Take Me Out to the Ball Game – in London! 30 Years of London Mets Baseball
John Ferlazzo steps up to the plate to talk with us about the London Mets Baseball team, and bringing the great American sport to London
With Spring and Summer fast approaching, now is a great time to look at outdoor activities in London. John Ferlazzo of London Mets tells us all about his life as an American in the UK, and celebrating 30 years of London Mets Baseball in the capital.
Can you tell us first a little about yourself - where did you come from in the States, and were you involved in Baseball there?
New York City born and raised, grew up as a NY Yankees fan. The great players on those teams – Mantle, Maris, Howard, Tresh, Ford – were the team which instilled the love of baseball to my friends and myself. Our parents would take us to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx where we had the unique opportunity to see the greats in person. I first got involved in coaching youth baseball with a friend in a CYO league in Queens, New York. A few years later, when we had kids of our own, I began a 19 year coaching odyssey with my three boys from T Ball to teenage travel teams, through our local Merillon Baseball League in New Hyde Park.
How did you find yourself in the UK?
Three years ago, my wife accepted a transfer with her company, and we made the move to London. A recently minted primary school teacher, it took me some time to have all the US and UK teaching paperwork sorted, and I was looking for some volunteer work. Having never been to the UK prior, and after settling in to our flat in North London, I wondered, “Is there baseball here?” With some internet research completed, I found not only was there baseball in London, there was lots of it, and quality baseball. Enquired with the London Mets, connected with some of the league’s officials, and was welcomed as a coach. Currently I look after the Club’s youth baseball and softball programmes.
Baseball feels like it's on the verge of becoming an even bigger hit in the UK, particularly after last year's MLB events in London. How has Baseball developed in the UK in recent years, and do you see it getting bigger going forward?
Last summer’s MLB event in Hyde Park was a giant step forward in bringing the game at its highest level to the UK. Major League Baseball has scheduled some regular season games to be played in London during the 2019 season. Much like NFL Football establishing a strong following here, I believe there is an extremely large baseball fan base here, and will surely embrace professional baseball quickly. The grass roots recruitment done by many of the local youth baseball leagues around the UK is nothing less than remarkable. There are so many resourceful, dedicated, energetic people promoting, coaching and teaching the game across the nation.
Can you tell us a bit of history about the London Mets Baseball team, and about the UK league system?
The London Mets Baseball programme is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2018. What started with just a few young players is now a vibrant club with over 200 members. Our youth play across all Little League age groups, each playing at a high level, always in the mix for Championship play. Our Adult baseball programme has come a long way since its inception a dozen years back. We now have two teams playing at the UK’s highest level in the National Baseball League, with our London Mets squad the reigning Champions. We’ve got adult teams in Triple A, Double A, and Single A level. The London Mets are also very proud of our Baseball for Beginners program, where we introduce the great game to new adult players in the Greater London area.
Are there any major differences between Baseball in the UK versus Baseball in America?
No major differences. Youth baseball here in the UK follows the same rules and format guided by Little League and Little League International. This simple, yet complex, intricate and special game has universal attraction for children and adults of all ages. Baseball’s timeless appeal captures the minds of fans enthralled by a game that, like The Odyssey, tells a story of confronting enemies, helping friends, and, of course, getting home safely.
Do many American players join in the UK leagues, is it a good way to meet fellow Americans as well as Brits enthusiastic about the sport?
Here in London, many American and Japanese young people participate in youth baseball. Primarily due to the large expat population which moves through this great metropolis, these fans immediately migrate towards baseball. Gives everyone that feeling of home. We at the London Mets Baseball Club welcome players from around the world. We have many home-grown British players, and many from countries across Europe and Africa. The greatest reward is watching this melting pot of players, parents and fans gather each weekend for the united passion of the same game.
Baseball is an iconic sport in the States, and forms a big part of American cultural identity. Does Baseball in the UK still have that cultural grounding, or is it quite a unique take on the game?
Baseball has a very large grass roots fan base across the UK. There are nearly seventy baseball clubs in the country, and most outside the large cities have been started, nurtured, and cultivated by locally produced dedicated and enthusiastic parents and coaches.
What tips and advice do you have for someone wanting to get involved with Baseball in the UK? Is it open to anyone and all ages?
The London Mets Baseball and Softball Club is for everyone. We have a vibrant youth baseball organization, where boys and girls from 5 to 17 are welcome to play at our proper baseball fields in Finsbury Park. We have adult baseball at every level. Our Baseball for Beginners Program meets each Friday evening from Spring to Fall. New players learn the game from the ground up from our experienced and talented coaching staff. We place competitive teams in Single A, Double AA, and Triple AAA leagues. We have two teams playing at the highest level in the National Baseball League. Our young players work hard and play hard striving to play at the most competitive levels. We have recently begun a girls fast-pitch softball program for players aged 13 to 17. All this and more can be found at our website, www.londonmets.org
With the NFL's recent growth in the UK leading to speculation of a UK team, and with NBA also hosting a regular game, can you see MLB's popularity over here growing to the point of a UK MLB team?
Absolutely. Last summer’s MLB event in Hyde Park, couple with planned regular season games in 2019 and hopefully beyond, should easily establish a large fan base in the UK. Will a Major League Team happen in the UK? The same question was asked many years ago regarding Canada. MLB expanded there in 1969 and again in 1977. I’m certain many baseball fans in the UK are ready to support a professional team.
The London Mets have won the NLB twice in the last three years, what's in store for the team in 2018?
The NBL London Mets are the premiere baseball team in the UK. Expectations are always high for this group of talented players. The 2018 team will be led by an extraordinary, experienced coach, and with a core group of our in-house developed young players, we see this team competing at the highest level for years to come. In the London Mets clubhouse, we often say, “This is where Champions play”.
Finally, what's your favorite part of being involved in the London Mets, and what do you hope participants get out of playing Baseball in the UK?
My favorite part of being involved as a coach and administrator, is watching the young players arrive through the gates of Finsbury Park early Saturday mornings. Our players come from miles away to play this great game of ours, and the look of excitement and anticipation on their faces when they arrive is priceless. “Yes, we are playing baseball today!”
If you'd like to get involved in UK Baseball, check out the London Met's website - www.londonmets.org, and also take a look at the website for the British Baseball Federation - www.britishbaseball.org/