This has been a gold-medal season for sports in Britain, with the Olympics in London, the first English victory in the Tour de France, and Wimbledon and the British Open having just concluded.
Yet in the middle of the Summer Games, a small group of fans in the British Isles is more concerned about baseball scores and the latest MLB trades than with England’s medal count.
Mike Ross, a U.S. citizen and Red Sox fan from Maine who has been living in the U.K. since 1960, says that as a Londoner he “cannot help but be swept up in the excitement and the pride” of watching his city host the Games. Yet for Ross and about 35 of his acquaintances, “it seems the pennant races take priority” -- with allegiances split.
“It’s very likely there are 20 teams being prayed for,” says Ross, who discussed baseball fandom in Britain recently via email while watching a Red Sox-Yankees game on his computer. (“Two beers and a rain delay at Yankee Stadium and I am all yours,” he joked.)
Ross is among the four who founded the U.K. chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research in the early 1990s, and is its outgoing chairman. Ross says the SABR chapter has a nucleus of about 35 members, including some transplanted Americans and “Brits from all over" -- including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It's called the Bobby Thomson chapter because the New York Giants’ 1951 home run hero was born in Scotland.
The favorite gathering spot for the U.K. group is the Three Kings Pub in London. Although it’s hard to get everyone together, when the chapter members do congregate, it’s at the Three Kings (named for Henry VIII, Elvis Presley and Kong –- the big monkey, not Dave Kingman). The pub has a brass plaque on the wall commemorating SABR gatherings, and a poster of Thomson smashing his home run that beat Brooklyn 61 years ago.
While baseball is an American oddity to most Brits -– Ross says it’s either ignored or sometimes confused with “gridiron football” -– it’s become a passion among the native Brits in the chapter, many of whom have done outstanding research on the origins of baseball and its roots in the U.K.
Ross says SABR might have even helped open some minds about the glories of American baseball a while back, when it participated at a baseball/cricket exhibition at the Marylebone Cricket Club in London. Attitudes among the cricket lovers about baseball’s roots in England have evolved from “ignorant, closed and unawares that it was originally a British invention,” said Ross, to “shockingly” welcoming.
“SABR U.K. was later given free range of the sacred territory (the cricket grounds),” Ross said. “A rare privilege.”
Rarer still might be the sight of a Bobby Thomson photo in a traditional English pub for any Americans stopping in for a pint during these London Games.