My MLB journey began way back in 1986. While working in Dakar, Senegal, I took up playing softball with my North American friends. Their regular discussions around baseball led me to think the game was only played to create ever-more confusing statistics. How wrong was I?
And then it happened. I was asked by some very excited friends from my softball team (we played in red socks by the way!) to join them in watching my first baseball match. Game Six of the 1986 World Series, on a dodgy satellite link in the middle of the night at the US Embassy. Boston were 3-2 up and hot favourites to finish the job. What a game! The Mets’ wonderfully named Darryl Strawberry immediately caught the eye. But that Buckner moment has forever been imprinted on my brain, along with the massive disappointment in the room. I was hooked.
I saw my first live game while working in Ottawa, Canada. It was the Montreal Expos v San Diego Padres on Sunday 28 May 1989 at the Big O in front of 44,953 people. This was just three days after the Expos had traded legend Randy Johnson to the Mariners for the less than memorable Mark Langston. Langston got the win in a 10-2 Expos victory.
The uniqueness of baseball in Montreal has never been matched for me in the 30 years since. Happy memories as I was a regular visitor to Pie-IX in my four years in Canada.
My subsequent baseball journey took me back to Montreal many times until they moved to Washington, DC, in 2005. I have since become hooked on the Nationals, making annual pilgrimages to the nation’s capital and other points around North America. This obsession culminated in me spending a large chunk of my retirement pot to buy tickets for all three unsuccessful home games in the 2019 World Series. Even though they lost all three, I can honestly say they were the best sporting events I have ever attended. And, of course, at 04.49 am UK time on Thursday 31 October, the fight was finished. I’m still not sure how many neighbours were awoken with Michael Brantley’s swing and miss.
The growth of the internet, fantasy baseball and MLB.TV have made my experience ever- more exciting as the cellar dwellers turned into World Champions.
Little did I know way back in October 1986 that several characters that day would join me on my baseball journey: Spike Owen, Gary Carter (RIP), Oil Can Boyd and Mookie Wilson all played for the Expos. Mets manager Davey Johnson successfully managed the Nationals. Don Baylor (RIP) was the uncle of a work colleague of mine and very kindly got Stephen Strasburg to sign a game jersey and ball for me after hearing tales of,
“the crazy Brit who seems to know more about baseball than most Americans”.
To all British baseball fans – long may baseball remain our secret as we truly know the game to be the best in the world. I have given up trying to explain just why this is the case to the many non-believers. But at least there are a growing number of us who can discuss the statistics with the necessary passion and understanding that I first saw 34 years ago.
The season will soon be upon us so we can all marvel at last night’s amazing play, result, streak or record-breaking statistic. Although, I suspect my wife is far less excited at being bombarded, as soon as she wakes, with “Juan Soto has become the youngest player ever to score an inside-the-park home run with his left shoelace undone” or some such equally impressive feat.
Photo courtesy of Elsa, Tim Warner (Getty Images)
Kevin Orchard is a guest writer for Bat Flips and Nerds.
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