At the forefront of championing the joys of baseball to the Welsh population, the Cardiff Merlins are fresh off a debut season in the South West Baseball League. Rhys Fisher hears more.
To your average Brit staring across the Atlantic, things don’t appear to come much more American than Major League Baseball. Yet despite being so intensely embedded in American culture, it seems the British public are beginning to take more of an interest in MLB-style baseball as a sport, rather than just a fashionable bit of headwear. Take the Cardiff Merlins, who’ve just completed their debut season in the South West Baseball League. Craig Lawton, current player and media officer for the Merlins, explains how the inception of the team is almost entirely down to one guy.
“I would say Ed Peebles essentially set up the team. He always says that he didn’t, but I’m gonna be a bit nicer to him than he would be to himself. He was one of the founding members, and he runs the majority of the training sessions, and just a lot of the general running of the team.”
Lawton goes on to explain how the incarnation of the Merlins was very much a case of ‘that which doesn’t exist, you create it’. Tired of commuting back and forth to Bristol, Ed was desperate for a baseball team a little closer to home – so he created one. Whilst many might think – this writer included – that a newly formed baseball side in south Wales might struggle to attract players, they/I would be very wrong.
A lot of the Merlins’ recruits have come from Cardiff’s extensive softball community, as well as people like himself, who have an interest in so-called American sports. “We get a lot of guys turning up in NFL jerseys who are fans of American football, or basketball.” Why does he think this crossover exists between three sports which appear so different on the surface? “Major league sports in America are all held at a certain level and all viewed in a certain way. Getting into one, it’s quite easy to get into another.”
Another major breeding ground for the Merlins are lifelong baseball fans young and old looking for a chance to pursue their passion – often, says Lawton, “people who work over here or are students, but are from or have spent a lot of time in North or South America, so played a lot when they were younger.” Much of the local baseball-playing demographic are in, or approaching, middle age and have been watching baseball for 30 or 40 years: the Merlins, and teams like them, present their first opportunity to “pull on a proper baseball jersey for their own team, which is a really cool moment.”
For now, the sport’s current level of local popularity only helps the Merlins’ appeal, believes Lawton. “We’re the only competitive baseball club in the country. So we’re arguably representing the whole of Wales.” However, whilst there appears to be no lack of interest, Lawton is quick to point out that they are keen to grow the Merlins as much as possible, and attract as many players as they can.
“Anyone who’s interested in giving it a go, the first two practice sessions are always free, and all of the equipment is provided as well. We want to give people the opportunity to try it out without having to splash out on all of the gear.”
When Craig Lawton discusses the Cardiff Merlins, what really stands out is the togetherness of the group, and the community-like environment they appear to have built. Here is a group of all ages, sizes, and backgrounds chipping in to help build a pitcher’s mound down at their home on Pontcanna Fields, just so they can keep playing a game they love. We may not be naming chocolate bars after Merlins’ players anytime soon, and their names may not be appearing in Kanye West songs just yet, but there’s a chance that America’s pastime may become Wales’ passion.