September 20th, 2022. 10th inning. Germany. History was made. Great Britain’s national baseball team qualified for the World Baseball Classic for the first ever time.
The players will now have the opportunity to walk onto the iconic Chase Field in Arizona and go head-to-head with the world’s best in front of almost 50,000 fans. This nation is on the precipice of an eruption of popularity in this country, not to mention the added boost of the Cubs/Cardinals London Series returning to the Olympic Stadium in the summer of this year; the UK is going through a baseball revolution – all because Alex Crosby swung a wooden stick.
Ultimately, GB are one of the lowest-seeded teams in The Classic and have the odds stacked up against them. Yet, regardless of the outcome, Great Britain’s participation in the tournament will stand as a pillar for a foundation that will see the growth of baseball in the country.
Growing up, baseball was never in my personal vocabulary alongside my peers, regardless of age or location in the country. It was only when I had my ventures across the pond that I began to understand the inconceivable sporting culture of a gameday at the ballpark, which to many, is a usual pastime.
From stepping inside T-Mobile park for my very first taste of the game’s history. From learning of Ken Griffey Jr. making athletic plays to the right of where I sat, soaking it all in, to Ichiro Suzuki trotting around the bases after a walk-off homer against the Yankees.
And not to mention the food culture on full display during one of America’s oldest recreations – needless to say, my eyes were a LOT larger than my stomach…
It was not until the pandemic, being locked up all day, not knowing when I could next see people or return to the city, that I came across a baseball club in Bristol. I thought back to my experiences over the Atlantic and decided to take a plunge to pick up the glove myself.
In my first season, I went from expecting my week to be filled with practising my long toss for fun with some ex-cricketers and people looking for a new hobby to realising that there is a large, hardcore following of the sport in this country.
The training was professional and rigorous, the game days were exhausting, and the competitiveness was on another level. All I can say is that it was the best decision I have ever made.
However, my eagerness to play baseball stemmed from the fortunate chance to witness MLB games which, unfortunately, many British people are not exposed to. The Great Britain National Baseball Team is about to change the perception that baseball is just an ‘American sport’.
With over 100 different clubs all over the nation, baseball is a sleeping giant waiting to awaken and join the sporting traditions of across the UK and Ireland. I am sure that there are many who are unaware of baseball on their doorstep, but hopefully, GB’s involvement in ‘baseball’s world cup’ will expand the brand to new heights.
I cannot wait to hear from new rookies and fans whose first experience with the bat and ball was from watching the players of the national team and deciding that they want to join or create their own baseball club. I am looking forward to the day when a new player joins a club and tells the tale of growing up throwing around a ball with his father from a young age.
At this moment, baseball is not a professional sport in the UK; most clubs play their fixtures on grassy flats of land that they hire, use mobile plates, a makeshift backstop and sometimes an artificial mound just so they can play the beautiful game. Furthermore, clubs in the UK are not ‘owned’ per se; there is no ‘sugar daddy’ and certainly no large investment groups like Ilitch Holdings Inc.
British baseball clubs are funded through sponsors and their own players because there is a passion to PLAY, not to make money. However, the Great Britain National Team could be creating stepping stones that lead to a home run of professional paid work for the sport in Britain.
The national team’s recent success has the chance to be the first chapter of a story which has an ending of National Clubs in the UK playing in front of large crowds wearing their merch, purchasing food and drink as if it were a day at the footy and building a reputation that rivals major league clubs. Imagine fans tailgating in the car park at Somerdale before the Badgers take on the Rebeldes with the bleachers filled to the brim as opposed to going to Ashton Gate for a Robins fixture in the middle of the summer.
Great Britain has the opportunity to showcase and publicise the sport in this country; many Brits will tune into the World Classic and be inspired to pick up a bat and join a club with the hope that they can one day be on the biggest stage to play against the likes of Mike Trout and Ronald Acuna Jr. Or even better, to BE the next major league player.
So… on Saturday, 11 March, Great Britain face the USA. Destiny changes. History is made.
Let’s go GB!
Featured image photo by Sebastian Widmann/WBCI/MLB Photos via Getty Images
This is the debut article from guest contributor, Alex Lane-Kieltyka. You can follow Alex on Twitter @alex_elkay21