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Home run for baseball's hardcore

17 August 09 11:55 GMT

By Wyre Davies
BBC Wales correspondent

The sound of bat on ball on a summer's evening. Plenty of fast bowling, big hitting and safe hands in the field. But this isn't cricket, it's baseball. British baseball - a game whose origins date back more than 100 years.

To the uninitiated it might look like a game of rounders, but it is far from it. With bowlers throwing the ball down at what seems like the speed of a bullet, this is a long way from the gentle game played in school playgrounds up and down the country.

The rules too, are subtly different - a mix of cricket, softball and American baseball.

British Baseball has been a recognised sport since the end of the 19th Century - its stronghold was in port cities like Cardiff, Newport, Glasgow and Liverpool.

It was a tough, basic game played on parkland by sailors and "their planks of wood" when they came home on shore leave.

I play a fair bit of cricket and fancied my chances with the chunky, flat-faced bat used in British Baseball. But after a couple of deliveries whistled past my ear, I sensibly put the bat down and spoke to Tony Hicks, coach of one of oldest teams in Cardiff - Grange Albion.

"Yes, it is a tough working-class game where there's a fair bit of banter," he said.

"But we all know each other and there's a great social side to the game."

When I asked Tony if he feared for the future of the game he said: "It will never die out because there will always be a hardcore of clubs where they'll always play baseball.

"We still have our Wales v England internationals and the buzz of pulling on that jersey is amazing but, yes, I'd really love it to become a truly national game."

British baseball is now only really played in Cardiff, in Newport and in Liverpool - but it has a loyal and vocal support. Players and coaches watch, with some envy, at the money and status being lavished on other sports - sports they say are nowhere near as exciting or as inclusive as this.

Grange Albion are reigning Welsh league champions.

"If you take your son to a cricket match, he might hardly get a bat (in the lower order) or a bowl, whereas in baseball, everyone is involved from the start," said Chairman Mark Jones as he watched Albion's players warm up for one of their biggest game of the season on Sunday.

The 102-year-old club last weekend narrowly lost to arch rivals Grange Catholics in the Welsh Baseball Union cup final - the first time the two teams had met in the Welsh game's showpiece.

But there is a chance for almost instant revenge when the two teams meet again in the final of the Ted Peterson Cup on Sunday.

"We'll get around 1,000 people here - can you believe that?" beamed Jones.

British baseball is a tough, exciting game and players - men and women - love it. As for me I'll stick to cricket for the time being and a bit of vocal encouragement from the sidelines.

* Grange Albion beat Grange Catholics to win the Ted Peterson Cup by 14 runs.

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