BSUK Club Spotlight: Queen Mary University Baseball & Softball Club

Mon 9 Oct 2017

As club baseball and softball shift to off-season mode, things are just getting started at universities and The Queen Mary University Baseball & Softball Club in East London is gearing up for its biggest season yet.

Mile End Park in the East London borough of Tower Hamlets isn’t what you’d call baseball or Softball friendly.  Its grass is unkempt and its surface is far more likely to be described as lunar than Major League.  A busy road bisects the long, thin shard of green that runs from Globe Town to Limehouse, a reminder of how even nature has to bend to the will of the capital’s urban sprawl.

But it’s here, in the shadow of Mile End Stadium, that the Queen Mary Club go about their business.  They have a motto inspired by their less-than-ideal training venue: “If you can play at Mile End, you can play anywhere.”  They’ve been doing a lot of that recently -- so much so that the locals pay them no mind as they walk past training sessions where sometimes upwards of 30 Queen Mary University students throw the ball around.  The novelty has worn off.

Perhaps, though, the novelty should last a little while longer, given that a year ago the club didn’t even exist.  Club founder Joseph O’Connell tells us the story:

“I finished my undergraduate degree at Southampton University in 2016 and began my MSc immediately afterwards at Queen Mary, which didn’t have a baseball club.  I really missed training every week as I had done with the Southampton Mustangs, and within the first couple of weeks I was in contact with the student union and BSUK about the possibility of setting up a club.”

“I held our first taster session in November 2016,” O’Connell continued, “which a grand total of eight people turned up to.  But with [BSUK London Development Manager] Liz Knight’s help and word of mouth, the club grew to 20 active members, with our largest training session having 26 people participating.  We played friendlies throughout the year despite some dreadful weather and achieved our goal of fielding a team at the Spring National Championship [in March 2017].  Not only did we field a team, we exceeded expectations by winning all but one of our games, only losing to the eventual runners-up Loughborough. Following an excellent recruitment drive in 2017 the club has now expanded to include a second team.”

A university club differs from a normal baseball club in several key areas, but perhaps the starkest difference is how and when a university club can recruit new members.  Like other university clubs, Queen Mary must rely on events such as the Welcome Fair run by their Student Union at the start of the academic year to attract new recruits, and upwards of 90% of new university players enter the sport through this route.  It’s a system that the club has adapted to quickly and this year managed to gather over 180 people interested in playing baseball.  Some of those 180 people will no doubt fall by the wayside, electing to play different sports or enjoy other aspects of university life, but those that stay will fill two teams (the 1st team Knights and the 2nd team Barbarians) that play their British University Baseball League (BUBL) home games at Finsbury Park as part of an arrangement with the London Mets Baseball Club.

Like most university clubs, BSUK has had a strong influence on the club’s development. 

“BSUK have been nothing short of incredible in supporting the development of our club,” Joseph O’Connell said, “from providing us with the equipment we needed to get things off the ground to organising indoor training facilities for us at the now closed ‘Play-On’ sports facilities.  Having been in contact with BSUK throughout my time at Southampton, and knowing many of the staff members, the process of setting up the club was surprisingly easy.  In addition to the support they have given our club individually, they have also been invaluable for the development of university baseball as a whole -- in particular the organisation of national competitions and league games.”

With such a rapidly expanding club, Joseph O’Connell is now in a position to take a back seat and let the next generation take the reins.  Unlike most other clubs, university club presidents are elected once a year and O’Connell is glad that his legacy is in the safe hands of new club president David Shang.

Shang has a laundry list of things to do: permanent training facilities and coaching to ensure the second team develops into a competitive entity are both high on the list, but looming in the background is the thought of adding to the National University Baseball Championship runners-up trophy they won this past weekend with a maiden NUBC title. With the club attracting talented players in greater and greater numbers, it would be wise not to underestimate them, because if you can play at Mile End, you can play anywhere….

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