I had branded this holiday as “the trip of a lifetime”, sometimes that can be a tough billing to live up to – but so far, every expectation that I’ve had has been exceeded. Honestly, what a rush this whole experience has been so far!
It’s no secret that John and I had pre-planned a few attention-grabbing outfits – but we honestly didn’t expect anything like the reception that we have received. Grown men from all over the world shouting, “Hey GB… Can I grab a selfie with you!?”
Others have thrust their infant children into our arms without saying a word as they take a few steps back to snap the scene. It’s hard to say how many photos we may have posed for, far too many to count with any precision, but we must be well into three figures by now.
As well as the photos, we’ve been interviewed by two news crews and a few baseball bloggers, and I’ve got a scheduled Zoom call with the Sports Gazette in London in a few hours. And every time we got on the game broadcast yesterday, my phone started lighting up with notifications. It might not exactly be our five minutes of fame, but we’re enjoying the opportunities our appearance has provided to meet baseball fans from all over the world.
The fans out here have been amazing – unsurprisingly, most don’t know that we play baseball in the UK. They are fascinated by the idea of us rolling out construction fencing each week and not having too many purpose-built facilities. I showed one an aerial photo of Norman Wells Ballpark in Liverpool, where I play my home games. His response was “That is awesome, man. It looks like it’s straight out of the 1950s or something,” and you know what? He isn’t far off.
We’ve unofficially made The Crown Public House on East Jefferson Street our base of operations for the week – before, after and in-between games. The team there have been great – really looked after us and the atmosphere there yesterday in the build-up to Mexico v USA was insane.
We were sat outside on their terrace watching an endless parade of fans – seemingly 60-70% Mexican – make their way to the stadium for the game. Frequently, rival chants of “U-S-A” and “MEX-I-CO” would ring out simultaneously, and the hairs on the back of my neck would stand up in anticipation of what was to come.
Inside the stadium, you would have forgiven for thinking that this game was taking place in Mexico City rather than Phoenix, Arizona. There seemed two Mexico fans for every one USA fan, and each of those Mexicans was louder than their counterparts. We simply don’t get this kind of passion and excitement in the UK, whichever sport you choose to watch. The noise was deafening, and I loved it.
As the game went on, the Mexicans had plenty more to shout about, which only amplified this situation. This reached its peak when Joey Meneses launched a three-run jack (his second homer of the game) and delivered an epic bat flip to extend their lead to 7-1 in the top of the fourth inning.
I’m not sure any other game in this tournament will match the atmosphere that we experienced last night, but the results are shaping up nicely for an exciting conclusion to pool play. Colombia shocked Mexico on Day One, and Mexico, in turn, shocked the USA the next day – four teams have one win after two days of play, and everybody expecting an easy progression for Team USA has been proven wrong. They are in for a battle.
Three days of play remain; so many possibilities. Here we go!
Ian Blease is providing unique fan insights from Phoenix for Bat Flips & Nerds. You can follow him on Twitter @BleaseDog