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Design by Tom Forget. Photos courtesy Lawrence Hourahane.

The remarkable and rich history of Welsh baseball

June 6, 2024

Imagine showing up at a grassy park on a Saturday afternoon to play baseball with your friends, but instead of bases, there are posts. Instead of pitching, it’s bowling. The bat has a flat surface, and there’s no official foul territory.

What is this exotic sport? It can’t possibly be America’s National Pastime.

That’s because it isn’t. You’re in Wales, and this is Welsh baseball.

Though it isn’t the national phenomenon it once was, Welsh baseball still has a presence in a country fiercely proud of its sporting heritage. It has a unique history developed on a parallel timeline to the American-style baseball that has taken hold elsewhere in the world.

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Welsh baseball originally evolved out of rounders. The earliest organized rounders clubs for adult men formed in the 1860s, mostly among the working class. Rounders sprung up among workers in shipyards and dockyards along the coasts, particularly in Cardiff, the rest of South Wales, Gloucester and Liverpool. It was a game tied to maritime trade, which was a key cog in Wales’ economy, and evolved on a separate path from American baseball with its own sense of regional pride.

“And similarly, these are the areas that American baseball does not receive any kind of impetus to grow,” said Gabriel Fidler, chair of the British Baseball Hall of Fame and managing editor of “Extra Innings: Baseball Around the World.”

Guide to baseball in Great Britain

By the 1880s, newspapers covered the sport in great detail -- a paper in Liverpool called “The Weekly Rounders Reporter” listed schedules and news for local rounders clubs, which were starting to attract large crowds of spectators. The sport was played by both boys and girls, men and women, in large numbers.

In 1893, to distinguish the competitive sport of rounders from a mere schoolyard game, several rounders associations voted to change the name from “rounders” to “baseball” and codified many of the sport’s rules. The classic bat-and-ball game sprouted another branch in its rich timeline, which we refer to today as Welsh baseball.

Photos courtesy David Block, Gabriel Fidler and RBI Wales

Curious about the differences between Welsh baseball and American-style baseball? Here are a few key points to know:

• Bat has a flat surface, unlike the round American bat
• Diamond is smaller
• Uses poles/posts instead of bases
• No foul territory and can hit the ball in multiple directions, not just forward
• 11 players per team
• “Bowler” and “backstop” instead of pitcher and catcher, and balls are pitched underhand
• Two innings instead of nine

Welsh baseball further cemented itself in the sporting spotlight with the creation of the annual Wales-England international baseball game, which allowed the best players from the game’s hotbeds to face off. The first international occurred in 1908 in Cardiff, which Wales won, 122-118 -- imagine seeing that score in an MLB game today!

After World War I, the international was held every year from 1920-2014 except for a break during World War II, with Wales and Liverpool alternating as hosts until Wales took up primary hosting duties in the 1980s. Attendance figures for these matches regularly reached five digits, comparable to the attendance for notable football and rugby matches of the time, with the 1948 international in Cardiff attracting a record 16,000 fans.

“In Wales, baseball in this format receives major national news coverage [and] is considered a national sport, not at the level of rugby, but it is probably 1B in terms of headline news,” Fidler said. “It is bigger than football between the wars, and then decreasingly so. But until the 1970s, it receives major coverage. The teams are well known. The superstars are well known. The England-Wales match is a huge deal every year.”

Photo courtesy Lawrence Hourahane

So who were these superstars of the Welsh baseball international? One was Viv Huzzey, an accomplished Welsh rugby captain who also played for Wales in the first Wales-England international in 1908. Another was Paddy Hennessey, who played for Wales starting in the 1950s and was famous for his high-speed bowling (think of a pitcher touching triple digits in today’s American game). There was also Ted Peterson, who is in the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame and played Welsh baseball in the mid-20th century until age 62.

Though Welsh baseball was played recreationally by men and women, the international featured all-men’s teams. There were also lower-level league matches that attracted large crowds, though these rarely had paid spectators, and youth versions of the international match. Rarely did all-women teams compete in an international, but women were a large part of the league play throughout the sport’s heyday, which lasted into the 1990s.

At that time, Welsh baseball’s popularity began to wane. With baseball still a working-class sport, many adults who could previously carve out their Saturdays to play had to work more weekends to make ends meet. Other sports like rugby, football and cricket were already more popular in Wales among younger children, so baseball began to be offered less in schools as the 20th century came to a close, which led to fewer adults in higher leagues.

“All the teachers in the schools used to get paid for doing overtime and all the after-school clubs,” said Jason Cross, secretary of the Welsh Baseball Union and former Welsh baseball player. “And then the government pretty much cracked down on it and said, ‘Right, we're not paying you for any after-school clubs and things like that.’ So the teachers stopped doing it.

“All of a sudden, baseball against other schools and things like after-school clubs weren’t played anymore, so for these children, there was no way to play baseball until they got to men's league age.”

Photo courtesy Lawrence Hourahane.

David Block, a baseball historian who specializes in the origins of baseball in the United Kingdom, also notes that with these other three sports broadcast more regularly on TV than the annual Welsh baseball international, “young people wanted to emulate their sports heroes and what they saw on TV. So the secondary games, the localized games, fell out of favor.”

In the late 20th century, with Welsh baseball essentially only played in Wales and Liverpool, it became difficult for England to field a team for the international. According to Fidler, the sport “almost becomes extinct around 2010,” when even Wales was struggling to put together a squad. The last international competition took place in 2014, and there have been no successful efforts since to revive this once-glorious annual event.

“When I spoke to [current] Cardiff players about Welsh baseball as they know it, they were mostly unaware it even existed,” Fidler said. “It's gone from being a really central part of the sporting landscape to almost totally abandoned, and then being revived by the very few who remember it or remember watching it as children. So it now in itself is viewed almost like a folk custom which ought to be protected and revived by those involved.”


Today, Welsh baseball is still around, albeit in a less robust form than decades ago. It is still played in some schools, mostly around the greater Cardiff area in South Wales. The adult men’s league, which originally petered out in 2016, was revived in 2021 by the Welsh Baseball Union (the national governing body for Welsh baseball) with a shortened season consisting of five teams. Today the men’s league consists of six teams, totaling around 60-72 men.

Women continue to have a strong place in the sport, with approximately 200 women playing Welsh baseball thanks to the strength of the Welsh Ladies Baseball Union and the women’s league playing games twice a week vs. the men’s league playing once a week on Saturdays.

In 2022, the Welsh Baseball Union held a workshop in Cardiff to teach local physical education teachers how to instruct pupils in Welsh baseball, which nearly 40 teachers attended, and WBU members also went to schools to provide additional coaching. These efforts culminated in a four-day Welsh baseball festival in Cardiff later that summer, which over 400 children attended.

According to Cross -- who played Welsh baseball for 36 years before assuming his role at the WBU -- nearly every school in Cardiff has had kids playing Welsh baseball in some capacity over the past two years. This year, a new under-14s league was started with six teams, and there are plans to expand to an under-12 league.

“I think the future from a youngster's point of view looks really well,” Cross said.

Photo courtesy Lawrence Hourahane.

Holly Ireland founded Nike RBI Wales in 2018 to grow Welsh youth involvement in baseball and softball that is accessible to low- and middle-income households. It focuses on American-style baseball and softball for children in primary school, though Ireland would love to expand the programming to include Welsh baseball. But breaking through the cricket/rugby/football influence, which still have a strong hold as the most popular sports in Wales and are often played by kids year-round, is a challenge.

“If people can play a couple of different sports, then why can they not play Welsh baseball, and also American baseball, and also softball?” she said. “That’s kind of what I was trying to build. That already exists, so why not try to keep the momentum going, build it up with support.”

Ireland notes that as much as RBI Wales has grown -- around 40 schools are a part of their First Pitch program -- broader support for Welsh baseball at the youth level will be required for the sport to have a true renaissance. This extends from funding and school administrations, to recruiting additional volunteers, all the way down to engaging directly with parents to communicate the value of youth baseball instruction, Welsh or otherwise.

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Ireland, who was born in San Diego but lived much of her adult life in Wales, has observed a strong fondness for Welsh baseball in her time there, though often as nostalgia for days gone by. She has neighbors who played Welsh baseball back in its heyday decades ago and beam with pride when chatting about the sport.

“We are in a unique situation where I'm trying to build up baseball and softball in a province that has a very rich heritage already of Welsh baseball,” Ireland said. “It is super important to keep the Welsh baseball sport alive. I think it is a really important part of culture here.

“People in Wales are proud. They’re proud of what they do; they’re proud of Welsh baseball. You can see the passion in their face when they talk about it.”

Cross is still heavily involved with the sport more than three decades after first picking up a bat at age 12. On a trip to California in 2004, Block met two young women from Wales who both played Welsh baseball and were eager to talk with him about it, which inspired his subsequent research on the history of Welsh baseball.

Across generations, the sport lives on.

“Welsh baseball is so important to keep alive because it's a working-class sport, and it's an easy sport to get into,” Cross said. “It's been around for over 120 years. … It's important to keep things going purely from a historic and nostalgic point of view.

“It’s very much part of Welsh culture and history.”

credits: Design by Tom Forget. Photos courtesy RBI Wales, David Block, Gabriel Fidler, and Lawrence Hourahane.