On a chilly Sunday evening in London, the Baseball By Committee crew met in Belushi’s bar close to London Bridge. The crew — consisting of Dave Shaw, Adam Harnischfeger, George Martin and Hannah — were all in attendance approximately 90 minutes before the “start”, finalising the details for the latest British Baseball fan meetup. It was the first of the 2018 season for the hardworking crew and thankfully we have already heard it won’t be their last this season.
Belushi’s is a deceiving bar, a modest looking entrance area, that welcomes you into a collection of seating with a bar at the rear. Upon looking around the side of the bar, the first level of secrecy is exposed. The premises extend even further back revealing more seating and adjacent to the bar was a small stage for what I assumed was currently being used for an open mic evening. Next to the stage was a set of double doors with a neon sign displaying two words “The Dugout” with a baseball bat below them. This had to be the place, the second level of deception exposed.
Descending the stairs to The Dugout and entering the basement, it was quickly apparent why the Baseball By Committee team had chosen this venue. A long room consisting of tables, chairs, toilets, a bar, multiple booths and more TVs than I could count, all showing different sports. To our right was a room that said Reserved for AstrosFanUK. Again, I knew this was the place. Inside the reserved room were multiple TVs, tables, chairs and a collection of sports equipment. The reserved room could comfortably hold approximately 60-70 people, the entire Dugout would be many more. Pushing well above 200.
Once the TVs were setup, the drinks tokens arranged, the free Topps baseball cards distributed, it was only a matter of waiting for the guests to arrive. My word, they arrived, they arrived with enthusiasm, excitement and wonder about the whole event. People were quickly chatting with each other, those who had met at events before, those who had come for the first time and those who knew each other prior to this wave of excitement starting last year with MLB Battlegrounds.
The usual “packs” of people started to form, the collection of fans who’s game was being shown on one screen. Which meant the Red Sox and Rays fans migrated to one area of the room. Those fans who’s teams weren’t being shown but wanted to watch certain games for a specific reason, be it the Cardinals and Mets duking it out, Christian Vazquez continuing his path to the hall of fame or later that evening, Shohei Ohtani’s pitching debut for the Los Angeles Angels. Finally we had Blue Jays corner. I’m not sure what it is about Blue Jays fans, but each event I have attended (Five in total) there always seems to be one corner Blue Jays fans go to and they don’t seem to mix with anyone else. I don’t have a problem with it, but they seem to be the only collection of baseball fans (In my small sample sized experience) that don’t wonder around the room mingling with the other fans. Each to their own of course.
We had GB Baseball coach Liam Carroll meeting fellow baseball fans and baseball players. We had Jonny Gould make a brief appearance. Blue Jays mega fan Simon Crosse also visited to join the Blue Jays corner as they enjoyed a Toronto walk-off. He then scoured the room to try and add to an ever growing Blue Jays baseball card collection.
The Topps baseball cards were a huge success, hearing folk cheer with excitement when they pull a Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw or Aaron Judge card. The groans as they hold a Jordan Zimmerman, Mark Trumbo or Tim Tebow (Just kidding) card, made for a fun evening of trying to build a collection you desired. The free drinks were very welcome, meaning some inebriated folk were adding some awful post-it notes to our Bold Predictions Wall (Yes David Tait, I’m not letting you ever forget you absurd David Wright prediction). The drinks also ensured that people were talking with other baseball fans, bringing other fans stood on their own into group conversations, bantering folk about their team (My Padres hat received some excellent chat) and not just talking baseball but getting to know each other.
We saw a shift in the dynamics of the event compared to previous events I have attended, not only were the usual questions being asked — “How did you get into baseball?” “Why do you support who you do?” — but people were starting to dig deeper, the more comfortable they became and the more the nerves of meeting new people faded away. For example folks were asking what others did for a living, if they have a family and where do they live. The questions really broke down social barriers early, all because of having one common interest and having such an event arranged for them.
The event itself has been crucial to not only bring baseball fans together, but to bring humans closer together. Not only have we all met 60 other people that like baseball, discovered how they got into baseball and what they enjoy about the game. We have also met 60 other people we probably never would have conversed with in normal day-to-day life, 60 humans with a different story to tell and experiences to share. Whether they are a school teacher, work for a charity, a visiting student from America, we all met someone new and chatted about their life.
I regularly liken baseball to test cricket, I believe it’s the perfect background music to most social gatherings. That cold evening in London, baseball was my background music as I drifted from group to group, chatted to folk about their bold predictions, how they got into baseball, what they do for work, where they live and if they will attend one of these events again. All the while baseball was playing out in the background with some staring intently, some casually checking in, others drinking the evening away laughing and having fun.
Needless to say, everyone I spoke to absolutely loved the venue, the event, the organisation, the publicity, the effort of the organisers, the effort of the fans and the showing of live baseball in a pub. It was a 100% yes whenever I asked if people would come to another one of these events.
This was a fabulous event, organised by a group of wonderful people. A big thank you from us at Bat Flips and Nerds and a big thank you from the UK baseball community as a whole.