Fireball – Following Baseball from the UK and beyond Since 1986

A welcome return for our Mexican correspondent, Geoff Enderby

“I didn’t know I was creating memories I just thought I was having fun” – Lemmy

As a child in the latter part of the 1970s and during the early 1980s we would travel to see some friends of our family from my mothers’ side, they lived in a village called Upper Heyford. This rural part of Oxfordshire was home to an RAF base, shared at this time with the US Air Force during the height of the Cold War. On one visit, myself and my cousin were invited into the bedroom of the family’s older son. The walls of the room were covered with posters, dark, dark posters with mystical symbols and wild depictions of monsters and general nastiness. These were obviously dark influences from local Americans, perhaps traded for cigarettes and dead animals in some sort of satanic ritual. I can remember clearly only two names from that day, Motorhead and Deep Purple. My young mind could only wonder about what any of this meant and if I had perhaps seen a glimpse of the end of the world.

The early half of the 1980s was a very scary time. Although I’d managed to start well at the local secondary school and the fact that so far had not managed to die of a heroin overdose (thanks Grange Hill) was a positive, but looking back, we had quite a bit to worry about and very little information to back up any wild hypothesis we might dream up at school. Our reference points were four television channels and whichever newspaper our parents would buy. We were living in terror, our overriding worries at the time being the imminent world conflagration due to global thermonuclear war. Luckily it wasn’t like the US was being run by some comedy president guy, right? Thanks America.

In 1985 Deep Purple were the highest grossing tour artist after Bruce Springsteen. The New York Mets acquired Gary Carter and Dwight “Doc” Gooden won the Cy Young award after a historical second season. Of course, I knew none of this at the time.

1985 also saw the start of baseball on British television with Channel 4 showing highlights every week. By 1986, this was an obsession. The world was looking to escape from the global threat of mutual destruction, many would take solace from the gyrations of Madonna and Michael Jackson, others would swarm the cinemas for Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, The Goonies and Gremlins as we looked for some kind of escape from reality.

But baseball, that was an altogether different level, a sport so incredibly foreign yet slightly familiar it was a further escape into a fantasy dimension. A bit like rounders but with a much better bat, it seemed like any shape or size of person could play as long as they had a (then) ridiculous name. If there was something that could take our minds off the Chernobyl nuclear fall-out cloud and the American bombing of Libya (at least in part from Upper Heyford), it was Major League Baseball.

At the time I was at a school with around 200 kids per academic year. Baseball was adopted by 1% of us, myself and one of my best friends. We’d talk about the previous weeks highlights and look forward to the next with wild eyed anticipation, while listening to Billy Joel.

The playoffs were a fascination and the New York Mets were the team to watch. They fought so hard at times you almost thought it might overflow into the games themselves, and it did. The Mets of 1986 were nasty, arrogant, confident, brash and obviously incredibly unlikeable. I loved them.

The World Series win was the culmination of a season of battering all-comers into submission and surely 1987 would be the same. An overriding memory of this time is the ticket tape parade in Manhattan and the worry to this day of whom exactly would be clearing up all that mess and how long would it take.

1987 saw the release of my baseball bible, The Book of Baseball, a Channel Four book in the UK compiled by Derek Brandon and Jim Marooney. The Book of Baseball told me everything, from terms I’d never heard before to baseball history, team biographies, how to grip different pitches and even my favourite thing, a list. I love lists, the list here was a beautiful list of all the League Champions and World Series winners and I devoured this kind of thing. This type of information was very hard to find. Did anyone else at school know which four golfers had won a career grand slam of majors?

Of course not, but then no one else had taken the history books from each golf major from Coventry City Library and waded through the years to find out. Lazy. For the record, it was at the time Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus. Hogan could have had the grand slam in a single year yet the British Open and USPGA were held only a couple of weeks apart and it was impossible to travel in that time between the continents so he had to settle for the British Open and just the three, it was 1953. I now knew that in the same year the Yankees beat the Brooklyn Dodgers 4-2 in the world series.

The complication of how to follow a sport on a different continent was now upon us, most games being played late at night and with no obvious broadcasting options. I studied as hard as possible, taking every baseball book from the previously mentioned city library and reading every last word, even the boring ones. At one point I managed to find a baseball magazine, but only once, it seemed that subsequent copies would need to be purchased in faraway London. The rumours at the time were that baseball was broadcast on American Armed Forces radio but alas I could never find the coverage or any American radio in the Midlands, possibly due to my equipment but much more likely being locked out by Russian sleeper agents.

Then things got weird, the Minnesota Twins won the world series. The Minnesota Twins. As far as I could make out, Minnesota wasn’t really even a place and don’t start me on the name Twins. I mean, I obviously knew they’d lost to the now Los Angeles Dodgers in 1965, but it seemed unlikely and slightly confusing. My friend and I had advanced to baseball practice, which in reality was catch, played with a rounders ball and a kids baseball glove I managed to find in a sports shop in Birmingham.

Christmas 1987 would be a musical watershed for me. Until this time my musical taste had been developing slowly though I was now discovering heavy metal. Santa Claus brought me the audio cassettes of The Joshua Tree, Paul Simon’s Graceland and Whitesnake 1987. As the year progressed I ran out of baseball books to read and concentrated on metal. My first Deep Purple album was Fireball, closely followed by the more obvious Machine Head and the seminal In Rock. My first Motorhead album was Rock n Roll. For anyone listening along, now is the time to play Demon’s Eye by Deep Purple and Lemmy’s Eat the Rich.

1988 provided my first live music, highlighted by the Donington Monsters of Rock festival, headlined by Iron Maiden, almost ruined by Kiss and ignited by pre first album Guns N’ Roses. Baseball was confined to highlights, though by now I could recite the 1986 Mets roster, something I can’t do anymore, also now and then there might be a Times newspaper spotted on a train which might even have a box score (very rare) but at the very least daily scores from 2 nights ago and potentially divisional standings. My first Deep Purple album was purchased, entitled Nobody’s Perfect, if you we’re asking, which you weren’t. Dodgers beat the Mets in the NLCS to my obvious dismay then dramatically win the world series to etch themselves into my baseball memory.

The 1990s came round really fast (despite parachute pants) and the Mets appeared unlikely to ever win again and the Oakland Athletics looked like they may never lose. I even drew a picture of Jose Canseco which I think I still have somewhere in the house, the pose being very similar to that of the MLB logo which always reminds me of that drawing. In 1994 and 1995 I had starting working and was part of a management program that would take me to see local lectures and site visits of businesses in the North East of England, memorably a factory that makes military tanks, a cigarette factory and a bizarre lecture at Durham University about something called the ‘world wide web’. Ridiculous.

I sat with around 10 others on a hot sunny evening at Durham, gazing out at the railway bridge. I expect, the lecturer was going on about some kind of technological revolution but it was difficult to see. At the start of the lecture the professor had fired up his computer, projecting the image onto an overhead projector, proceeding to advise us that he was receiving a satellite image of the weather system over the UK, the image supposedly projected in front of our eyes in real time. It took an hour and a half for half a pixelated image of clouds, we were less than enthusiastic, the bearded man then explained that the future was websites, individual addresses for companies and businesses where you could visit and see advertisements and the like, apparently it would be wise of us to register famous companies potential web addresses so that they’d have to buy them from us later, there being only around 10 worldwide companies with web addresses at this time. We didn’t, obviously. I mean, there is no way this was a vision of the future. Around this time, I also purchased one of those mobile phones shaped like a Mars bar, nobody else I knew even had one, probably not even Lemmy or Ian Gillan.

Most of the 1990s was spent considering exams, women and metal music, though not necessarily in that order. My grasp of the nuances of baseball was slipping due to lack of access and the 1990s was only really able to help with the odd baseball movie here and there. 1997 apparently is when baseball started on Channel 5 in the UK. Finally, full games of baseball on the TV which almost nobody wanted to watch at a time of night when most people couldn’t, it was genius programming. I watched as much as I could, which wasn’t much, but it was something and it meant that my knowledge progressed beyond the simplest of stats and rules.

By now, work was allowing me more travel, sometimes even to big cities where a copy of USA Today might be spotted and the delight of standings, box scores and the odd written report. Names of players and managers were getting more exposure, becoming more familiar and starting to register among synapses and neurons and brain architecture of all kinds.

The year 2000 was my final year in the bitter north, having decided to move somewhere with a little more diversity, having been working in a car plant of five thousand employees of which there were five Japanese men and a Spaniard. I had also managed to acquire satellite television and could enjoy sports and films galore at odd times of the day.

The World Series approached and the dream series was achieved, Mets vs Yankees in the biggest battle for New York since Snake Pliskin. It took me a couple of days to work out what the circular coloured numbers were, having never been to NYC I had yet to realise the New York Subway motifs and I was slow on the uptake. This really was one of the most exciting things to happen, at least since the 90s grunge explosion and I hadn’t yet seen W.A.S.P. at Rock City, I had no idea how to manage this logistically. In the end I decided to watch the first 3 or 4 innings of each game, record the rest on VHS tape (annoyingly VHS tapes typically being three hours long meant extra innings could be observed by my neighbours in expletives), I’d then wake up at 5am to watch the end of the game. I was so tired at one point that I almost went to work at 6.30pm until I realised that despite being dark it was too warm. Disappointment was greater than Coventry City’s loss to Sutton United in the F.A. Cup, yet the Mets were back, right?

Not quite, it would seem. Much as I’d gone to a Deep Purple gig at the NEC only for Richie Blackmore to not turn up, the Mets didn’t really turn up for the early part of the 2000s and coverage became morning internet checking due to work constraints and social activities. 2006 had ended poorly for the Mets and Carlos Beltran but as the young David Wright and Jose Reyes combined with Castillo, Carlos Delgado and an ageing Pedro Martinez, all were showing their class and the future looked bright.

In 2007 I moved from a town in Surrey with a population of 18,000 to Mexico City, with an approximate population of 25,000,000 and from sea level to a mile and a half in the sky.

I agree this is unconventional, and we won’t go into the details here. Neither will we discuss the effort and patience required in order to obtain home internet in a Central American City with an unrefined service culture. The cursing would render this passage unreadable. With the internet came epiphany, the sudden realization that I was on the same time zone as Chicago and only an hour behind New York meant that live baseball coverage would be become reality rather than a dreamlike trance at 3am. Of course my newly acquired camera phone was not yet internet ready, we’d need a few more iterations for that to become normal, but the wonders of the internet allowed me to listen to Mets radio broadcasts with relative ease.

I could leave work at the start of the game and be home for the third inning and my knowledge of more detailed stats and players was becoming almost as worrysome as my intense dislike of certain opponents. Also at this time the Podcast scene was starting to grow as MP3 players became more versatile, I could now listen to Mets podcasts at my leisure and learn even more, now getting involved in the discussions of signings and trades and the growing farm system, led by huge prospects such as Fernando Martinez and Jon Niese.

I had booked a trip to New York City with my then girlfriend (now wife) for October. This was to be my first time in the big apple and as the season progressed a subway series finale seemed entirely possible. In the end we were in Manhattan as the Red Sox and Josh Beckett crushed the Rockies. By 2010 I had survived two major bullpen season meltdowns for the Mets and started to get really excited for 2009 when the Mets went for broke, signing 2 of the top 3 closers on the market and looking like favourites for the NL East. By 2010 I had satellite TV in Mexico and it was possible to watch MLB every day, yet less feasible due to growing family commitments.

In the following years smart phone technology allows us now to enjoy games on live video and audio anywhere in the world and highlights packages 24/7. I attended my first game at Citi Field in 2012, managing to catch Johan Santana’s complete game shutout in his final start before making Mets history and since then have been to more than a dozen MLB games, six different ballparks in two countries and seen ten different teams. I also had the pleasure of attending Florida Spring Training in 2017 and caught a Grapefruit League game. By the time the Mets surprised to reached the world series in 2015 I was listening to three or four different baseball podcasts per week and tuning in daily to watch or listen to my team, having followed the ups, downs, prospects, free agents and coaches with a keen ear/eye for the better part of a decade.

I live in constant hope that those Metropolitans can finally win another one before I’m too old to enjoy it, after all, more surprising things have happened.

My young son is showing power potential but his strike rate leaves a lot to be desired.

On a balmy Biscay afternoon in 2006 I walked into the lobby of the Sheraton hotel in Bilbao and a leather clad individual was on a computer and reading a document with the letterhead from a familiar sounding name, when I walked into the bar a certain Mr Ian “Lemmy” Kilminster was sat there drinking a whisky.

A few weekends back I finally saw Deep Purple in concert in Mexico City, fronted by Ian Gillan, in what is expected to be their final tour.

Meanwhile, the world has entirely moved on from comedy US presidents and the fear of global thermonuclear war……..oh, hang on.

“I haven’t ever had any ambition in my life. I just drift from day to day with a stupid grin on my face” – Ian Gillan




















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