Goodnight and Good Luck, First Pitch Carroll

The British Baseball Federation announced this lunchtime that Men’s Senior Team Coach Liam Carroll would be leaving his post with immediate effect, ending a 16 year association with the national team programme as a player, administrator and coach.

It’s a marker of the esteem in which Liam is held that the GB baseball community – not always known for its spirit of fraternity – was this afternoon united in gratitude for Liam’s contribution to the growth of the game in the UK, and in well wishes for his onward journey.

For those unfamiliar with Liam, the legacy he leaves is enormous.

It is most obvious in his stewardship leading GB’s 2016 World Baseball Classic team to within one game of the big dance, losing only to an Israel side stacked with MLB stars and able to field a storied Major League starter in Jason Marquis.

GB’s squad that day included two future big leaguers of its own in Jazz Chisholm and Blake Taylor, as well as the current Giants coach and former Yankee Antoan Richardson. But it also fielded a school teacher in final game starter Spencer Kreisberg, and a part-time landscape gardener in Richard Klijn, as well as representatives of both the London Mets and Southampton Mustangs (one apiece).

The team represented everything that was good about Liam’s tenure – showing a spirit of togetherness highlighted by their viral stunt of singing ‘God Save the Queen’ (complete with cue cards) in Times Square, and embodied in their gritty 1-0 reverse of a Brazil squad helmed by Barry Larkin and featuring a dashing young shortstop named Bo Bichette.

Likewise, Liam held his own at the press rostrum alongside his esteemed colleagues Larkin and the legendary catching coach Jerry Weinstein, who oversaw Israel’s dream run. The enthusiasm and energy that were his trademark were on full display, as was the professionalism he brought to an unpaid, part-time post. This was a world-class, internationally respected coach who had earned the right to rub the shoulders in such rich company.

It is that professionalism which will be his legacy on the field. ‘The GB Way’, Liam’s vision of how to turn the country’s national programme from also-rans into a creditable international power is the codification of many years of ideas and thinking, and is viewed as a bible amongst his peers in the national coaching community. His message that his squads were here to ‘Inspire, Develop and Perform’ – and importantly that the inspiration was first amongst these goals – a personal creed that became a way of life for baseball players and coaches in the UK.

The fact that, amongst the outpouring of sorrow flecked well-wishes, it was easy to hear the voices of those coaches Liam has supported and consider how they will continue to support the growth of the national team, is itself indicative of Liam’s impact. In Will Lintern, Cam McHarg, Brad Marcelino, Drew Spencer and Jonathan Rodriguez, GB’s coaching remains in excellent hands.

That said, it is arguable that Liam’s presence off the field will be ever more of a loss to the sport in the UK. As alluded to earlier, British baseball can be a complex and polarising world but Liam is a uniquely unifying figure; able to see beyond the personal to strive for the best for his teams and for the sport at large.

He was thrust into this role most obviously as the unofficial spokesman for baseball, ahead of last year’s MLB London Series. If it was a role he didn’t want, it never showed. As GB Baseball Press Officer Tom Flack put it at the 2019 London Series – ‘the man is always on’.

Indeed, he acted as a perfect advocate for the sport as attention dawned on it on the national stage – able to eloquently explain the joys and quirks of a game with limited neutral appeal in an engaging, charismatic and open manner, and to laugh off naive and foolish questions with good grace and humour. All publicity was good publicity, providing it had Liam out front…

Turning to the personal for a moment, I know I speak for all of the BFN team in noting that Liam’s appearance as a receiver of the first pitch on day two of the Series was perhaps the most emotional moment of our weekend. Liam made his first appearance on our podcast as far back as Episode 4, treating my nervous self with a kindness I didn’t deserve. Four years on and he’s our most regular guest – and we’re actually quite worried about our flow of future content , if we’re honest…

More than that, Liam became a friend; someone who we felt supported us as much as we did him.

It felt absolutely natural that we would lobby – tongues firmly in cheeks – for him to be involved in the games’ first pitch ceremony.

Still, claiming we had any influence on the decision would be a liberty too far. As a member of the MLB Europe team told me that weekend when asked about the decision – ‘who else would we get to do it? That man has earned the right to be out there in everything he’s done for the sport here.’

Typical of Liam, he declined to throw the pitch, ceding the limelight to Under 18 national team hopeful Ollie Thompson.

The fate of a Liam Carroll led 2020 World Baseball Classic Great Britain team will forever remain a great ‘what if?’. Rumours suggested that the squad which had begun to assemble in Arizona for this March’s games before events took over was the strongest ever seen – testament, perhaps, to its skipper’s growing reputation on the international stage.

Qualification, riding off the back of the sport’s signature moment on British soil, would have been quite the coup-de-grace for the sport’s most influential modern-era British coach.

Whatever he turns his hand to next, his place in the British baseball pantheon is nevertheless preserved – from the GB Way, to the trademark pencil behind his ear; from the WBC ejection to the Major League first pitch – the sport in GB has today lost a man of class, ideas and integrity.

Thank you Liam. Thanks for everything, mate.

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