The Houtmansland Topklasse Divisie, known locally as Topklasse Divisie but commonly known as Topklasse, is a professional baseball league in Houtmansland. It is the highest level of baseball in Houtmansland and the only level that is played professionally.
The league was founded by 6 member clubs who wanted to play professionally following the success of professional baseball in Ianoia, Koana Islands and Günsovölk. The six member clubs – that have participated in every Topklasse season are: Bos Aan Zee, Eikenheuvel HC, HHV, KBO Armweide, RKC Mesch, and SHC Koedijk.
Teams have traditionally played each other 6 times over two 3-game series (three games at home, three games away) during a season, which are played from Friday to Sunday between the months of April and September. Prior to the league expanding to more than 6 teams, there was a winter break that lasted for 6 weeks during the season which now no longer takes place. The team that has won the most games during a season is declared the Champion.
Topklasse Divisie started in the 1902 season and the first winner was SHC Koedijk. The one-league six team Topklasse Divisie replaced the Houtman Serie, a knockout competition held annually from 1897. It was held during a August, and all games were often played in either Koedijk or Eikenheuvel. For the first four years of the tournament only teams from Koedijk and Eikenheuvel participated. The competition was purely an amateur one; the Houtmansland Honkbalvereniging (HHBV) rejected any form of payment and suspended players who were caught receiving salary or transfer fees.
By 1900, many players had opted to play in the professional leagues elsewhere in the Southern Union, with many team owners requesting a professional domestic competition. In 1901, to serve the growing interest, a dissident professional baseball association the Houtmansland Professionele Honkbalvereniging (the HPHV) and league were founded for the 1901 season by the owners of Eikenheuvel HC, KBO Armweide and SHC Koedijk. On 14 January 1901, the HHBV met with a group of concerned amateur club chairmen, who feared the best players would join the professional teams. The meeting, dubbed the Weglopen (‘walk away’), led to various clubs reluctantly leaving the HHBV and joining the HPHV that was to begin play the following year.
Initially, only Bos Aan Zee (the most successful team outside of Koedijk and Eikenheuvel) were invited to join the Topklasse Divisie, but with the goal of growing the game domestically, HHV (from Herveld) and RKC Mesch were invited to form the first 6 member teams. Bath-based team Atletisch declined to join whilst ACV Toterfout withdrew after initially accepting due to pressure from the players.
With a divide between amateur and professional clubs, Topklasse became an invitation-only league with no promotion or relegation between the various regional amateur leagues in the country. In 1931 the HPHV and HHBV merged and amateur clubs could be promoted to Topklasse. However, the gulf in talent between the amateur and professional clubs meant that this has never happened, with teams only gaining entry to the league via the re-election process which mandated that only teams willing to turn professional were eligible for the voting process.
Baseball has grown since and there is currently around 2,200 clubs with 20,000 teams and with 700,000 members, whereof about 350,000 are active players, altogether.
1902 to 1910
Like all professional leagues in the Southern Union in 1904, Topklasse adopted the Durand Rules for the 1904 season, but managed to argue against implementing the re-election process, citing the lack of teams within the country. The first draw was on Friday the 15th of April when Bos Aan Zee drew 3-all with Eikenheuvel HC by scoring three runs in the top of the 9th to level the scores.
By the end of 1905, the owners were worried about the league growing stagnant, especially with many players leaving teams to join other leagues within the Southern Union, tempted by great financial incentive. By 4 votes to 2, the owners agreed to expand the league in 1907 by 2 teams, with Atletisch Bath and SAE Zwingelspaan chosen in 1906.
|1902||SHC Koedijk||KBO Armweide|
|1903||HHV||KBO Armweide (2)|
|1904||KBO Armweide||SHC Koedijk|
|1905||HHV (2)||KBO Armweide (3)|
|1906||Bos Aan Zee||HHV|
|1907||KBO Armweide (2)||Bos Aan Zee|
|1908||Bos Aan Zee (2)||SHC Koedijk (2)|
|1909||KBO Armweide (3)||Bos Aan Zee (2)|
|1910||Bos Aan Zee (3)||KBO Armweide (4)|