Alex Malihoudis has been a GB Senior for the past 14 years and has also enjoyed domestic success, most recently as a London Met in their championship-winning seasons of 2007 and 2008. In 2008, he won the best shortstop award and led the league in hits and in runs scored. Through a combination of natural talent, determination and hard work, Alex has capitalized on his good fortune of developing an interest in baseball as a youngster while happening to live in Tonbridge, a town that had one of the country’s best youth programmes.
Thank you to Matt for his help with the questions and to Alex for talking to BaseballGB.
Alex, how did you first get involved in baseball?
When I was 9 my mother went to New York to visit my uncle, and while there she took in a ball game at Yankee Stadium. My brother and I were brought back lots of Yankees and Mets. At the time I was interested in all things American, and I didn’t have a hobby, so baseball fitted perfectly. I looked for a team and was surprised to find one in my town of Tonbridge. I was just the fourth member of the youth programme, but within a couple of months we had enough for a team in two different age groups. All my friends from school joined up, and we practised at a local school field in the evenings. Luckily for us this field happened to be in the way of Nick Carter’s walk home from school! Nick and his family contributed greatly to the success of the team.
You are one of a number of people currently playing and coaching in Britain who came through the Tonbridge youth programme. In your mind, what has made it such a successful system and are there any lessons that could be learned that might help other areas enjoy similar success?
There have been some good players come through the ranks at Tonbridge (the Carters, the Linterns, and Ed Jeffery to name a few). I think they would all agree that it has all been down to Margaret Borley. She was more concerned with getting kids involved on a Saturday morning than winning at all costs. She created a fun, pressure-free environment, which led to a great deal of interest and success. Beyond that she made tremendous sacrifices for the team and deservedly was awarded an MBE in 2007.
At the age of 16, you headed over to America and played baseball in high school and college. How daunting was it to move to a new country and to play against more seasoned baseball youths? Were your team-mates surprised to see a Brit out there playing America’s national pastime?
It wasn’t daunting at the time. At 16 moving to America to go to high school was one of the easiest things I have ever done. I was so excited; it was what I had always wanted to do. Subsequent years were harder though. I found it increasingly difficult to go back after summers in England, but I still managed 6 years. People were pretty surprised to see me over there, but every reaction was positive. A couple of team-mates told me that they were motivated to try their hardest because they could see the lengths I had gone to just to get the chance to do something that they had taken for granted – playing high school baseball.
One of my good friends, Joey Wolfe, invited me to come and live with him because he wanted me to be as good as I could be – oh, he lived by the beach and had a 70-foot flood-lit batting cage in his back garden! Twist my arm! The Wolfes were wonderful, generous people, and if not for them and my mother, I would not have been able to stay in America quite as long. As for the team at Archbishop Mitty High, it was outstanding, possessing one of the nation’s top prospects in Zeph Zinsman, and going on to win the California Central Coast Section Division 1 Championship in my senior year.
You have played for Brighton and the London Mets in the British league, winning the last two domestic titles with the latter. What has been the secret to the Mets’ success in ’07 and ’08?
Pitching, defence, and depth of squad. We had the two best pitchers in the league in Troy Kantor and Brian Essery, and when Troy headed home to Nebraska, Carlos Bolufer filled in nicely with his knee-buckling breaking stuff. Our defence was as good from a British team that I have seen.
What’s your overall opinion of the domestic scene and what steps are needed to take it to the next level?
Firstly I would like to see the league and the teams taking responsibility for creating better facilities. Kids want to play on good fields, and I think it would do wonders for the sport over here if we were playing on fields the calibre of Brighton’s every week. We would be able to promote bigger events and get good crowds down to watch. I know that’s not cheap but I think a top-notch field in the capital would be a start. It would be nice if we could do something about the ever-present problem of weakened teams and (I hate this word) forfeits! Still, I think better ballfields would motivate players.
You were part of the Great Britain national team that finished second in the 2007 European Championships. What are your main memories of the tournament?
The win against Spain, though I didn’t play in the game, was amazing. It’s the type of game that tells you everything you need to know about international baseball. Brant Ust and Mike Nickeas’ back-to-back homers deflated the crowd in Barcelona. Alex Smith closing out the win was awesome. I will also remember playing in the final game against Holland, even though we lost. Stephan Rapaglia, the Head Coach, spoke to me the evening before and said that no matter what happens, remember that tomorrow “you will get a chance to step on the field and play for the championship of Europe.” It really made me take stock of the team’s achievements. The worst memory was probably the Spanish Idol winner singing the national anthem! Oh, and losing to Germany of course.
After the joy of your silver-medal finish, how disappointing was it to be denied your place in the Final Olympic Qualifier due to a lack of funds?
Absolutely gutting. After what we had accomplished, we deserved the chance. If you are not going to play in such tournaments you would just as well not qualify in the first place than to have money make the decision for you. It reminded me of the day baseball was dropped from the Olympics, just two days after London won the 2012 games. I always joke that it is like someone giving you a Ferrari and then taking it away the next day. Devastating.
Great Britain does have the World Cup to look forward to in 2009, most notably the preliminary round game against Japan. What are your hopes and expectations for the event?
To make the team, and perhaps to get a couple of at bats. Don’t get me wrong, like any ballplayer that puts on the GB shirt, I want to start, but this isn’t the European Championships here. Most of the GB team are amateurs but in the World Cup we will be facing full pro ballplayers, so we all need to raise our game, train our asses off and push for places. No one is guaranteed a spot.
Finally, when people find out that you’re a baseball player, what is their standard reaction?
“I didn’t realise we played over here!” It would be nice to change that come September if we achieve something in the World Cup. In Tonbridge many people have heard of the Bobcats, and it’s not a small town (just another indication of the achievements of Mrs Borley).
In 3 weeks’ time, BaseballGB will publish the sixth in a series of Q&As with Great Britain team members.