Sundays between April and August can be quite relaxing in the United Kingdom. Some people decide to take a stroll, seeking solace in nature, some prefer brunch at the local cafe, and others simply keep their dressing gown on from dawn to dusk.
However, while a lot of the country is busy brewing their morning coffee, there’s a foolhardy group of people that are on the move. From Cornwall to Cardiff and all the way through to Aberdeen, Sunday is British baseball day.
At 9am cars full of people, baseball bats, and cooler boxes are on the move. Some will have been up for three hours already, working out who they’re picking up first, while others are sitting in the back, eyes closed and regretting the final drink they had the night before. Occasionally, a team might even travel in convoy, the way youth football teams did in the 90s – before every phone was also a sat nav.
The familiar visit to a motorway service station or a quick wait in the queue for a Mcdonalds’ drive-through certainly can sound monotonous, but that’s where the bonds of a team can be forged. It’s there that teammates learn that one person can eat two bacon and egg McMuffins before going on to have a five-hit day, or that a diet of four energy drinks gives someone enough buzz to steal two bases every time they reach first.
When 11am rolls around, the two teams begin sizing each other up for the day. But first, the away team gossip and reminisce about the last time they played at the destination laid out in front of them. Remember that double hit to left field? The sloped outfield? Or the home team pitcher who grew up in the States?
Then there’s the field. Most grounds in the UK now come with a mound of some description, but it’s not a guarantee… does it matter though? Simply playing baseball scratches that itch.
The L-screen is dragged out from whatever the home team has managed to secure for storage, and team batting practice begins in earnest. Some of the smarter hosts will have arrived a little early, meaning this is the second time they’ve been through their batting order, and their bats will be a little warmer when the first pitch is thrown. Then there’s the infield warm-up, and it quickly emerges who is feeling sharp and who would prefer to play in the second game of the weekly double header.
Finally, it’s time to play baseball. It’s at that moment that you look around and feel that pride in being part of a team. It’s at that moment that you realise it was worth taking hundreds of ground balls from January through to April. And it’s at that moment that you’re thankful for the innumerable hours put in by the volunteers that keep British clubs ticking over.
Those volunteers are people with all levels of experience. From people like Jose Lopez in Bournemouth, who now provides excellent coaching after playing minor league ball in the USA, through to the 2023 British Baseball & Softball Volunteer of the Year winner, Abi Battisto, of the Leicester Diamonds, and those who simply strive to grow the game in the UK based on a passion for the sport.
Nearly every region has a team now, and every one of those teams will have dedicated volunteers like those mentioned above. There are more and more new teams coming into existence, from Warwickshire through to Edinburgh and even down here in the sunny New Forest. These clubs need scorers, sponsors and most of all, they need committed players.
Which is a fantastic segue to ask, “why haven’t you given baseball a try yet?”
For every new player that steps onto the diamond and fields their first ground ball, there’s no doubt a whole host of other people who would love to give it a go, but for whatever reason, they’re not there yet.
Well, this is the season to change that. Nearly every club wants new players, and nearly every one of them will be running some form of open training session. It can be daunting, but at this time of year, there’ll be other new people who are giving baseball a shot for the first time. You’ll very rarely need any equipment, at least to start with, and the British baseball community is full of generous people who will undoubtedly be ready to help.
It took me a long time, and a pandemic, to decide to give it a go. The welcome I got from Jose and others in Bournemouth meant that I was hooked within weeks. I went on to build friendships that have helped to create the New Forest Thunder Knights (beat that for a name), and we’re hoping to extend baseball’s reach through a national park and beyond in 2023.
But aside from all of that, the thing I’m most looking forward to is that first trip to Warminster Services on our way to play Bristol. That means baseball is back, and Sundays have a purpose again.
Go on, give it a go…!
Featured image of the Bournemouth Bears against the Bristol Badgers. Photo by Emma Harris.
This is the debut article from Andy Moore, who will be giving us more insights during the season and hopefully a few articles on the Toronto Blue Jays. You can follow Andy on Twitter @ajmoore21