Welcome to BF&N, Michael Ivory…
I love cricket. Out of all sports in England (and I follow the vast majority), it’s my number one. There’s nothing better for me than sitting at Edgbaston, on a hot summers day with a pint, watching Warwickshire play. I think it’s the battle between bat and ball that I find so intriguing and the tactics behind the game, especially the longer format.
In April 2017, me and the ‘better’ half had saved enough to treat ourselves to two weeks in Mexico. First of all, if you have never been, I thoroughly recommend it, the place is incredible. Secondly, they massively cater for the American market. Due to this, our hotel was equipped with a 24/7 sports bar. After 3pm, all UK/EU sports had finished due to the time difference, and the US sports started showing.
As a Baltimore Ravens fan, I had ‘dipped my toe’ in US sports, but this was April and as such there was no NFL to be shown. I’ve never really had an interest in basketball (not tall enough to appreciate it) or ice hockey (not graceful on the ice to appreciate it also!), so most evenings I’d go and watch the entertainment and drink my body weight in all inclusive alcohol.
But in the second week, the entertainment got ‘samey’, so I spent more and more time in the sports bar and got speaking to a few people from Chicago. They were dressed in baseball caps with the red C on the front and wearing jerseys with ‘Rizzo’ and ‘Bryant’ and ‘Arrieta’ adorned on the back with numbers such as 44 and 17 (those numbers were just not cricket I tell thee…).
We got talking and they were watching the Chicago Cubs play the Milwaukee Brewers in the MLB. Milwaukee were leading 5-0 and we hadn’t even got to the mid 3rd break. Even with my very limited baseball knowledge I could tell this wasn’t a good score. But, there was something about the game that intrigued me. Maybe it was the slight similarity with cricket, the tussle between bat and ball, the mental aspect of out-manoeuvring your opponent to get them ‘out’.
I then spent the next 3 hours watching my first baseball game with these ‘diehard’ baseball fans. Luckily Kyle Schwarber homered in the bottom of the 3rd to score himself and Jon Jay, bringing it back to 5-2.
During the game, they told me everything about the Cubs and the world of baseball. The differences between a ball and a strike, the American league vs the National league, a sac fly, a sac bunt, a grand slam, ERA, WHIP, K’s, BB, OPS, SLG, double plays, curveballs, splitters, sliders, fastballs, sinkers, rotation pitchers, relief pitchers, closing pitchers (dare I go on?).
They told me all about the World Series comeback of 2016 against the Cleveland Indians and how it was their first for 108 years (FYI, this does grind on me a bit when people accuse me of being a ‘glory hunter’ – I didn’t even know what the World Series was 12 months ago!). I was chucked right in the deep end with no armbands, and I loved it. For the next 6 and a half innings, I wasn’t just intrigued, I was hooked. At the mid 9th, Chicago were leading 9-7, and with that the game was over, and I bid adieu to my new American friends.
The next evening, I went back to the sports bar. All of the tvs were showing the Stanley Cup playoffs, and the bar was heaving with people wearing oversized jerseys with a B in the middle, from memory Boston were playing. I really tried to get into the sport and give it a go, just like I did baseball the night before, but it just wasn’t grabbing me the same. In the end, I asked if one of the TVs could show a baseball game, a decision which didn’t go down well with 95% of the bar. I got the tiniest TV in the corner to show the White Sox lose to the Yankees, but I didn’t mind, I had a beer, baseball on the box, and the Cubs hit four in the bottom of the ninth 9th to beat the Brewers 7-4. I got my hit.
For the next few days the evenings were much the same, trying to watch whatever game I could, and always following the Cubs through the MLB app to check their results. I wouldn’t have said I was a fan at this point, I wouldn’t have said I was even an honorary supporter but the more and more I watched, the more the love for the sport grew. The fact that they played almost every day just made me love it even more. Almost 6 months straight of baseball, what more could you want?
When I got home, I figured I’d be back to ‘normal.’ The football season was drawing to an end, and the cricket season had just begun. Yet I would find myself scrolling through BT Sport ESPN on an evening to find what game was showing tonight rather than watching a Premier league game. I would watch whatever game I could, and if the Cubs were playing it was a bonus to see the likes of Jose Quintana pitch a masterclass or another RBI by Anthony Rizzo or Kris Bryant (hopefully!).
Fast forward 5 months later, and it’s the early hours of a Friday morning in October. I look at the clock and realise I have to be up for work in a few hours. Yet I am happy.
I am sitting in my living room with my Cubs shirt and cap on, beaming that we have just beat Max Scherzer and the Nationals 9-8 to win the NLDS, and a series with the Dodgers for the NL Championship. I know I’m going to be knackered tomorrow, but was it worth it? Absolutely. And it’s all thanks to some baseball fans from Chicago showing me a sport I had been missing out on.