This is the first of what I hope to be a continuing series on baseball around the world. It may come as a surprise to our readers that some of these countries have even heard of baseball, never mind having established, developing leagues of their own.
Part One takes us all the way North to Scotland, where the country’s best are just beginning to make themselves known. The seeds of amateur baseball were planted decades previously, and the talent level, as well as interest in the game, has been growing steadily since then.
I spoke with Paul Convoy, General Manager of the Edinburgh Giants Baseball Club and President of the Scotland National League.
Clinton Riddle: Baseball in Edinburgh seems to have sprung up with the local American military bases and the members stationed in areas like Midlothian. This was back in the 1950s, presumably at a time when those bases were seeing a large influx of US active-duty members. The original Edinburgh club was established back in ‘86 as the Edinburgh Royals, and that team was an original member of what became the Scotland National League, or the Scottish League. Can we start with the history of the league, as you’ve seen and experienced it?
Paul Convoy: The Scottish League is entering it’s 11th Season. Originally, the Glasgow club (Glasgow Baseball Association) and the Edinburgh club (Edinburgh Diamond Devils) played in the Northern British League, but (split off) because of travel times and other politics with the British Baseball Federation, who were starting up their own league.
This was during the time that one Glasgow team and the Edinburgh club split into two teams, the Edinburgh Devils and Edinburgh Cannons. After two years, Edinburgh gained another team, the Edinburgh Giants. Then in 2015, Glasgow had enough players to break into two teams, the Glasgow Galaxy and Glasgow Comets. Finally, last season, the Aberdeen Oilers joined the league to give us our sixth team.
As a league, we are run by Baseball Scotland, which is made up of delegates from each team. I have been appointed President, this year.
Clinton: How does one build a baseball league in a country where baseball isn’t generally considered a popular sport? How do you get the word out about your league? You’re working with six teams this season. How easy (or hard) has it been to spread the word and recruit players? Have you noticed an increase in interest, in terms of fandom?
Paul:This is always the biggest issue. As a sport, it is very much in the minority in Scotland. I would say 40%, maybe more, of our players are from countries where baseball is a lot more popular, and they find us through searches on social media. This is how we recruit, as well, by searching out people who like baseball and engaging with them, and in turn they come check us out.
Clinton: Have you been a part of the league since the beginning?
Paul: No, I joined at the inception of the Giants team 7 years ago
Clinton: Tell me about how you came to be a part of the team, and consequently, the league and its leadership.
Paul: I found the Edinburgh club because I was looking for a place to host a company softball game. I was put in contact with the club by the Edinburgh Council, who we hire our field from, and then I was invited to come down and try out. I had always been a fan of baseball and was thrilled to come down.
After three seasons of playing, the Edinburgh Giants’ head coach was stepping down due to family commitments, and I was asked to take over since I had a real passion to grow the sport in the country. Since then, I have helped raise the Edinburgh club to a high level of team spirit; almost like a brotherhood.
The Edinburgh and Scotland National League president stepped down last year, and again I was asked to take over for this year, and both the players and myself have been thrilled about that.
Clinton: Tell me about how you became a fan. Was there a specific team or moment or game that really clicked with you, at the beginning?
Paul: In the beginning, I was just fascinated by the game when I watched on TV. It was always on late at night here, and I never really had a particular team I liked. We also played softball at my high school because one of the teachers was a fan of baseball. He was a Red Sox fan, so naturally I would root for them if they were playing on TV over here.
I had always been good with hand-eye coordination and was good at softball. What I liked was the fact that you can’t run the clock down; it’s man against man, from pitcher to batter. It all just resonated so well with me when I watched it. Staying up til 4am, operating on 2 hours’ sleep for school. Thank goodness for MLB.tv, now! (laughs).
When I visited the USA the year just before I joined the club (2010), I went to a Phillies game when they were on a winning streak. Halladay was receiving an award for his perfect game from the week before. The Phillies beat the Padres, and I was an instant Phillies fan.
Clinton: Would you say most of the Edinburgh club as a whole is made up of natives, or ex-pats?
Paul: As three teams, the Edinburgh Club is probably a 50/50 split of Scottish players and other nationalities. Maybe 65/35, as far as British players to other nationalities. Our biggest foreign numbers come from Europe, though.
The Americans on our club are always miles better, but the biggest issue with that is the fact they are only here a couple of seasons, sometimes less, which is a challenge as far as trying to keep teams strong and balanced.
We do have a lot of Americans with British citizenship, as well. We also get a lot of Latino players. They are always the best players. Australians also have a good representation
Clinton: Do you ever take on players who are former pros? I assume some of the Americans are military and just stationed there for a little while.
Paul: Surprisingly, no military guys. In Edinburgh, we have had players who played minor league ball and had to give up due to injury - which is fine for our league, compared to what they are used to playing. We also have had former college ball players. My team, the Giants, has a former player of the Brewers organization - a Dominican player - but he was let go after getting into a motorcycle accident. He is, by far, one of the best players to have played in Scotland. We’ve had players from the Mexican leagues and also the Australian leagues, too.
The Aberdeen club - their pitcher/manager was in the Navy, pitched for the Navy team, but left the Navy and came to Scotland to study.
Clinton: Were you part of the team that went to Belfast for the Ulster Open in 2015? What can you tell me about that experience, if so?
Paul: The first time, it was an eye-opener, the level of Baseball in Ireland - especially in Dublin. The two Dublin teams that were there (Spartans and Hurricanes) were a level above. The Belfast sides (teams) were level with ours, I would say. We had a much better team the first year we went (2015) compared to 2016.
A preface to our trip, that first year: In 2015, we were not expecting to be competitive at all, so were a little hung over on the first day (laughs), but we soon sobered up and settled in and played well. In 2016 we had a bit higher expectations, although, admittedly, it was a weaker team than 2015. Especially so in terms of pitching. Saying that, though, we still had a great time. After missing last year, we are really looking forward to going back this year
The 2015 Belfast team was a great team. I personally went for the beer but I did play in a game. The level of baseball in Ireland is a little higher than in Scotland.
We finished third that year. It was as close to the best team from Edinburgh we could send. The set-up at the tournament was great. They had mounds (something we do not yet have in Scotland) and we had a great experience. Had we known we would have been so competitive we would have drank less beer (laughs).
Talent-wise, we are somewhere between the UK levels of AA and AAA. Not sure how that translates to the US levels (editor’s note: more on league levels and rankings, in our next installment.) One way we will find out is when the AAU international collegiate team comes to play us in July.
We are really looking forward to it. If nothing else, it will help publicity here and in the States, and can hopefully help launch our fundraising efforts to build the first full diamond in Scotland, in the heart of Edinburgh. (emphasis added).
Clinton: Your club plays at Bobby Thomson Field, right?
Paul: Yes, that is what we named the Edinburgh field.
Clinton: That’s perfect. Is there no mound, there?
Paul: No. The field is used for football through the week, so we were not allowed to put one up. But we now have planning permission to build a full diamond here, so we want a full dirt infield and mound to be here. We have plans to host competitions, and hopefully to get even more people playing baseball in Scotland.
Clinton: How about games vs. mainland European teams? Have your teams been involved there?
Paul: We have played some teams from Norway, which are about at our level. We traveled there some time back and they visited us a couple of years later, but those have been the only mainland European teams we’ve played.
Clinton: What are the plans for this season? Any chance in the near future that the season will expand? Have there been any important sponsors to become involved with the league?
Paul: Sadly, we have not had any sponsorship or any funding to help with expenses. It is all funded and run by the players.
There is a group in Dundee trying start a team, as well as the borders (Southern Scotland, on the English border) but they can never get enough players to start a team. But there is hope. Last season, we held our first-ever awards dinner, and we got a sponsor for that and a high-end hotel to host, so there are signs of building onto what he have. It will take time.
With the fundraising plans we have, this will allow us to build our field and will make it easier to get sponsors, I believe.
Clinton: Any companies in the US reach out to you, or show any interest?
Paul: Never, no. We’ve had a few interactions on social media, but when we explore it, it kind of dies away. We get a lot more interest from people like yourself, who see a post on Twitter and ask about us - which is fantastic!
Clinton: Any special memories for you, on the ball field?
Paul: Last season was the first-ever Scotland vs Northern England All-Star Game, in Hull, England. And Scotland won. (laughs)
So, the details on the All-Star game; very fond memories. I took a team down as coach, which had a selection of players from all three cities and all six teams. It was Not-So-All-Star Team in the normal way of thinking - more of a Scotland Select team.
We got off to a great start. Took a six-run lead over the first three innings, with England only getting three runs back in the later innings of the seven-inning game. A solid pitching performance from the Oilers’ pitcher Stephen Evans, as well as the Giants’ pitcher Kyle Huffey to close it out. A really fun game, and even better with a win. The trophy is up in Aberdeen with the winning pitcher.
Stephen was the Navy pitcher I mentioned. Kyle has a Scottish mother and moved here after high school. Both are American.
Clinton: Could you give me a rundown on the members of your team? Tell us a bit about who they are.
Paul: Luis Marino is the player I mentioned before who was in the Brewers’ organization before his accident. Sebastian Mitchell and Lee Stodart are the youngest of our team, both just turning eighteen.
Sebastian was a product of our Little League program in Edinburgh. We had some award winners at the end-season awards dinner, where Marino picked up Silver Slugger and Gold Glove for third base. Our outfield cleaned up, too, with Gold Glove in left field going to Graham Brown and right field going to Garth Stewart. Our team MVP was Adam Murphy, and we had the league Rookie Of The Year; that was Mickey Walton, who only started playing in 2017, and who also picked up Silver Slugger in right field.
Ce Alexander is nicknamed Panda for the similarities to Pablo Sandoval. He’s also a DJ, so he usually has the benches bouncing with Latin music. Rafa Perez is nicknamed The Jalapeno, because he’s very fiery on the field. Oliver Warne is known for his uniform socks having faded in the wash, but in true “baseball superstition” style, he refuses to get new ones and just wears his now salmon-pink socks.
You will also notice Neena Livingstone and Carolyn Scott as two female players, who are also part of the UK’s only women’s team, the Edinburgh Unicorns. Finally, Myself, Kyle, Graham, Adam, Sebastian, Lee and Jon have all represented Team Scotland at various tournaments and games over the last few years.