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You are here: Home Newsletter Examiner #9 - October 1997 How Did You Get Into Baseball?
How Did You Get Into Baseball?
SABR UK Examiner - Examiner #9 - October 1997
Written by Graham Winterborne   

As an English fan of American baseball, how many times have I been asked the question "how did you get into baseball?", or "why do you like baseball?". Ten times? One hundred times? A thousand?

Anyway, having experience in defending myself over the last few years, it got me thinking about really answering their questions, for them and myself. Why do I love baseball so much?

In 1989 my wife and I went to stay with her aunt and uncle near Toronto. Cecil, the uncle, was originally from Trinidad and also had lived in England. Since living in Canada, he had left his cricketing roots and started to watch and love baseball. Over the course of our two-week stay we watched many Blue Jays games on TV, but we couldn't actually be there because they were all sold out. Why didn't I follow Cecil's advice and go to a tout?

When I learned more about the game, one of the first facts that astounded me was that the teams played virtually every day for six months. Our soccer players complain about 40 or so games in nine months! Then the postseason - the World Series is not just one game but seven. Cecil said it was a bit like playing seven Cup Finals.

The TV taught me about the players, and particularly their chewing and scratching habits which seemed reached a height when they were at bat. I thought it was part of the rules that you had to adjust your crotch and spit copiously before batting. But I also left Toronto with an inkling of how the game was played, as well as a the hope of a Blue Jays pennant. As well as a hangover.

So when I got home I discovered that baseball was actually covered on UK TV, with the tardy but very welcome coverage on late night ITV. I saw my first World Series that autumn, and rooted for Oakland as they swept San Francisco. I had always been impressed with the power of Canseco and McGwire, the speed of Henderson and the stares of Stewart. Then I started buying whatever baseball things I could find: a Blue Jays cap, a World Series video, and The Baseball Book, which I found in the bargain bin.

Our next two visits to North America were to Florida. In those days it was baseball-free, but it was always on TV. More books, cards, caps, shirts, etc. were purchased to feed my ever growing addiction. Since then I have thirsted, not only for the day to day scores and news, but for information on the history of the sport. The English media coverage was inadequate, but has been improving ever since.

The first Major League game I actually attended was Baltimore at California in 1992. I immediately felt completely at home, and this helped convince me that my instincts were correct. I knew that baseball would become a lifelong passion.

There are several factors that drew me to the game. I had been a big cricket fan and followed Test Cricket avidly. But now I can't say when I last watched even an hour of a game. It is easiest to explain baseball to the British in comparison with cricket.

First of all, the sheer athleticism of players such as Roberto Alomar, the power of Albert Belle and the speed of Devon White can be matched by almost no cricketers, apart from some West Indians and, perhaps, Ian Botham. Baseball excels in sheer athleticism.

Second: In cricket the first inning, even of a five day game, can decide the course of the game. How often is this true in baseball? With nine innings instead of two, there is much more scope for lead changes and final dramatic finishes. The fact that baseball teams usually play each other three or so days in a row mirrors the three-day game in cricket. But in approximately nine hours of baseball, you get three results. In cricket, you might not get one. In baseball you get a positive (or negative) result, and then get have another chance tomorrow. The lack of a time limit in baseball leads to fascinating possibilities. Can a baseball game ever go on forever?

Third: The history of the game fascinates me. Most English are surprised to learn how old the organised and professional game of baseball is. It certainly not just a new version of rounders! And baseball writing is among the best of all sports writing. Biographies of the great players fascinate me most.

Last of all: The pitcher vs. batter duel is the ultimate confrontation in sport. In no other team sport does the result depend more on a one-to-one situation. Consider the rookie pitcher facing the veteran slugger, the dominant closer protecting a one run lead in the bottom of the ninth, or the veteran pitcher nearing a no hitter tires in the ninth - there are so many possibilities, so many stories to tell. Our own Bobby Thomson's story comes to mind on how just one pitcher versus batter confrontation can be remembered for generations.

Baseball coverage over here has improved greatly with the Channel 5 coverage. I have remained a Blue Jays fan, and was thrilled when they won back-to-back World Series titles. Seeing how the mighty have fallen, I have recently learnt the cyclical nature of the game. Over the last few years I have been lucky enough to attend several games in Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco and Denver.

And that's how I got into baseball.