Friday, June 26, 2009

BaseballGB - a hub for the best British baseball writing

The latest interview is with Matt Smith, of Baseball GB, a site/conglomeration of the best of baseball writing in the UK. Matt is one of them of 6 that keeps the site going.

They have regular features every week:

My Sunday column: ‘Weekly’ hit ground ball,

Our ‘Weekly BST guide’ every Monday morning, providing details of games you can follow live at a convenient hour via,

A round-up of results and interesting developments from the British league,

‘You are the Scorer’ - a scoring question to think about every Friday lunchtime,

Joe’s ‘Web pick of the month’,

Book reviews - no sport can match baseball when it comes to the sheer quality of books that it inspires. We regularly add to our collection of comprehensive book reviews designed to help British baseball fans decide on their next purchases, covering classics that everybody should own, latest releases and quirky finds that we think you may enjoy as well. If you are a publisher and would like us to review any new offerings, please get in contact.

Full Articles - We do write substantial posts in the normal website format, but when we want to go into a bit more detail, especially with graphs, tables and pictures, we publish them in our BGB Full Article pdfs.
The purpose of the blog:

BaseballGB is a site dedicated to writing about baseball from a British perspective.

There are three broad aims:

to write about baseball in a way that will encourage sceptical (and often cynical) Brits to embrace this great sport,

to be a place where established British baseball fans can enjoy reading posts and articles about the sport written by their compatriots,

to provide an alternative view on the world of baseball, complementing the many other great websites about the sport, that will appeal to all baseball fans regardless of their nationality.
Their history:

BaseballGB began life on the Wordpress network back in February 2006 before moving to this domain in April 2007. Previous posts can be accessed via the Archive page. It started as my own blog about baseball, but I always hoped that other Brits would be encouraged to join in. One year ago, Joe Gray came on board bringing with him great expertise on scorekeeping and baseball in Britain. More recently, Mark George and Russell Dyas have also joined up so that we can offer more regular content and a variety of different viewpoints.
They are also deeply involved with other projects, to include the Great Britain Baseball Scorers Association website (which also has a Twitter feed), including stats for the British Southern League and GB National teams, as well as the Project Cobb site that aims to chronicle the history of British baseball.

What they cover:

While we have our own unique writing styles, what really makes BaseballGB stand out is the mix of baseball topics that we cover.

Major League Baseball is naturally the primary competition that we focus on, but
we also devote a substantial amount of words to the British scene (from the games played in the National Baseball League to off-the-field developments at British baseball clubs), international competition, fantasy baseball and life generally as a baseball fan in Blighty. We write about any news items or stories that capture our imagination as they happen, as well as producing useful resources (such as our Baseball Basics for Brits guides) and the occasional month-long season of articles and posts (such as our Keeping Score Season in February 2009), all alongside a host of regular features.
I'm at the site a couple of times a day or more, and have found out that as much as I think I know about baseball, I can still learn something new every day.

So, now on to the interview:

1. Tell us a little about yourself?

Well, my name’s Matt and I’m a twenty-six year old baseball fan from Norwich, England.

2. What is your baseball background?

I started watching baseball back in 1998 after seeing it in the TV listings one week. I was hooked from the start, in no little part due to Five’s excellent coverage, and have continued watching and learning about baseball ever since.

3. Why baseball vs. cricket/football/rugby?

For me, it’s not a case of baseball versus the traditional British sports. I’m a sports fan first and foremost and enjoy watching all four of those listed as well as others. I remember reading an article in the Sunday Times last year where a columnist was praising a baseball writer (can’t remember who unfortunately) and saying how wonderful they made the game sound, but that we (i.e. Brits) already have cricket: the implication being that we therefore don’t need baseball. I don’t understand that attitude for a second. Why settle for one great bat-and-ball game when you can enjoy two?

4. Can baseball coexist with those other sports and succeed?

I think the main point here is what is meant by “succeed”. I very much doubt baseball will ever match the popularity of those traditional British sports, but I certainly think it can live alongside them at a more modest level. There is a protectionist attitude in all established sports which can make them weary of others (like baseball) invading on their patch, but I think we now live in a society where people expect to have greater choice. Even if only a small minority of people want to be involved in baseball, it should be possible for them to have access to facilities to do so. If that means only having 59 football pitches in one area instead of 60, with the other space given to baseball, that should be achievable.

5. What is the biggest obstacle to baseball in Great Britain?

There are many factors that come into play, particularly logistical ones such as lack of funding and facilities, but it all comes back to the standard preconception many Brits have of baseball. Most just see it as a silly American game (‘glorified rounders’) and dismiss it without even giving it a chance. That’s probably the biggest frustration I have. There will always be a majority of people who decide that the sport is not for them, and that’s fine, but I’m sure that there are people out there who would get a lot of enjoyment out if it (watching, playing etc) if they would only look past their prejudice against the sport and give it a try. However, changing preconceptions is a difficult task.

6. What is causing baseball to move forward in Great Britain?

While I think BaseballSoftballUK does a decent job of pulling things together, it seems to me that the sport’s development still varies greatly from place to place. What moves baseball forward here is a group of people in any one location who have the dedication and ability to build up a successful club. Herts Baseball Club are a great example of this. They are gradually developing some very good facilities, they have built up their player pool so that they can field senior teams at all levels of the British league system and they run a well-organized Little League. Their efforts could well create a sizeable core of people in Herts who stay in baseball for years to come (as players, senior coaches, little league coaches, encouraging their friends/neighbours/children to take part etc). There are other clubs out there doing the same great work and it is they who will take baseball forward at a local level. If enough are able to do it, then the national scene will gradually go from strength to strength. It’s not easy and a lot of hard work is involved, but it’s possible to build up the sport here.

7. How much is not having baseball in the London Olympics going to hurt the game?

It is a massive blow for the game in this country. The benefits of baseball (and softball) being part of the 2012 Games would have been wide-ranging. Team GB would have automatically qualified for the tournament, which would in itself have been great for British eligible ballplayers. It would have been a way to showcase the sport to people in this country, helped in obtaining funding and sponsorship and possibly resulted in the legacy of a dedicated baseball/softball stadium in the capital (this was the plan originally, although some of the legacy facilities now seem to be under threat due to budget constraints so that might not have happened ultimately).

8. In 2008, Great Britain didn’t send its baseball team to the Olympics (even though they finished 2nd in the European Cup – I have to check those facts unless you know) because the committee said it couldn’t afford the £25,000. What do you want to say to that?

[Note: Team GB finished second in the 2007 European Baseball Championships, meaning they qualified for the Final Olympic Qualifying tournament – only the Euro winner, in this case the Netherlands, qualified automatically for the full Olympic tournament. The cost of attending would have been around £40,000-50,000]

It was yet another very disappointing development, following the de-selection of baseball from the Olympic programme. Team GB had performed brilliantly in the European Championships and had fully earned the chance to take part in the Final Qualifier. To have that opportunity taken away due to lack of funds was a great shame and the feelings of some of those involved were recorded in several Q&As we published at BaseballGB with Team GB representatives over the recent offseason.

The British Baseball Federation did all they could to try and raise the funds, even getting some media coverage in the national press (The Daily Telegraph covered it for one), but the sport’s low standing in Britain made it a very difficult task. Apparently it was considered unlikely that Team GB would qualify for the full Olympic tournament, and particularly to win a medal when they got there, so funding wouldn’t be released from most of the likely channels. Both assumptions were probably fair enough, but making the Final Qualifier itself was a big step for the sport in this country and it was very sad that this was not recognised.

9. What American team do you support, and why?

Oakland A’s. They were one of the first teams I saw on TV (may have just been on the highlights rather than a featured live game) and I was instantly caught by their uniforms, which included green and gold. My local football team, Norwich City, play in green and yellow and as I had no other reason to pick an MLB team, that seemed as good as any!

10. What British team do you support and why?

I’ll be smarmy and say I support them all.

11. Who is your favourite player?

Not sure I’ve got one really. I guess Tony Gwynn would be up there for retired players that starred when I started watching. He was a great hitter and genuinely seemed like a good guy who just loved playing baseball. I remember watching a feature on him talking to Ted Williams about hitting, which was absolutely fascinating. As for current players, the A’s don’t have anyone that stands out at the moment so I think I’ll go for Albert Pujols.

12. What is you first baseball memory?

I remember watching a game on Five during my first season back in 1998 when Randy Johnson was on the mound (I wrote about this on BaseballGB recently). The combination of his name and unique appearance (very tall, ‘mullet’ hair style etc) immediately caught my attention but it was one pitch that he kept throwing that really grabbed me. The announcers kept referring to his ‘slider’ and at the time I was only beginning to learn about the game, but I knew just how devastating that pitch could be after that game had finished.

13. What is your best baseball memory?

Seems strange to say this as an A’s fan, but seeing the D-Backs win the World Series in 2001 would probably be the top memory. I had seen three World Series up to that point and all had been won by the Yankees. To see Arizona finally break the run was a great moment. That was a classic series.

14. What is your all-time line-up?

I’ll limit this to players that I’ve watched since 1998 (not necessarily the best players, but the ones I’ve enjoyed watching)

C: Ivan Rodriguez
1B: Albert Pujols
2B: Craig Biggio
3B: Eric Chavez (when not injured!)
SS: Omar Vizquel
LF: Manny Ramirez (recent drug-taking allegations aside!)
CF: Ken Griffey Jr
RF: Tony Gwynn

Pitchers: Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Johan Santana, Barry Zito (the Cy Young version!), Mariano Rivera.

15. How did you get involved in the blog?

I’ve always been a keen writer so it was probably inevitable that I would end up writing about baseball at some point. I started a blog in March 2006 designed to be a forum for my own views on the latest news and to write about life as a British baseball fan, but I always intended for it to turn into something much broader, with other British writers coming on board. Like most ventures, it started with me looking for something, not finding it and deciding to do it myself.

16. What do you hope to accomplish with it?

My aim is to make BaseballGB a website that touches on all parts of baseball that may interest a British fan, all in one place, whether they are new to the sport or have been following/playing it for years. We write about MLB, British baseball, European/International baseball, fantasy baseball, baseball coverage in the UK, life as a baseball fan in Britain and much more. Over the last year, the site has developed with the additions of writers like Joe Gray, who is heavily involved in British baseball, and Mark George, who plays in the British league and is also an experienced fantasy baseball manager.

Although it’s run on blogging software, it’s now rather un-blog like in the sense that we have regular features (weekly columns about MLB every Sunday, a guide to ‘early’ MLB games every Monday, ‘You are the Scorer’ every Friday lunchtime etc) and other resources (longer articles, book reviews, my ‘Baseball Basics for Brits’ series).

Baseball is very much a minority sport here and I think encouraging the growth of a baseball community is also extremely important. Five’s MLB coverage was instrumental in this, as are other websites such as the UK MLB Supporters Forum and the FantasyBaseballUK competition. Hopefully BaseballGB also plays a part in building up that community, with British baseball fans being able to read British baseball writers. If we can in any way help fellow Brits to enjoy the game, and particularly to encourage inquisitive newcomers to the sport, we’ll be happy.

17. What is the future of British baseball?

It’s difficult to say. There have been many false dawns over the years and the lack of Olympic funding will continue to count against the sport. I do think there is a place for baseball in Britain though and it’s up to those of us that enjoy the sport to do all we can to help it grow.

18. A European league: fantasy/reality/necessity?

It sounds a good idea in theory but, like anything, it depends on exactly how it is organized. Having some regular baseball that brings together the best players in Europe would be a good thing both for the development of the players and as a drawing card for fans. Maybe even Eurosport would support it? The sticking point would be, as ever, financing the competition and the logistics (where would it be played? over what time period? etc).

19. What is your opinion of Channel 5 not showing baseball this year due to ‘financial’ reasons?

It’s terrible news. Not only does it mean that the sport has no presence on free-to-air TV in Britain (making it very difficult to draw new fans to the game), but the previous coverage was fantastic and is greatly missed.

Five’s decision came as a shock in some respects as they have backed baseball (and other North American sports) for many years. However, we’re all aware of the impact that the current economic climate is having on broadcasters (advertising plummeting etc) and if baseball and the rest of the sports didn’t pull in many viewers, you could understand why they were cut. It’s much cheaper to run rubbishy repeats at two in the morning rather than pay for a studio, presenters, production crew etc. Personally I feel cutting some of the few pieces of unique coverage in your portfolio is a false economy, but there we go.

Matt, many thanks for taking the time to do this. It's very much appreciated. Good luck with everything, and my personal thanks for keeping me entertained, and on my toes, with the information.

I would like to point out, again, that another all-time team has no DH. Life can be sweet at times.


Matt Smith said...

Hi Ron. My pleasure. Thanks for profiling our website here on your great blog.


Kevin said...

As a Yankee fan I can tell you that the 2001 World Series never happened.

And why the hatred of the DH? When I see a NL pitcher laying down a sac bunt when there is already an out, this proves the worthlessness of a pitcher batting.
I thank the baseball gods every day for the DH.....and the ballpark hotdog.....and Jeffry Maier.....and Chris Chambliss.