Joey Mellows, A Baseball Brit

Mellows at a Frisco RoughRiders game, his 21st of the year, in Springfield, Missouri. (via Joey Mellows)

There must be no greater ignominy for a Brit than receiving unsolicited advice from an American in a Kansas bar on the fourth of July. Especially when the advice dismisses your current life goal with just four words: “You’re 33, grow up.”

For Joey Mellows, the beer-loving, mustache-sporting, British-born baseball enthusiast, neither the circumstance nor the disdain registered that deeply. After all, beer and baseball make for a nice facsimile of a red-blooded American. So despite being a Brit in Wichita on Independence Day, he didn’t feel too out of place.

And as for the advice? “You know, fair enough,” he says.

You see, Mellows has embarked on a year-long trip best described as Sisyphean. In fact, it can probably only be described as Sisyphean. He quit his job and is throwing his life savings toward a baseball excursion with one goal — convincing Britons that this sport, perceived by so many of his fellows as an inherently American, is worth loving.

He’s travelling the baseball world — Korea and Japan, the US and the Dominican Republic — and documenting it all on Twitter with the hope that baseball fans back in the UK will be inspired to begin following the game as well.

It’s a daunting task, this attempt to rouse the collective imagination of a country an ocean away with only Twitter. And yes, he knows that MLB is having a hard enough time encouraging young Americans to turn their attention to the national pastime. He just doesn’t care.

The sport is coming to London in a year — Yankees vs. Red Sox, June 29-30, 2019 — and Mellows wants to see both games sell out. “We’ve had the NHL, we’ve had the NBA, we’ve had NFL, obviously we’ve already got our established soccer league so we don’t really need MLS to come over but baseball is the last of the big four I guess to try and make some headway in the UK,” he explains. It may be silly, it may be childish, it may be a waste of money, but the Baseball Brit is determined. Blessed with pounds to spend and a year to travel, Joey Mellows doesn’t mind if a random barfly in Wichita thinks he should grow up. After all, he still gets to watch a year’s worth of baseball.

But let’s not end before we’ve begun because this story, Mellows’ story, still has quite the beginning. As if to lend it a particularly British air, it starts with soccer and Cambridge.

Raised in Portsmouth, England, where his father played professional soccer, baseball wasn’t part of his young life. “It’s not on TV in the UK. It used to be in the late 1990s on channel five, they used to have late night games on so students at University, night shift workers, that’s where a lot of the current baseball community, online at least, in the UK developed their love for baseball.”

Mellows left for the London School of Economics to complete his University schooling. He then moved north to the University of Cambridge for a master’s in education. Following that matriculation, Mellows spent five years as a boarding master in the United Kingdom. He enjoyed the pedagogy but hated the lack of free time, as his weekends were filled with coaching rugby games all over the country and proctoring study halls. When the students never leave, neither do the teachers after all.

Frustrated, Mellows took a new job as an International Baccalaureate teacher of Economics for a school in South Korea. He lived there full time for the next four years, saving some money every month for…something, he didn’t quite know yet. In 2015, Mellows took a vacation to Japan to see his uncle who lived in Osaka. The trip happened to coincide with Nippon Professional Baseball’s Opening Weekend, so his uncle treated Mellows to a game between the Orix Buffalos and Chiba Lotte Marines.

The game, characterized by small ball on the field and a band in the stands, made a lasting impression despite none of it making any sense to the Brit. “You don’t see too many pushing high 90s, but the atmospheres very different, you’ve got lots of brass bands. So they have a very organized section which is full of trombones and trumpets and all kinds of brass instruments so you’ve got that thunderous cacophony of noise each time the home team comes to bat.”

“The way my personality is, if I don’t understand something, I feel embarrassed to begin with and then I’m pretty determined to try to get as much information as I can,” Mellows explained. “With baseball, there’s so much information that I’m still trying to make sense of it all now, three years later.”

Nowadays, Mellows is so well-versed in the sport that he can break down why Joey Votto should’ve won the Silver Slugger, predict Miles Mikolas’ American success, and take a year-long trip dedicated to seeing baseball all over the world without any fear of novicedom.

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A casual baseball fan doesn’t just go to the Dominican Republic to watch the Winter Leagues like Mellows plans to, nor would a newbie just show up at the Winter Meetings. Mellows plans to do that too, hoping to worm his way into the action by “loitering in the lobby” and “hoping someone is going to recognize the silly mustache and be like c’mon Joey, come on in.”

But Mellows isn’t just a casual baseball fan. After that initial game between the Buffalos and Marines, Mellows decided that as the home team, the Buffalos would become his team. Taking his fandom a step further, he followed the Buffalos around Japan that summer, watching and learning and even seeing a young Shohei Ohtani playing for the Nippon Ham Fighters.

When he moved back to Seoul for the next school year, he adopted the LG Twins as his team, catching a cheap cab or the subway after work to see games. Once again, over the summer Mellows followed the Twins across the country, rooting for his adopted hometown team.

Having dived so deeply into Japanese and Korean baseball culture, Mellows decided he wanted to take his hobby a step further. He direct messaged the biggest (and only) British-based baseball blog, batflipsandnerds.com, on Twitter, inquiring about occasionally writing for it. To his surprise, the blog  not only replied, but also wanted him on board.

Through Bat Flips and Nerds, Joey Mellows became Baseball Brit and first started to work on increasing British exposure to baseball. On his personal Twitter account @baseballbrit, he furthers the narrative by posting monthly Twitter follower totals for MLB UK fan accounts. But he wants the focus to remain on the game itself, and those fans across the pond who might come to enjoy it. “I’m very averse to social media, I’m a very sensible, boring bloke most of the time and social media just seems a little too “look at me, look at me” so I was never on any of it and I think I’ve got an instagram account but I don’t know what that is.”

When Mellows is laughed at for his journey or told things like “grow up” by loudmouthed Americans, these are the receipts he pulls to show that his efforts are working. In the last six months, there’s been a 43 percent increase in the total number of fans who follow MLB UK accounts, including 21 percent for American League teams and 185 percent for National League teams.

During this American baseball trip, Mellows is largely shying away from promoting East Coast teams. Those teams are more accessible to the English with the narrower time difference and more storied histories. Instead, Mellows wants to showcase the Royals, the Cardinals, the White Sox, the Giants, and the Diamondbacks. He wants to give his countryman a taste of the full major league experience, not just of the Yankees and Red Sox.

His trip is about more than just increasing fandoms though; he wants to gather ideas for how to best establish a British baseball culture.

“Everyday is a school day at the moment,” Mellows said of his journey, almost immediately after we finished outlining what it would take to have an expansion team in London.

Another idea he plans on taking back actually came from the Chinese National Team. Wanting to increase the team’s quality, China struck a deal with the Texas AirHogs, an independent league baseball team, to send 20 Chinese players over for the 2018 season. Naturally, Mellows wants to know if Team Great Britain has considered doing something similar.

Currently ranked 34th in the world, the Great Britain national baseball team has no funding and is largely volunteer-run. Its best players aren’t British by birth. Much like how the American men’s soccer program recruited German-based players with American roots under Jurgen Klinsmann, the Great Britain baseball team has scoured the globe for players with, as Mellows puts it, “British grandmothers or whatever.”

But if Team GB was allowed to send its players to an American Independent Baseball team for a season, Mellows thinks that they could hone their skills enough to inspire their countrymen to follow the sport.

Mellows has all these ideas for the future, but at the moment, he’s just enjoying life and trying to offer his own unsolicited advice for Rob Manfred.

“I think if they want to get more fans into baseball, particularly younger fans, 21 and over obviously, they gotta stop charging 35 dollars for parking and they gotta stop charging 12 dollars for a beer,” Mellows said.

The boulder of convincing Britons to watch baseball may be his alone to bear, but that idea at least — lowering beer prices — I think even the guy from the bar in Wichita would agree with.


Wes Jenkins is a staff writer at Redleg Nation and freelances when he can. You can follow him on Twitter @_wesjenks or check out more of his writing on his website, wesjenks.com.
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domwells27
Member
domwells27

He’s living my dream! Baseball here in the UK is tiny, but hopefully growing. Caught my first game at AT&T Park on my honeymoon in 2016 and have been hooked ever since. Managed to go to Wrigley Field and Fenway too, but I still need to see more!

Boat24
Member
Boat24

I think Baseball has a bigger following in the UK than many people realize, in fact batflipsandnerds is not the only British based baseball blog. franchisesports.co.uk is another UK based website that covers baseball.

Penfolds11
Member
Member
Penfolds11

Got to agree with Boat24 – there are plenty of UK baseball fans and I don’t have any doubts that the London Series will sell out for both days. Maybe the issue is that not all of us follow MLB UK Twitter accounts so we don’t count…

Yehoshua Friedman
Member
Yehoshua Friedman

Keep it up, Joey, maybe something will happen.

kiaanx
Member
kiaanx
Another huge UK baseball fan here. I’ve caught a little bit of his trip in passing on twitter but enjoyed the added depth of this article. Back in 2015 I spent a summer driving across America and watched games at or visited 12 MLB stadiums, plus a couple of minor league grounds. Whilst I don’t personally know any fellow Brit baseball fans, and have never been able to convince friends to give it a try, I know they’re out there in numbers based on twitter, SB Nation, forums etc. As a Red Sox fan, I can’t wait for the London… Read more »