenty of intense rivalry.

Sutton's Secrets:

- Haar Disciples: How will they cope in the 1. Bundesliga after last season's internal turmoil and under the guidance of a new coach?

- Baldham Boars: They're back in the 2. Bundesliga after 4 years - are they strong enough for the higher level of competition?

- Munich Caribes: Ready to make a run for the Regionalliga South-East title?

A small mea culpa: All of the clubs mentioned here also have women's softball programmes at various levels of league competition, as well as programmes at the youth, primary school and children's toss ball and T-ball levels. In fact, maintaining such programmes is a major condition set by the German and Bavarian baseball and softball federations to qualify for a league license.

As much as this article focuses on the men's baseball activities, check out the clubs' websites for information about all the other programs.

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