Last weekend I attended one of the rarest of treats here in London – a live baseball game. Now for those who didn’t think baseball existed over here, have I got news for you. Not only does Great Britain have a national team that competes in European tournaments, there are even amateur baseball league with full schedules. Most of my baseball experience here stems from Channel Five, which broadcasts most ESPN games that are nationally televised in American (i.e. Sunday night and Wednesday night games). Of course here the programming begins at 1 am, but it’s only a minor inconvenience in exchange for live baseball on TV and the enlightenment of Joe Morgan. In fact, I’m watching the Scott Mathieson get knocked around on the tele right now. What’s odd about baseball on a federally subsidized television channel is the fact that there are no commercials. So when American stations would normally cut to a word from their sponsors, the UK broadcast kicks it to two dudes in a studio who provide analysis of the last half-inning. The two dudes, Jonathon Gould and Josh Chetwynd, are actually minor celebrities in the close-knit baseball world over here. The team also responds to viewer emails, of which I’ve had a few read live on air – mostly coming in defense of Philadelphia fans and their distorted reputation (go figure). Anyway, the point of telling you about baseball on TV is because the broadcast clued me into a big international friendly that was to be played here in London which saw Great Britain lock horns with it’s cross-channel rival, Ireland.
Judging by the below-average performance of the European teams (Holland, Italy) in the inaugural World Baseball Classic, one wouldn’t expect much from two teams that didn’t even make it that far. But that doesn’t matter, baseball is baseball and I’ll take what I can get. The Irish team has an interesting Cinderella subplot going for it: although it’s only been competing internationally for 10 years, it has seen tremendous success. I was first informed of their story through our MySpace page, when we became friends with “Irish Baseball Movie.” The movie, entitled The Emerald Diamond, tells the story of how the rag-tag Irish National Team team was formed with hardly any experience or equipment but with more than enough excitement for the game. The movie was released to wide acclaim and for those in Philly there is a screening scheduled in the city on November 21. On to the game.
The game was played as a friendly, but more so as a warm-up match for Ireland who was slated to play this past week in the Pool B Qualifier for the European Championships in Antwerp. Great Britain had already qualified for the 2007 European Championships which was to be held in Spain. Not surprisingly given Ireland’s progression of success in international competition, the team from the Emerald Isle won the silver medal in Belgium. But prior to that, they had a triple-header against Her Majesty’s team on her home turf.
The game was played at the Finsbury Park Cricket Ground in Finsbury Park, north London. The cricket grounds have two baseball diamonds carved out, one for the amateur leagues I mentioned earlier and the other is home to the Little League London Mets. I arrived that Saturday afternoon just as the second game was ending. Ireland took the first one and Great Britain came back to tie up the series; both games finished 6 to 5. I found my seat on the grass just next to the Ireland bench as the players were returning from their between-games hot dogs and hamburgers. The third and final game, besides being the day’s rubber match, also held special significance for the aforementioned Josh Chetwynd. Josh, who is American, also happens to play for the British National team and this was his final game. He is a solid ballplayer, I’d have to say, and graciously ended his career with a hit in his final at bat.
The rest of the game was a bit uneventful. Ireland took an early lead, but as their pitching wore down in the seventh and final inning, Great Britain made a daring comeback.
Ultimately, though the home team fell short and Ireland won the game (6-5 again) and the series. Although the quality of play was well below MLB standards and aluminum bats were used, it was a well-contested match with very few fundamental errors. Like with minor league games in the States, one of the best reasons to go to a game such as this is the inexpensiveness of the outing: a hot dog cost a pound (approx. $1.80), a hamburger 2 pounds, a 440 ml can of Fosters 1 pound and a pint of refreshing Pimm’s just 2 pounds. The fans in attendance were mostly ex-pats like myself and were treated to a little slice of Americana. Among the Yanks (as we’re referred to here), the New York team of the same name was the most well-represented among those wearing baseball merchandise followed by the Red Sox, Nationals, and Dodgers. I was the only one sporting Phillies gear. No matter, though, the weather was beautiful, a cold beer was in-hand and a live baseball game was unfolding in front of me – no matter what country you live in, what more can you ask for? I mean, just look at these pictures.