After much drama, and more stress than I would ever care to experience again, we have made it to Phoenix for the World Baseball Classic!
Cancelled flights due to inclement weather, delays on our connecting flight to Heathrow and 13 hours of wondering if our bags made it into the plane after our literal sprint through the airport did not exactly make for a relaxing journey. But we’re here now, and yesterday was the first full day in Arizona.
The day began early as jet lag instructed my body to wake up at 3am local time, and the excitement led me to start planning out every possible scenario for the week ahead. Would I get to meet any players? How easy will it be to find any other like-minded Brits to get together with and share this experience?
I didn’t have to wait long for an answer to either question – As we were walking from the car park to the stadium to watch GB’s warm-up game against the Brewers, a staff member spotted our GB branded tops and “You know, GB are warming up right through here. You can go through if you want?” – An unexpected bonus addition to the day.
As we walked round the backfields, we could see Anfernee Seymour and a few others doing some outfield drills, and a small gathering of fans and families watching on.
We were met by the familiar faces of Chris and Alex Deacon – Alex is a 20-year-old product of the GB Baseball system, a pitcher with designs on getting in this team himself the next time we qualify.
I had briefly worked with Alex in my time as Ops Manager for the GB u18s and was enjoying a catch-up with him when none other than D’Shawn Knowles appeared with a challenge for him. “You beat me at Rock, Paper, Scissors. You can have this baseball.” He said, with a huge smile on his face. Alex accepted the challenge; he lost, but Knowles gave him the ball anyway. A fantastically friendly first interaction with one of the players – a good sign of things to come.
A few minutes later, Alex and I were talking through a few issues he’s been having with his change-up this year, and I get tapped on the shoulder. My travel buddy John has only flagged down Trayce Thompson, who is standing there waiting to meet me… What!?
Despite my internal teenage girl screaming in my head, I think I managed to play it cool in the moment. “Nice to meet you. Is it okay if I shake your hand?” He obliged, smiled as John explained that I was a huge Dodgers fan and politely, if incorrectly, replied that it was nice to meet me too. Just like that, it was over, and I didn’t even think to get a photo, but I’m hoping I may get other opportunities. We will see.
Then it was time to head into the stadium. Thanks to the BBF I had got lucky, and my seat in Block 106, Row B, Seat 11, was right at the end of the GB dugout. Though, truth be told, this WBC warm-up game was well under 50% capacity, so I’m sure anyone could have sat anywhere within reason.
I shared the briefest of fistbumps with Head Coach Drew Spencer as I arrived, but I wasn’t about to overstay my welcome looming over their place of work. This was business time; the time for reunions will come later in the week.
There was a small, passionate gathering of fans around us. Notable mentions to BBF Board Members Tom Thornhill, Rich Evans and Mike Heywood (as well Chris Deacon, who I’ve already mentioned), the BSUK CEO John Boyd, and providing an impromptu play-by-play from the seat behind me, Russell Eassom from Batflips and Nerds. About halfway through the game, we were joined GB Baseball royalty in Alex Malihoudis. One of the best players to have ever come through the GB Baseball programme, now 43 but still playing over in Australia. He made a beeline for the dugout where he was embraced by Brad Marcelino and Jonathon Cramman, shortly before being told to return to his seat by a very polite Brewers staffer.
You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t spoken much about the game itself. This is probably a trend that will continue throughout the week, there are other people way more qualified, and people will be able to see for themselves by watching on BT Sport. I’ll be focussing my ramblings on the things you can’t see on the TV, the experience of being a fan. So far, that’s been pretty incredible… Except for $14 ballpark beers.
I’ve also noticed that the excitement is starting to build back home as well – mentions of organised watch parties right across the UK. I appreciate that I’m in a massively privileged position to be able to get out here and watch things for myself, but if I wasn’t, I’d think that heading to one of those would be a great (and far more affordable alternative).
Later today, we’re off to Surprise to watch the next warm-up game – This time, we are up against the Royals. #LetsGoGB