Great Britain's baseball future is bright after Classic showing

June 19th, 2023

When Great Britain baseball manager Drew Spencer pauses to reflect on the country's historic 2023 World Baseball Classic tournament, there’s one moment that stands out. It wasn’t one of Mariners top prospect Harry Ford’s home runs or Chavez Young’s first-ever WBC steal of home. It was actually a conversation he had on the mound with Reds pitcher Ian Gibaut in the ninth inning of Britain’s 7-5 victory over Colombia.

GB led by four runs at the start of the inning, but Colombia had clawed one back, the tying run was on deck, and Gibaut had just thrown a wild pitch to erase any chance of a game-ending double-play.

“So many things -- you know, verbal and nonverbal -- got communicated from my walk out there,” Spencer said in a phone call from London, where he had recently spent a holiday weekend meeting young ballplayers and providing instruction. “The look on his face, to us just having a little bit of a smile and laugh. I just wanted him to lighten up, give him a chance to breathe and finish [the game] out.”

It worked.

A groundout and a strikeout later and Great Britain had made history: Not only did the country win its first World Baseball Classic ballgame, but the victory meant GB Baseball was assured of its place in the 2026 tournament.

“For him to go and deliver that pitch -- I mean, people will remember that for a really long time,” Spencer said.

With that moment of glory now in the past, the London Series between the Cubs and Cardinals taking place this weekend, and the 2023 European baseball championships and the 2026 World Baseball Classic to come, it’s fair to ask: What’s next?

“A couple of years ago, being able to do what we did at the Qualifier and do what we did at the main event -- that was more of a dream,” Spencer said. “Now it’s a brick in the wall, now it’s a platform we get to stand on.”

The mindset has shifted. No longer is the mere existence of baseball in the country enough.

“It's been acceptable to be average for a really long time in British baseball,” Spencer said. “That's true not only of the team, but it's true of the institutions. It's true of the league. Everybody's really happy that there is British baseball, but nobody's really ever thought, like, ‘Well, what if we just pushed ourselves a little bit harder? What if we started to believe that we can win? What if we started to believe it's possible to develop players that can win in Europe and can win on the world stage?’ We're both still very much at the beginning of that journey.”

Manager Drew Spencer greets his team before taking on Canada in the World Baseball Classic this past March.

He’s seen that excitement and passion already exploding across the country. Spencer and his coaching staff have sat in pubs with British baseball fans to take in MLB games from across the ocean, and he’s witnessed young children catch baseball fever, donning their own capes and crowns like Ford and Trayce Thompson.

“I texted Harry immediately,” the skipper recalled. I said, ‘You're literally inspiring generations.’”

Players on the team who were passport-eligible -- and therefore available to play in the World Baseball Classic -- are now looking to gain that citizenship, allowing them to join the team at events like the European championships where roster rules are a little stricter. Spencer also knows the team will be even deeper when 2026 rolls around.

“This is just me, but I wouldn't put it past a few guys who heard from their club or their agent that Great Britain wanted to talk to them, and they kind of went ‘Who?’ Spencer said. “Whereas I think a few more people will take our phone call this time.”

Many of the team's players, like Ford and pitcher Vance Worley, have already expressed interest in coming over to the country during the offseason to help lead camps and introduce new players to the sport. It's something that the country and its baseball federations take seriously.

The recently announced Legacy Programme -- created with the support of the Mayor's Greater London Authority, the British Baseball Federation, BaseballSoftballUK and MLB -- will provide more than £1 million through 2026 to help bring baseball to more people and locations all across the country. The program aims to bring baseball and softball instruction into schools, improve pathways for elite player development, and expand support for the baseball facilities across the nation.

London is also hosting the First Pitch Festival next week ahead of the Cubs-Cardinals series with big league talent and coaches on hand to help introduce a whole new wave of children to the sport, hopefully inspiring their own playing for years down the road.

"I can guarantee you that if you were thinking about volunteering, and you step up and do it, it'll be one of the most rewarding things you've ever done," Spencer said. "Just the ability to help people learn this game and love this game. If they never do anything more than play a couple seasons here as a kid, it'll be one of the best things you ever did."

Ranked 38th in the world by the World Baseball Softball Confederation just a few short years ago, GB Baseball was ranked 20th in the most recent list following the World Baseball Classic. That spot once seemed ambitious even to the club’s manager, but now he wants to dream bigger: He sees a future where Great Britain is among the best baseball-playing nations in the world.

“Now that we’re ranked 20th, we need to model ourselves after the Premier12,” Spencer said about the WBSC tournament that features the top 12 ranked nations in the world. “What are the top 10 or 12 programs in the world doing? What do they study? How do they train? How do they treat sponsorships and funding and all that sort of stuff?”

Spencer knows this is just the start, that he can't just build upon this spring's success but but to look at the entire program and find the way to retool and reload. It’s not a concern for Spencer, though. He sees a bright future ahead.

“My goal is in 15 years time,” Spencer said, “Great Britain's in the Premier12.”