Baseball in Britain
We have all seen the huge, glamorous baseball stadiums in the United States, whether on television or even if you have been lucky enough to experience it first-hand. In Britain, we may not have those big stadiums in bright lights, but that does not mean the sport fails to exist in these parts. Baseball very much has a pulse in Britain.
First introduced in 1890, in Derby. Baseball peaked in Britain prior to World War II. Baseball teams frequently shared grounds with football clubs, with the game operating at a professional standard, attracting up to 10,000 spectators per game.
Historically, Great Britain beat the United States 4-1 in a five-game series in the 1938 Amateur World Series, which later became known as the World Cup of Baseball.
Since, Great Britain have been generally limited to finishing in the lower half of standings in competitions. Until 2007, when they won the silver medal at the European Baseball Championships, finishing top of their group and only losing two games all tournament.
This resulted in qualification for both the 2009 Baseball World Cup and the Final Qualifying Tournament for the 2008 Summer Olympics. However, Great Britain were forced to withdraw from the Final Qualifying Tournament due to UK Sport’s refusal to provide any financial backing.
This was Great Britain’s last chance to qualify for an Olympic baseball competition due to the IOC’s decision to remove the sport from the games after 2008. In the 2009 World Cup, team GB finished 15th overall. In 2016, baseball was reintroduced as an Olympic sport, and will feature at the 2020 games in Tokyo.
The British Baseball Federation (BBF) have acted as the governing body for baseball in the UK since 1987. In addition, the BBF are a federated member of both the Confederation of European Baseball and the International Baseball Federation.
Domestically, in 2014 there were 37 clubs, with 59 league teams as members of the BBF. With a reported 875 adult and junior players participating in the sport up and down Britain. In regards to league structure, there is a senior bracket for adults, and two youth brackets (ages 10 to 13 and 14 to 16).
The season begins in April, and ends in August, with the National Baseball Championships. Furthermore, National Youth Baseball Championships are held for the two youth brackets. The reigning champions in the senior bracket are the Southampton Mustangs.
On the incline, is baseball in British universities. At the end of the 2015/16 season, 20 universities hosted clubs. Additionally, the league set up for universities is set for expansion in the near future, and is expected to hold a similar set up to the BBF leagues. Loughborough University are in a dominant phase at present, having won the last three university championships.
The sport is certainly having a moment in Britain, in terms of growth. Possible international expansion for Major League Baseball (MLB) has been rumoured for a few years now, with Britain being one of the possible destinations mentioned. Like with the NFL in London, if the MLB expansion plans are true, it would undeniably boost the profile of the sport on this side of the pond.
With baseball being reintroduced into the Olympics in the near future, team GB are firmly setting their sights on being a part of the 2020 games in Tokyo. This could potentially push UK Sport to reinstitute some funding into British baseball. Moreover, the reasonably new purpose-built facility in Farnham Park, Buckinghamshire means that there is a designated headquarters for the sport in Britain now. On top of that, plans have been made to build a major facility in Manchester, due for completion in 2017.
The tools are certainly there at grassroots and elite level for the sport to take off in Britain, and here’s to hoping it does!
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