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Hardballby Sharon Dornhoff
Alphatia's been through a lot lately, what with sinking, getting dumped off inside the planet, doing a 180 on its imperialistic tendencies, and all. Yet there's one thread that's kept the broken and battered Alphatian Empire together, through thick and thin. One thing everyone, from slave to noble (though they won't admit it) can agree upon loving, and come together to appreciate every year, in a spirit of shared Alphatian pride. Magic? No biggie; they see that every day, for cryin' out loud. Conquest? Hell, they can't even convince their own Empress to do that, anymore! Nope ... I'm talking about the REAL unifying force that binds the empire, and which owns the hearts and dreams and loyalty of every Alphatian on -- or in -- the world of Mystara: the IMPERIAL HARD-BALL LEAGUE!!!
Yes, sports fans ... after years of wartime cancellations, geographic dislocation, and scheduling disruptions (ever tried to synchronise your teams' itineraries, when half the chartered tours are in the "timeless" HW...?), the good ol' IHL is back in business! At long last, the best and brightest players of each national-level hard-ball association will pool their athletic prowess into 39 IHL-level teams, and face off for the coveted title of Imperial Playoff Champions. Let's take a look at how the first of the League's two primary divisions -- the CPD and CHBA -- is faring, in the aftermath of the Immortals' Wrath, and which teams we can expect to make a great showing in the 2016 season:
Continental Players' Division
Sundsvall Suns (nee Supremicists) -- Although Her Imperial Majesty's recent decision to change their name brought jeers from long-term fans, the new line-up of Suns players are performing well in regional play, and are expected to make a big comeback! Vertilochans throughout the kingdom are hoping the same lucky streak which took the old Supremicists on tour, at the right moment, and thus spared them from their home city's destruction, will stick with their players, as the new "Suns" prove they're as steadfast and brilliant as the big red one overhead.
Aaslin Artistes -- Not so lucky as the Supremes/Suns, this team has faltered after the loss of their star handsman, Pyorinn "the Painter" of Aasla, to Glantrian arsonists' treachery. Expect the Artistes to play their home games in Dovir this year, as the fire-gutted Aasla Dome has yet to be restored to its original condition of grandeur.
Alfleigh Actaeons -- Division-play schedules call for the elf-boys to mix it up with the Shrieks, early this season ... so be prepared for a grudge-match, folks! Will the "Hornheads" pay back the Blackhearters for beating them out for the 1853 divisional title -- elves have long memories, sports fans -- or will the Shrieks mount the Actaeons' heads on their trophy-wall, a second time...?
Archport Arches -- Still no word on the disappearance of the Arches' world-class goalie, Xavor "NetMan" II, so this team's future isn't looking too bright, just now. Accusations are flying between Archport's sports officials and the Arogansan National League's council of directors; but Arch-fans' suspicion that the Blues' manager took drastic steps, after Xavor's fourth refusal to emigrate, hasn't got enough evidence to back it up in an Arogansan civil court.
Bluenose Blues -- With their fears about the Arches' new champion laid to rest, the Blues are gearing up for yet another run at the divisional title ... a title that's eluded them for over 40 years, due to difficulties in recruiting a coach who can give orders to their aristocratic team captain, Virgal "the Avenger". Will the "Bluebloods'" insistence on protocol during play, and exclusion of commoners from the captain's post, cost them yet another season?
Citadel Quakes -- That ol' "Quakes Tremor", where loyal Betellynese fans rise out of their seats en masse and stomp till the ground quivers, hasn't been heard at many home games, this year; for some reason, the shaking stands have been making people from all across the Flying Continent very nervous. A coincidence, or is it a bad omen for the Citadel team's performance...?
Denwarf-Hurgeon Torhrodars -- Another team with a grudge match in the works, the Torhrodars are getting set to take down their arch-rivals, the Trollhatten Tramplers, before pressing their "hard-as-granite" ball strategy all the way to the top. And monsters' heads may just be rolling in Denwarf-Hurgon soon, folks, because it's a home game for the Torhrodars.
Draco Dragons -- Perennial powerhouses of the east coast regionals, the Dragons have made an uncharacteristically poor showing in pre-division play, for the last three years. With half their original line-up having been left behind on the outer world, with their military units, the remaining Stonewall players are still having a tough job to do, getting the team's "new recruits" up to CPD standards.
Eagret Admirals -- After a humiliating 2-38 defeat by the Imperial Navy's "Seamen" amateur team, in exhibition play, the Ads are desperate to save a little face in the weeks ahead. Not since their old mascot, the Eagle, was adopted as the symbol of Thyatis have the fans in Greenspur been so reluctant to wear their team's merchandise in public.
Errolyn Royals -- With a pro like Malcull "Monkshood" on the coach's bench, how can the Royals lose? Congratulations to the shrewd organisers of the Theranderol National League, on coaxing this retired Imperial Playoff Champion back to the court. Just wait: he's sure to revitalise the Royals' sagging offensive record.
Greenwood Greens -- Seventy years of leadership, and still no divisional title. When will Coach Cerynderial catch on that she's just not got "the touch" the Greens need?
Rardish Marauders -- Back on the courts after seven months in prison on assault charges, the Marauders' team captain Karnoks "the Crusher" has publicly boasted his intention to rattle the Quakes' players so badly, they'll never stand up straight again. Can the Citadel's team give the lie to his bluster, in the first game of the 2016 season, and score against the Marauder defence's proven ability to hold "The Line"?
Shiell Cheesers -- "Never give up" is this rough-and-tumble team's motto; even the worst of losses don't break their determination to keep trying. And they're gonna need it: they're the first ones on the Tramplers' dinner menu, before they take on Denwarf-Hurgon. A little cheese before the main course, eh goblin-fans?
Shraek Shrieks -- Not the most popular team in the Continental Division ... but you can sure tell their fans love 'em! Wait till they come up against the Actaeons next month, because that's when you'll hear those loyal Blackhearters howl, squall, and shriek for their boys! (Note: Due to past regrettable incidents with fans' attempts to pet it, team mascot Devixiticulus "the Demon-Thing" will not be touring with the Shrieks this year. Drop in for a home game, Devi-lovers, if you want to see what modifications his handlers have made to their cuddly critter, for 2016.)
Starpoint Comets -- Expect another name-change among the CPD, pretty soon. While everyone agrees that the Comets are playing remarkably well this year -- looks like the team spent more time on the practice court than in the lab or on stage, for a change! -- nobody in Ambur seems to know what a "comet" is, anymore. Best bet for the new name? "Starpoint Magic Missiles", so they won't have to change the logos on their uniforms.
Trollhatten Tramplers -- With the Dragons having difficulties and the Arches' star player gone AWOL, statistics tell us no other team in the Continental division's got a better shot at the IHL championship, than the Tramplers do. Until recently, word among the players was that Hrugggish, the team's wonder-troll centre, couldn't possibly be replaced. (Her tragic death during the Week Of No Magic, in a friendly family game of "Toss the Head", was mourned for weeks by all of Limn.) But as the CPD's newly-elected "rookie of the year", Cherrunos "Chase" Sixhoof has been tearing up the courts like a reincarnation of his great forebearer Mirond, first centaur in the CPD.
And in the latest addition to the Continental Players' Division, there's a new team on the block: the Haldemar Dinos! No one knows how this untested team of Neathar and Alphatian players will fare, in their first divisional season ... all we in the IHL Sports-Reporters' Union know is, their merchandise is flying off the shelves like flocking pterodactyls! Grab a Dino for your kiddies soon, sports fans, because you know they'll wanna collect 'em all.
We'll be back, with team rosters for the Colonial Hard-Ball Association's 2016 season, after these messages....