Innovative baseball projects boost the London Mets’ club membership

Tue 2 Aug 2011

The London Mets Baseball Club has introduced a number of initiatives in the past year to develop baseball participation in its local area as well as grow the club. Two innovative projects implemented by the Mets' Club Director, Neil Warne, provide examples which could be used by other baseball clubs in Britain to provide new playing opportunities and swell club membership numbers.


'Baseball 4 Beginners'

Since last summer the club has run several Baseball 4 Beginners courses at its Finsbury Park facility.  Over six sessions, new players are given an introduction to the sport covering basic skills, rules and strategies. The club provides all equipment and BSUK has supported the programme with coaches, including Liam Carroll, the Regional Coach and Club Development Officer for London.

“I've run some of the Baseball 4 Beginners sessions myself,” says Liam. “As well as increasing participation I have found them to be a useful coach-mentoring tool; the Mets have always provided one of their own coaches to assist, so I can evaluate and discuss coaching delivery with them.”

With the sessions proving popular -- as many as 25 players turn up for each one -- the use of additional coaching support has ensured that the participants' experience is a good one by having a suitable player-to-coach ratio.

A typical session, run over two hours, involves drills to introduce and develop defensive or offensive skills, with each coach leading a group through a set of drills. Every session also includes a game, beginning with modified rules early in the course but progressing to normal rules by the end of it. Between innings the coaches and players discuss some of the situations that occurred and the skills, systems and strategies that can be used to cope with them, particularly in terms of positioning and communication prior to and during the play. The good dose of game-play provides a great learning environment and the players quickly get to grips with certain concepts which can be a bit hard to grasp for beginners, such as tagging up on fly balls and, of course, the infamous infield fly rule!

Through the Baseball 4 Beginners programme, the Mets have found potential new club members from a mixture of beginners and people re-discovering baseball after having played in the past. 

“What has been great for the club and also for the sport in London," adds Liam, "is the pathway out of Baseball 4 Beginners which enables the 'graduates' of the programme to continue playing at a suitable level. The pool, which includes some accomplished and athletic players, has become a recruiting ground for the three adult teams in the club that play at different levels in the British league, from Single-A up to the National Baseball League.”


Mid-Week Baseball

Another innovation from the Mets has been the trialling of mid-week competition, demonstrating that it's not only softball that can be played in the evenings. Finsbury Park is a busy place most nights with the various youth and adult baseball teams practising as well as softball games going on. The Marauders (the club's Single-A team) have been particularly accommodating on Wednesday nights, adapting their practice schedule to enable games to be played. This not only creates an opportunity for extra games in addition to the usual Sunday league schedule, but also allows new players from the Baseball 4 Beginners courses to mix with the Marauders and other established players from the club. 

Players arrive from 6:00 pm depending on work commitments, warm up on their own and get the field set up, aiming to get a game underway by 6:30 to make the most of the light. The games have been modified to play as many innings as possible. The battery in these games is usually composed of existing catchers and pitchers from the club, as well as coaches, to ensure that lots of strikes are thrown and the game keeps flowing.

The Marauders also enthusiastically perform umpiring duties to ensure a real-game vibe. Much like youth baseball, scoring is capped at five runs an inning and, like softball, teams can bat more than nine players, which is particularly good for introducing those players into the game that aren't able to get away from work as early as others. This structure has enabled as many as six innings to be played on a summer's evening.

“The developments implemented by the Mets this summer have really shown that there is scope and demand for formal mid-week baseball in London, and potentially nationwide,” comments Liam Carroll. “While practice is obviously essential, there is no substitute for actually playing the game. The more at-bats taken, innings pitched and outs recorded, the better we'll all be at playing. For those that do play at the weekends it's a chance to play even more, and for those that aren't able to, they can get their baseball fix mid-week.”

Liam also sees the potential of evening games as spectacles. He recently played in a Friday night  exhibition game at Finsbury Park involving members of the London Mets and visiting players, and watched by a small crowd of spectators. There was enough light to get six or seven innings in, people came out to have a drink and watch the game, and the players had fun – including several baseball-turned-softballers who were excited to give baseball a try again.

Though adding mid-week games to the programme will present challenges to some clubs in terms of timings, available light and the sharing of facilities with other teams in their club or other sports, the Mets have shown that the structure of games and the overall competition can be adapted to fit the situation. How might your baseball club use a similar model to provide new playing opportunities and increase membership numbers?

“What's exciting for me will be to see how the London Mets choose to build upon the foundations they have established this summer,” says Liam. “BSUK will support the club's plans and also those around the country at other baseball clubs. Down the line, I would love to see a mid-week baseball league eventually tie in to the British Baseball Federation's league structure, perhaps through localised league play which filters into regional and national leagues. I think that evening games could become popular both for players and as spectator events.”

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