Archive for June, 2013


Jun 15, 2013

Build It And They Will Come: the case for US-style baseball facilities in the UK


I am renaming this blog. It will be called Build It And They Will Come and will become a one-stop shop for why and how we have a moral duty to install US-style baseball facilities in every village, town and city in the UK.

We can learn from the Americans. If they can install baseball facilities all over the USA, we can do it too! I am going to use this blog to show Brits it can be done. I’ll post photographs of the very best baseball facilities in the US and aim to get our policy makers to wake up and see the sense of installing such facilities in the UK. It’s going to cost billions of pounds but the health benefits of getting more people playing baseball will quickly pay for itself in reduced costs to the NHS. Baseball facilities should be for everybody, not just fit young men in strange uniforms and helmets. I’d like to see the day when children and older people can enjoy baseball, in safety, and taking part in their ordinary clothes.

The appalling lack of baseball infrastructure in this country is a sad indictment of how we’ve allowed football to dominate our green spaces. Yet we gave baseball to the Americans! It’s true:

The earliest known reference to baseball is in a 1744 British publication, A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, by John Newbery. It contains a rhymed description of “base-ball” and a woodcut that shows a field set-up somewhat similar to the modern game—though in a triangular rather than diamond configuration, and with posts instead of ground-level bases. William Bray, an English lawyer, recorded a game of baseball on Easter Monday 1755 in Guildford, Surrey.This early form of the game was brought to North America by English immigrants.


Despite the fact baseball originated in Britain, the Americans quickly took the sport to heart. Writing in 1919, philosopher Morris Raphael Cohen described baseball as America’s national religion. We should reclaim baseball as ours! It ought to be our national religion, too.

Now, there will be plenty of people who will oppose the creation of US-style baseball infrastructure all over the UK. They will say we can’t afford it. But there’s plenty of money sloshing around in football so it’s a case of reallocating funds so baseball gets a fair share of the available cash. People will say there’s no room for baseball facilities. Again, this isn’t true. Just look at the amount of space given over to football pitches.

But don’t think I’m anti-football. I’m not. I’d like to see football flourish and there’s no reason why having world-class baseball infrastructure should impact on football at all. In fact, I think footballers will be happy to see Britain’s baseball players get out of their way.

To those who say baseball infrastructure will be provided only when there are many more baseball players in the UK I say poppycock! There’s a huge latent demand for baseball in this country. Survey after survey shows that British people want to play baseball but they don’t have the well-designed, well-lit, well-maintained facilities to do what they swear, hand-on-heart, they tell campaigners they’d like to do. By providing US-style baseball facilities all over the UK it will quickly become plain that the only thing stopping mass baseball playing in this country was the lack of somewhere safe to play.

Baseball is something that’s enjoyed by all parts of American society: from bank managers in suits to school children and their Little Leagues. Baseball is an intrinsic part of American culture and has been for more than 120 years. We lost our love for baseball but by building subjectively safe baseball facilities all over the UK we will be able to make baseball a societal norm, just as it is a societal norm in the US.



Providing world-class baseball facilities in Britain makes economic and social sense. By showing planners and politicians how it’s done in America we can stop the piecemeal provision of crap baseball facilities that have been installed in the UK to date.

We should copy world-class American baseball facilities not try to squeeze in a few poorly designed facilities here and there.

Right now, the playing of baseball in the UK is seen as a bit odd, something ‘other people’ do. We can change that. OK, it’s not just about infrastructure, there are plenty of other measures that will be required too but without baseball infrastructure we won’t get Brits playing baseball. British people may prefer the convenience and mass-appeal of football but that’s mainly because of all the football infrastructure that was provided from the 1950s onwards.



By providing baseball infrastructure we can change the habits of the nation! Build It And They Will Come!

And that’s a baseball phrase, of course, made famous by ‘Field of Dreams’,  that brilliant 1989 film about an Iowa corn farmer who hears a voice telling him: “If you build it, he will come.” The ‘he’ being the dead baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson. There’s this other great quote from the film: “If you believe the impossible, the incredible can come true.”

As always, Kevin Costner was right: the future is shaped by dreamers, those who believe the impossible. To reach this future, a future where baseball is played by all, not just young men in strange clothes and funny headgear, we must stop accepting crumbs from the top table. For too long that has been the defeatist attitude of Britain’s baseball organisation, the BTC.

The BTC hasn’t even asked for brilliant baseball facilities so, of course, we haven’t been provided with them. If only they had started asking for world-class baseball facilities back in the 1970s, we’d have them by now. By not asking, the BTC are collaborationists, working to keep baseball as a minority, odd pursuit. It’s not football that has held back baseball, it has been the BTC and their 150-year championing of what they think is right for baseball. It’s time to ditch that 150 years of history. Look what it’s got us: virtually no baseball facilities at all. It’s time to campaign for US-style baseball facilities, and only US-style ones will do.

Don’t think the baseball facilities in Japan have anything to teach us here in the UK. Tokyoize may say Japan has great baseball facilities but he’s wrong. Only America has the right sort of baseball facilities.

Bookmark Build It And They Will Come; pass it around your baseball friends; send it planners and politicians. Together we can make Britain into a nation of everyday baseball players!

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This is a parody.

Don’t get the idea that I don’t think we should push for cycle infrastructure. And don’t think I’m mocking world-class cycle infrastructure. In both cases I’m not. I, too, want Dutch- or Danish-style cycle infrastructure. However, as a historian (the BBC says so, so it must be true) I’m not so sure we will be able to Go Dutch in the way that so many people imagine and campaign for. Cycling is a societal norm in the Netherlands and has been since the early 1900s. Americans and Brits popularised cycling in the 1880s and 1890s but it was the Dutch who really took cycling to heart. Cycling became part of the Dutch national psyche, an important part of self-image and it’s well worth reading about this very long Dutch cultural identification with cycling. It helps explain why so much cycle infrastructure was installed in the Netherlands from the 1970s on.

In the 1920s and 1930s, cycle use was extremely high in the Netherlands (far higher than in the UK) and there was some cycle-specific infrastructure. In the UK, there were grand plans for separated cycle infrastructure, with some cycle paths installed in the 1930s, but the Second World War intervened and the plans were not carried forward.

One of the designers of this 1930s infrastructure went on to create Dutch-style cycle infrastructure in the New Town of Stevenage in the 1960s and 70s. The infrastructure provision (it’s still there, although faded and truncated in parts) didn’t lead to an explosion in cycle usage.

‘Build It And They Will Come’ seems persuasive as a concept and, in some places, hard infrastructure is most definitely needed but pushing too hard for infrastructure can divert attention from softer measures that can work too (measures also used in the Netherlands).

The creation of baseball facilities up and down the land would lead to some uptick in the playing of baseball but it would be fighting against a societal norm. In the same way, infrastructure alone will not turn Britain into a nation of ‘people on bikes’.

There are many cultural, social and historical reasons why there are beautiful, world-class examples of joined-up cycle infrastructure in the Netherlands.



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