Norwich Iceni Baseball Club are enjoying immediate success - and you can join them
The Fine City finally has the dreamers to make the most of its field of dreams - MICHAEL BAILEY went to meet the blossoming Norwich Iceni Baseball Club
It was hard to know what to expect. The first thought was probably four of Norwich’s finest wannabe Americans, a rusty bat, some jumpers for bases and a ball.
After all, Eaton Park on a Wednesday summer’s evening is a hive of activities to choose from as it is: basketball, football, rugby, cricket, pitch and putt, running, cycling, tennis, bowls and skateboarding all had their segment of the green spaces marked out and bodies busting a gut to enjoy their exertion.
Yet the biggest group waiting for action was a band of trim boys and girls – admittedly waiting because they couldn’t get straight on with it. Baseball pitches don’t mark themselves out here in the UK.
However when your first season as a competitive outfit sees you launch with six wins from your first six games, you don’t mind the pre-training chores.
In fact, simply labelling them as wins does the team’s efforts an injustice.
Norwich Iceni Baseball Club’s decision to join the British Baseball Foundation ranks means a first season in Single-A South: a regionalised division, the fourth and lowest tier in the national structure. And so far, it’s been walkover after walkover.
“Personally I’m happy just to get my carcass off the sofa on a Sunday and be on the park,” said Iceni new boy Matt Howard. “When we went into that first game against Kent, we didn’t really know what level we’d be at. And we’ve just steamrollered teams.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve necessarily contributed fully to that myself – I have been on the field! – but we’ve played a few games and won a few of them comfortably. It’s exciting times.”
Iceni know nothing else. The club was formed in 2015 after four players at the University of East Anglia felt the city needed a team for students to join once their studies were over.
Since those first forays with borrowed equipment, numbers have ballooned to the point where setting up a second team may be on the cards come 2018. The club now has a home at Locksley School in south Norwich, and it already looks on course for an invite into the third tier – Double-A – come next season.
“It does tend to attract a bit of attention while we’re playing here on a Wednesday night – you get people stopping and quite often I think they’re not entirely sure what they’re looking at!” said Iceni chair and co-founder Mike Smith.
“We’re always open for new members. We tend to have one or two people every session turn up and want to give it a go, and we’re always willing to take new people in, teach them the basics and show them how to play the game.
“The best thing about baseball I find is everyone can find an aspect of the game they can be good at – whether it’s running, throwing, catching or hitting.”
Cue yours truly being invited in to bat a few, more than generous pitches in the middle of Iceni’s practice game.
The prospect had seemed OK before we arrived, when three people would be hanging around and the rusty bat would give me an excuse. But this was proper training. It almost felt an interruption in their preparations – which is perhaps the best compliment Norwich Iceni deserve to be paid.
“It’s been really good,” said the team’s Canadian manager and captain, Ethan Attwood. “Travelling all over the country to visit other teams, you get a look at what their facilities are like, what their teams are like, their management structure.
“What Mike and the others on the committee have done here in Norwich has really been impressive in terms of securing a field and getting it ready to play baseball, keeping members involved.
“I’m from Nova Scotia…and you pick so much up just from being in a country where baseball is so popular. It’s not where it is in the United States because ice hockey will always be the number one most favourite of Canadians, but it’s growing in Canada too.
“I’ve been impressed, no doubt. It’s looking good for us so far. We’re just going to keep on trying as hard as we can every day in trying to motivate each other to get better, and keep interest up in the local area so we get that recruiting base coming through.”
Smith added: “Our numbers are pretty healthy this year so hopefully next year, if things continue in the same fashion we can look to set-up a second team and go from there.”
Given the progress Norwich Iceni have already made in such a short space of time, it won’t be too long before everyone walking past Wednesday night training knows exactly what they’re watching.