The following article relates to baseball in my native Britain and the intertwined nature of the various facets that constitute the baseball community there, including fantasy players. As a British expat now residing in America and a baseball fan, my primary aim was to produce an informative article sprinkled with some personal experiences and finally dusted with just a touch of humour. I hope you find the article of interest and look forward to any discussions stemming from it.
‘You might not think that’s cricket, and it’s not, it’s motor racing.‘ – Murray Walker, former F1 commentator.
Well Murray, this isn’t cricket either. It’s baseball.
But Murray can’t be expected to comment on baseball. He’s British. Every true British sports fan knows that baseball is just for the Yanks. Brits see it as impossible to understand, and not worth the effort of trying anyway. They haven’t seen it on the television, nor heard it on the radio and they certainly haven’t read about it in the Times whilst enjoying their toast and tea of a morning. It’s extremely unlikely that after checking the headlines on the BBC website, they are clicking to Yahoo! or ESPN to check how their baseball keeper league team fared overnight. All that being said, they probably do have a Yankee cap somewhere in the closet. What a world…
In the psyche of the average British sports fan, baseball does not exist. Cricket, on the other hand, is firmly established amongst the plethora of sports that constitute the fans daily media driven input and physical output of sport.
It’s pretty much the same concept, isn’t it? You’re aiming to hit the ball as hard as you can, just not towards the guys standing around in a different uniform to yours. Sounds about right to me.
Of course there are some minor differences – at Dodger Stadium you sprint around a diamond as opposed to back and forwards like you would at The Oval. You’re aiming not to be struck out in front of the Yankee Stadium disciples, as opposed to stumped in front of the Trent Bridge faithful. At Fenway, dispatching a home run over the Green Monster will get you an ovation, whilst at Lords, smashing a six into the alien space craft shaped Media Centre is what gets the punters on their feet. All very minor.
With its history, its coverage and its accessibility for those who wish to play, cricket rules over the bat and ball landscape like a blanket in Britain, with little more than a wrinkle of opposition from baseball. There is no surprise in this, and this situation is neither a criticism of the people of Britain nor the sport of baseball. It’s the way things are, the lay of the land.
But baseball does exist in the UK. I’m testament to that. I was in love with the game long before I packed my bags and hopped the pond with a one-way ticket. There is a relatively small community and pool of interest, spanning participants, television viewers, and fantasy players, and it is intriguingly intertwined.
In terms of participation, the British Baseball Federation (BBF) oversees the game, and they are very positive about seeing upward trends in participation at all levels. There is a 7 team National League – non professional, but certainly a structured, functioning league. The British National Team will compete in the 2009 Baseball World Cup. Youth participation is increasing year on year under the gaze of the BBF and Baseball Softball UK. So from a grass roots level to international competition, baseball is being played up and down the country.
In regards to media and television coverage – it’s there, but you have to work for it! The largest and insurmountable barrier to people in Britain watching the MLB is the time difference. Sure, there is always the DVR, or dare I say it, VCR option, but who enjoys watching pre-recorded sport? For all but a week of the year, Britain remains 5 hours ahead of EST. The pleasant schedule of finishing work, grabbing a pre-game bite and a beer, all in time for a 7:05pm start in the Bronx is a coffee fuelled, red eyed, 12:05am start marathon for the British fan. West Coast baseball? Forget about it…
For those devoted few, there are a few options. MLB.tv is an option, and as long as the pound stays strong against the dollar, a good one. A subscription to the North American Sport Network is costly, but guarantees a handful of live and replayed games each week. The terrestrial channel, Five, shows two live games a week, plus all the World Series games. This twice weekly show is the pinnacle of the baseball scene in the UK. With a small, dedicated audience who often interact with the show by email and two absolute enthusiasts for the game presenting, it’s a joy to watch. For the game action, they cut to the feed and commentary from the US broadcaster and then it’s back to the London studio for analysis. The two presenters, Johnny (Braves fan) and Josh (Red Sox) along with Producer Eric have an annual pilgrimage across the mighty Atlantic, taking in a game in a different city each day for a week. The highlights of their exploits and experiences are spliced into a feature, and it really is great viewing. I used the word ‘pilgrimage’ a couple of sentences ago – never has a word seemed so fitting.
It is common to see members of BBF as studio guests on Five’s MLB coverage. Here they are given the opportunity to address the existing baseball fan base in Britain and promote their organizations goals and achievements, chief of which is participation in the sport. Who is a better group in the adult demographic to target than the avid fans of the sport?
On a personal note, I miss the show now that I am a US permanent resident. When I was preparing to move over here, the very last thing I thought I would miss about the UK was… baseball!
Finally, there is fantasy baseball. It goes without saying that British fans can utilize the same on-line resources as fantasy players from all around the world. What I want to focus on is a fantasy service specifically designed for British fans. Fantasy Baseball UK runs a service where players pick their team based on a team salary cap with each player having an individual value. This system is commonly used in the ever popular fantasy soccer played in Britain. According to Fantasy Baseball UK, there were 4047 teams registered for the 2008 season.
The fantasy service in discussion is promoted on the MLB programme broadcast on Five. The presenters and guest celebrities have teams, and weekly updates are provided about the top performing players. The game is free to play if you just register one team, but there is a £4.99 charge for registering a second team. Part of this fee goes to the Baseball Softball UK organisation, completing the circle between the media, the participation promoting bodies and fantasy baseball.
Baseball in Britain – a small, tight knit community, reliant on mutual cooperation as it works towards the shared goal of increasing the footprint of baseball on the British sporting landscape. I thoroughly support this goal, and here’s hoping a Great Britain victory in the 2009 World Cup can provide a momentum injection. One can hope, one can always hope.
Thanks for reading.
Here are a couple of links for anyone interested in any further reading:
Many questions have developed or been rekindled in my mind whilst writing this article. How much of British baseball interest actually stems from temporary foreign workers? Would an MLB series being played in the UK significantly increase the British appetite for baseball? Would a shorter game produce a product more popular in the UK, as happened with cricket and it’s 20/20 games?
I’d be interested to hear your opinions.
Ben is 31 years old, born and bred in Britain before moving to America in the summer of 2008. He taught himself the rules of baseball by sitting up long into the night watching the 2001 World Series and has been a fantasy player for the last 3 years. He's married with a very understanding wife, a lively step son, a ridiculous dog and a hyperactive clumsy kitten. He is new to the Cafe and posts under the username Fighting Platypi
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