When Baseball Comes Home

8
Jul
2019

John Walmsley

BaseballSoftballUK’s former Board Chair (2011-17) John Walmsley shares his views on the recent MLB London Series and what it means for British baseball and softball.

This past weekend marked the London Pride march and similar LGBTQ+ marches and events around the globe. I welcome the continued strides baseball and specifically softball leagues, clubs and teams make in addressing diversity and inclusion so that sporting participants and fans across the UK can ‘play ball’ without prejudice or fear.

Pride takes many forms, and I felt very proud to witness the first regular season MLB baseball games to be played in Europe at the London Stadium last month between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. I took my seat with 60,000 others at both games. I also enjoyed the pre-games workout day to which MLB generously opened its doors to so many from across the UK baseball and softball communities. BaseballSoftballUK and its CEO John Boyd hosted a special event to thank so many ‘heroes’ who have propelled British baseball and softball over the years and decades.

I felt pride in MLB wanting to use BaseballSoftballUK’s Farnham Park national facility for its MLB Cadet Camp, where MLB hosted 13-19 year olds in late May, and then when MLB returned in late June for the MLB European Elite Development Tournament. It recalled to memory the BaseballSoftballUK board and facility committee meetings I chaired where we first agreed to build a national facility. As a legacy of London 2012 the government, via its agency Sport England, was granting substantial sums for capital facility investment. BaseballSoftballUK bid for and won funding in 2013, securing further funding later to extend a second full baseball field and fourth softball field. BaseballSoftballUK’s achievement in successfully building and running Farnham Park provided MLB with an excellent training and event facility. MLB will be back in eleven months’ time. I was pleased to spend time with Sport England leaders at the Yankees and Red Sox Workout Day and share my excitement for the Series and especially thank them for their investment in our sports over many years.

There was pride too in the young players who played important roles in the London Series. From the children who threw out the first pitch on Sunday, to many in the ground-crew working under MLB’s facilities guru Murray Cook, to the amazing Laura Hirai who become the first ever Yankees ball GIRL and was seen warming up left fielder Brett Gardner between innings. So many of these are alumni of the BaseballSoftballUK Academy and BSUK High Performance Academy programmes, another of BaseballSoftballUK’s jewels, supported by funding from Sport England. The Academies teach great game fundamentals but also instill in young minds high expectations around community and contribution and volunteering. I felt pride too in knowing the role BaseballSoftballUK plays in shaping future generations of ballplayers and in creating future leaders for our sports.

MLB fulfilled one of my personal mantras. Baseball brings the cache; softball brings the volume. MLB put on a show in every sense. From a beautiful field, to royalty, to the ballpark experience, to home runs and fireworks. MLB achieved column inches and mass media coverage that the domestic sports can only admire and aspire to. The marketing campaign I’m sure will have elevated brand awareness for both MLB and for baseball. Softball brings a volume of participants. Roughly for every one baseball participant in the UK there are five playing softball. Why? It’s a more accessible sport. Slowpitch softball is already baseball’s answer to five-a-side football, to Twenty20 cricket, to Rugby 7s. It’s the short-form, pick up and go game. A fast-paced, easy to learn, low-barrier-to-entry version of baseball – but also very much a sport in its own right. And out of the box, softball is inclusive, with the classic slowpitch form comprising teams of five women and five men. I can think of no other mainstream team sport where men and women play equally together. BaseballSoftballUK understands this and worked with MLB to be inclusive of softball alongside the baseball activities surrounding the London Series.

I’m most proud that when MLB came to town it found a ready and engaged partner in BaseballSoftballUK. Honed, developed and continually improving, BaseballSoftballUK represents some of the best that British baseball and softball has to offer. BaseballSoftballUK has a professional can-do attitude. It takes others’ investment and multiplies the returns on that investment. It has a vision and the ability to execute on its strategy. This is everything you could ask for of a sporting body. And I’m incredibly proud of the time I spent with BaseballSoftballUK and very much look forward to it continuing the journey and the goals it will achieve in coming years.

tagged under: development, mlb, events, london series

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About John Walmsley

John Walmsley

John was chair of BaseballSoftballUK from 2011 to 2017, a non-executive directorship. He is a past-secretary of the British Baseball Federation (2007-09) and past-president at Richmond Baseball and Softball Club (2006-10), in Surrey. John enjoys coaching and developing people, both in sport and in business. John and his partner Robyn split their time between Surrey and Lancashire. John is an executive with a global consulting and technology company, where he focuses on the commercial management of large-scale engagements.

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