At a post-dinner trivia quiz, my English friend asked his guests ‘what is the Japanese national sports?’ People weren’t sure and they looked at me. I said ‘it’s Baseball, right?’ My friend laughed out and said ‘No, it’s Sumo!’ It was an embarrassing moment, but as a Japanese national brought up in modern Japan, Baseball is far more familiar sports than Sumo, to be honest. Both my grand dad and my dad are big baseball fans, supporting Tokyo-based Giants for many years. Whenever I see Cricket match, I can’t help compare it with Baseball games although many English would boo me for that…
Japanese professional football (soccer) started about 20 years ago. It’s only recently when I started feeling its maturity. Living in the UK, watching Match of the Day with my boyfriend and covering Premier League matches for work, football is a dominant part of my life now. Sports is culture; each land has their own core engagement.
Last summer, I had an opportunity to meet the people who play and promote Baseball in the UK. I always wondered how many people play Baseball here. I have never seen anyone play the sport at any park in London. Rounders is included in the School Curriculum, but the name of ‘Baseball’ does not appear there. For such British Baseball players and fans, 20th July 2013 must have been something rather unforgettable, i.e., the opening of Farnham Park Baseball and Softball Ground.
In 88 acres of land, Farnham Park Playing Field has football, rugby and cricket grounds, that are the sports so popular among British nationals. However, the new addition of last summer is an international standard full Baseball diamond plus three fields for softball and youth baseball. UK’s first purpose-build Baseball ground. Previously, even the national team players had to compete to secure the ground against other sports and to pick up rubbish on the field before their training, that was quite a shocking fact for me. Popularity of sports comes from various places, such as TV rights, community facilitation, and educational curricula. Britain literally did not have a ground to support this sport.
The change has occurred since 2009. Thanks to Sport England’s Whole Sport Plans 2009-2013, BSUK (Baseball Softball UK) has received a fund of £2.7m and made a significant progress in the development of Baseball and Softball in the UK. UK’s Baseball and Softball playing population was doubled in 4 years, from about 10,000 to 20,000. Also Baseball Tomorrow Fund supported by America’s Major League Baseball played a key role to establish substantial facilities.
Interestingly, it seems that Softball is dominantly played as a mixed sports with five men and five women here in the UK. The number of players increases among adults rather than children. Companies make mixed teams and people play Softball as a socialising occasion. This is quite unique. It is also the case that migrants from the countries where Baseball is big, e.g., US, Cuba and maybe Japan, start playing and their children get interested by the influence of their fathers. It may be a very natural process in a cosmopolitan country like UK.
Now BSUK is awarded £3m in Sport England’s 2013-2017Whole Sport Plans. I don’t expect the number of Baseball participants exceeds rugby or football. But I think the future of Baseball in the UK is bright. As seen in the BSUK’s plan, Baseball and Softball do not represent certain type of people with particular socio-economic background unlike traditionally popular sports. So it is accessible to anyone. (This is a little ironic as the boom of Baseball came from its unpopularity rather than a possible big news of UK major broadcaster obtaining MLB terestrial airing rights etc…) Baseball is a great sports during summer, when football season is off. If you are looking for a unique life style, why don’t you play Baseball or Softball this summer?