The Baseball Desert

Monday, November 17, 2003

Baseball, the Internet & me (Part I)

It’s a long story, but one which several people have asked me about, particularly since I started the blog. How the heck does an English guy end up as a crazy baseball fan? Well, here’s how it happened…

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away… Oh, sorry, that’s someone else’s story… Actually, it wasn’t that long ago, it was back in 1986 – half a lifetime for me, but not long in terms of, say, the history of the universe.

Anyway, I’d had a pretty straightforward upbringing as far as sports go – the holy British trinity of football (soccer), rugby and cricket. Soccer was my thing, both as a player and a spectator, but I also had a soft spot for cricket, with its slower rhythm and its slightly arcane rules and traditions. All three of these sports got extensive coverage on the main UK TV channels at the time (of which there were just 4 – this was before the explosion of cable and satellite), but one of the channels – Channel 4, a recent addition to the UK TV market – had a thing for American sports. I guess in part it was dictated by the fact that they had neither the money nor the influence to get TV rights to the three main British sports, but I also think there was a real desire to offer viewers something new and help American sports get a wider audience in the UK. Football (not soccer, football) was one of the first things they showed – there was a regular highlights show every week and live broadcast of the Superbowl every year. I watched the football, and I have to say that I liked it – I liked the atmosphere, I liked the fact that it was so different to anything I'd seen before, I loved all the team names (the Buccaneers, Patriots, Raiders, Jets etc. seemed made a nice change from all the Uniteds / Athletics / Towns that abound in British soccer…), I liked the uniforms and the helmets and the cheerleaders. However, the one thing that didn’t really grab me was the game itself. Part of the problem was that I obviously didn’t understand everything that was happening on the field. Channel 4 did their best to rectify that – they realised that probably 95% of their audience was new to the sport, and so there were plenty of explanations of the rules and tactics, but the truth is that it just didn’t grab my attention (at least as a sport – as entertainment it was second to none…). Maybe it was just a little bit too much like rugby (i.e. a contact sport with a really weird shaped ball…), and rugby was the one ‘big’ sport I’d played of which I’d never been a real fan.

Encouraged by the success of their football coverage, Channel 4 decided that UK sports fans were ready for a new challenge, and so that autumn I got my first real glimpse of baseball. I knew that baseball was out there somewhere on the other side of the Atlantic, I’d heard of Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio and the New York Yankees, but it was more in terms of just general cultural and sporting knowledge than anything else. To me back then, baseball was nothing more than a more complicated version of the game of rounders we used to play back in primary school (except that the baseball field was bigger, and they had funny pinstriped uniforms). And then I saw the 1986 World Series…

(In an effort to keep the Matrix-like suspense-level as high as possible, Parts II and III will follow later in the week...)

Part II