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Matt Smith is the editor and lead writer at BaseballGB. An Oakland A's fan, Matt has been obsessed with baseball since 1998 and started writing about the sport in 2006.

Spotlight on Welsh/British Baseball

WelshBBOne of the main aims of BaseballGB is to provide coverage of all types of baseball that might interest a British fan.  Comments on MLB trades sit side-by-side with news from the Great Britain national team and reports from the National Baseball League to create a unique mix of content.

However, there is a form of the game that we haven’t covered as yet: Welsh/British baseball.  Separate from the baseball played elsewhere on the British Isles, this is a sport that has a distinct identity and a rich heritage.  Andrew Weltch is making sure that it continues to be recognised thanks to the excellent Welsh Baseball website and he recently spent some time talking to BaseballGB about the sport. 

Welsh Baseball

While there is plenty to look at on WelshBaseball.co.uk, your attention is immediately caught by ‘The Game’ page that provides a copy of the full laws of the sport.  The references to “bowlers”, the “batting crease”, “byes”, “extras” and “no balls” all show that this form of baseball has close links to cricket. 

“People sometimes describe it as a hybrid of cricket and conventional (US-style) baseball and there are certainly elements of each game” Weltch explains.  “Like cricket, there are eleven in a team and the whole team bats through until the end of the innings (note the ‘s’) – when either all eleven are out or stranded on base”.

“Visually, the most obvious difference is that the players wear soccer or rugby-style kit, with shorts, and have no protection – no helmets for batting, no pads, no gloves for catching – except for the backstop (equivalent of a wicketkeeper in cricket or catcher in US-type baseball) who may wear a face mask and gloves.  The other visual difference is that bases are marked with posts, as in some forms of rounders”.

The current state of the game

Mention of the ‘r’ word might make a sensitive baseball fan grimace, but it’s important to remember the place rounders has in the development of the different forms of baseball.  Welsh baseball, also referred to as British baseball, is clearly a game that celebrates its roots and, judging by the healthy number of teams involved in the Welsh league and cup competitions, it’s a factor that helps the sport remain appealing to potential participants.

“There are around twenty teams playing the three divisions of the men’s league, around twenty-five in four divisions of the women’s league, plus the youth league. There are also informal recreational teams, although nothing like the sport’s heyday, when virtually every church, chapel, pub, club, shop and factory had its own team”.

“The sport has declined in popularity over the last twenty-five years or so, but the south of Cardiff and south of Newport remain the real hotbeds, and there are signs of new interest. The website has helped with that too”.

All ‘minority’ sports have to battle for elbow room against the might of football, rugby and cricket.  Welsh baseball is no different, but Weltch is convinced that the sport has a future.

“Cardiff, Newport and Liverpool have been the sport’s homes virtually since ‘day one’, back in 1892. At times in the past, it has been played in areas outside these cities, and there have been exhibition matches much further afield. There does seem to be a growing interest from schools in other parts of South Wales especially, who see British baseball as a very accessible sport that doesn’t need much equipment and has a great heritage and tradition. I believe the sport has the potential to spread outside these three cities, but it really needs to build steadily and ensure firm foundations first”.

The annual international game

For the last one hundred years, the marquee event of the Welsh baseball calendar has been the annual international game between England and Wales.  The two countries have been fierce rivals in many respects over the years and in this particular by-product of the rivalry, the Welsh Dragon has consistently prevailed over the cross of St George.  It’s a contest that has captured the imagination of many spectators in the past and continues to be keenly anticipated.

“The first international was held in Cardiff in 1908 at what is now St Peter’s RFC ground. I’m pleased to say the ground is also still used for baseball. That game was held under a compromise set of rules and reports suggest it wasn’t a great triumph. Although the crowd was well over 2,000, the two referees argued, and it sounds like a less than outstanding success. It took the governing bodies six years before they could arrange a second encounter and then the First World War ended most sport for several years”.

“Apart from the war years, the international has been held annually and has attracted crowds of more than 10,000. At its peak, it was a big event, and selectors held trials to help choose their squad. In recent years, the England team has suffered from the sport’s decline in Liverpool and Wales has tended to dominate. England last won in 1995 and hasn’t won in Wales since 1982″.

“There are signs of a revival in Liverpool, however, especially at youth level, and England could soon produce a winning team again”. 

Those of you curious to find out more about this long-standing event will be interested to know that some classic footage from the internationals between 1980 and 1982 can be found on YouTube.  As well as providing a flavour of how the game is played, the fact that this footage is from BBC Wales shows the level of media coverage that the sport has enjoyed over the years.

“The BBC Wales TV coverage usually consisted of highlights shown the day after the match, and I have seen brief reports in some London-based national newspapers from many years ago” said Weltch.   “More recently, coverage has tended to be confined to regional newspapers in South Wales and to local radio. BBC Radio Wales usually provides live reports during the international match, and BBC Wales also has a good baseball web page”.

The history of Welsh Baseball

From the evolution of the sport to the long history of international matches, Welsh Baseball’s heritage is something worth learning more about.  The statement that “further information on baseball’s origins will appear” on the WelshBaseball website “soon” suggests that interested parties will not lack for material to read.

“I created the site for my own interest in the history of the sport, so I do hope to expand on that more” said Weltch.  “If it is possible, I hope to add a timeline history of major events in the story of Welsh baseball, and possibly also a directory of international players”.

As well as the developing content on WelshBaseball.co.uk, more details about the history of the sport are gradually being published in online resources such as the archive copies of William Morgan’s ‘Baseball Mercury’, now available on the web courtesy of Project Cobb

Most impressively, Weltch brought the history of Welsh Baseball to the attention of members of the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) last year, when his article about the game’s origins was published in Volume 28 of their journal: The National Pastime.

“I’m interested in the history of ‘conventional’ baseball (and most other sports) too, so I am a member of SABR. A couple of years ago, I asked the publications director if there would be any interest in an article on Welsh or British baseball. He was very keen, so I produced something which aimed to draw attention to this largely-unknown version of the game, with an emphasis on its history. I tried to ‘pitch’ it to a US readership, but still needed to make some revisions – for instance, the reviewers did not understand the term ‘knock-out cup’ “.

“Reaction among British baseball folk has been positive.  I think they appreciate that getting the sport recognised in a prestigious journal has some value”.

A sport worth keeping your eye on

If SABR members from around the world have learned about the presence of this “curious version of the game”, baseball fans resident in the British Isles should know about it as well.  However, Weltch passed on this useful piece of advice to anyone considering attending a game of Welsh Baseball for the first time.

“There is no boundary, so the ball remains in play wherever it goes (unless the teams have agreed otherwise).  This means fielders may field the ball among the spectators! So you need to keep your eye on the ball”.

Apart from the potential to become the latest ‘Steve Bartman‘ by costing England or Wales a victory in the annual international game, there’s every reason to take an interest in Welsh Baseball.  Why not start by checking out WelshBaseball.co.uk.

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5 Responses to “Spotlight on Welsh/British Baseball”

  1. This is an excellent post.

    The YouTube footage reveals the high level of skill involved in the game (although some of those throws from the outfield looked quite loopy!).

    The issue of what to call the sport seems to have never been resolved. One option is to call it “British baseball”, but, as Tim pointed out in the thread here:

    “it can be a bit confusing knowing which British baseball is being referred to. The confusion may be compounded by the British Baseball Federation (of the ‘U.S.’ version!) attempting to rebrand its baseball community as British Baseball in recent seasons (as opposed to the more stuffy-sounding ‘Federation’)”

    I am as guilty as anyone of polluting the term “British baseball”, as there are times when I write “British baseball” where I could just as easily have written “baseball in Britain”.

    It is interesting to note that for a time, baseball in the Merseyside area was adminstrated by the “North West American Baseball and Softball Association” – adding in “American” to make it clear just what type of baseball was being referred to.

    Another option is to call it “Welsh baseball”, but this perhaps underplays the Merseyside roots of the game and the fact it was once big in the Gloucester area (as discussed in issues 27, 29, and 30, of Baseball Mercury.

    Which is why we end up calling it things like “Welsh/British” baseball or “English/Welsh baseball”. This avoids ambiguity and gives a nod to Liverpool and Gloucester… but at the same time is a bit ugly.

    January 12, 2009 at 12:49 pm Reply
  2. Matt Smith #

    Thanks Joe (I’ve corrected your issue references). Yes, it does look a bit awkward, but I guess it’s the best way to avoid ambiguity. I really like the fact that there are these different versions of the game that are played and enjoyed in the British Isles.

    January 12, 2009 at 7:34 pm Reply
  3. Chico #

    Hello Matt and Joe. Just a note to say that the “coaches clinics” part of the season is upon us. The American Baseball Coaches Association ( made up of mostly collegiate and high school coaches across the U.S) annual clinic was a couple of weeks ago in San Diego. The best coaches clinic in the country in my opinion because of the name speakers as clinicians. Thousands of coaches belong to the organization from all parts of the country. The Texas High School coaches annual clinic was last weekend. This coming weekend will be the Colorado High School clinic. Our clinic, the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association clinic is in February….etc. We (Wisconsin) have one of the best in the country, with hundreds of coaches attending, usually in Milwaukee or Madison. The college season is ready to begin soon across the country with the Southern and California teams being outside and teams in the North practicing in indoor facilities. With MLB Spring Training beginning next month and the World Baseball Classic on the horizon, it’s going to get exciting soon! Locally, we have our own coaches clinic in February. My son and his buddies are still playing Ice Hockey, but I have noticed the talk starting to lean toward baseball. We are looking forward to a great spring, even though we have too much snow on the ground and it is too cold for my liking. Anyway, I read BaseballGB almost every day, but have little time to comment. Hope you two are doing well! Every day is a great day for the best game on earth. Chico

    January 12, 2009 at 9:06 pm Reply
  4. Matt Smith #

    Hi Chico. Good to hear from you, as always. Those coaching clinics sound like an invaluable source of info and I hope the one in Wisconsin goes well.

    March seemed a long way off just after the last out in the ’08 World Series, but it’s coming around quickly now. The WBC will really add to the excitement this year and I can’t wait for the games to begin. It should be another brilliant year for baseball, hopefully including a good performance by Great Britain in the Baseball World Cup in September.

    January 12, 2009 at 9:45 pm Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. BaseballGB » England v Wales in a Welsh Baseball International on Saturday - June 29, 2010

    [...] Welsh baseball, also sometimes known as British baseball, is a hybrid of baseball, cricket and rounders and has been featured on BaseballGB previously. [...]

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