Britain erases deficit, edges Colombia for first Classic win

March 14th, 2023

PHOENIX – The book of British baseball history received arguably its most important addition Monday afternoon since the game first began to take hold in the U.K. in the late 1800s. Great Britain topped Colombia, 7-5, at Chase Field, claiming its first World Baseball Classic victory.

The win was the culmination of a September 2022 run through the qualifying stage that suddenly vaulted an isle that had been largely absent from major international tournaments since 1939 onto the global stage. After battling with stout competition in the form of the United States and Canada over its first two games, the resilience that led to a Pool C berth spurred manager Drew Spencer’s club to what he hopes is a generation-defining moment.

“When you’re managing a national team, you’re not playing for one game or one season – you’re playing for generations,” Spencer said. “So what this means is that when we got to Regensburg and we qualified on our third attempt, it felt like the end of Chapter 1. This is the beginning of Chapter 2 for Great Britain baseball and British baseball in general.

“I think there will be people who can use this moment as inspiration to come out and play the game and to believe that someone with [Great Britain] on the front of their chest can be successful.”

Catcher Harry Ford is just 20 years old, yet he’s already being dubbed the face of British baseball. His first hit of the Classic was a three-run homer Sunday. The Mariners’ No. 1 prospect continued his power surge Monday, cranking a solo shot to left in the seventh that provided a much-needed cushion for the bullpen.

“It’s absolutely incredible,” Ford said of the support he has received from British baseball fans. “We’ve just gone out there and just played our game, and to be embraced by them and for them to love us so much … it has been special.”

Great Britain spent the first two games of its World Baseball Classic journey jumping ahead early with first-inning runs. After losing both of those games, the Brits fell behind early Monday, only to rush back with seven unanswered runs for a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Jubilation has been rampant in the Britain dugout since the onset of pool play, complete with “sip the tea” celebrations, a home run crown and robe and an all-around exuberance for bringing their brand of baseball to the global stage.

At the heart of that energy is outfielder , who became the first player in World Baseball Classic history to be credited with a steal of home on Sunday. He added his fourth stolen base Monday, pulling within just one of the all-time mark for steals in a single Classic.

Young, who is one of seven players of Bahamian descent on the Great Britain roster, knotted the game at 3 with a two-run single in the bottom of the fourth, advancing on an error before breaking out the club’s signature move upon reaching second.

Young went from tea sipping to leather flashing in a moment’s notice. The 25-year-old member of the Pirates organization made Britain’s second impressive defensive play of the top of the fifth when he sprawled down the right-field line for a grab, then immediately sprang to his feet to high-five a young fan.

“I think the whole right side of that stadium was in the Chavez Young fan club just because of the way he plays and his energy and everyone around him,” Spencer said. “He’s absolutely been the spark plug.”

“Baseball is really hard. Don’t make it too difficult,” Young said. “The main goal is just to have fun. You tell the kids when they’re young to have fun, right? When you have fun, you’re [just relaxed], you can be yourself, and when you do those little things, stuff happens. I know that I bring the energy to the team, and a lot of Bahamians bring the energy to the team and I know how important it is for us.” 

Since their arrival in Phoenix, the Brits have insisted they’re not happy with just showing up. While they face a difficult path to the quarterfinals due to allowing a combined 24 runs over their first two contests, they’ve been on a mission to change the perception of the game back home.

More than what the win meant for the players and coaches in the dugout – or their hopes of advancing to the quarterfinals – Spencer hoped that young British baseball fans took away an important message:

“It’s possible to go and play college baseball, it’s possible to go and play in international leagues, to play in the best professional leagues there are in the [world]. And soon, we’ll see somebody in the Major Leagues because of this moment, in my opinion.”

Despite the defeat, Colombia (1-1) still finds itself firmly in the running for one of the two tickets out of Pool C and will clash with Canada (1-0) on Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET on FS2. Great Britain (1-2) will wrap up its pool action Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET on FS1 against Mexico (1-1) amid what should be a charged atmosphere.