- New York Times: August 11, 1986 – Playing Baseball inWales
- South Wales Echo: Jan 12 2006. – Ted Peterson.
The article below was found after a great deal of research, but is a fascinating account of our precious game as seen by the eyes of an eminent American Journalist for the New York Times. The star of the piece is John Smith of Llanrumney and the venue – Roath Park. Many thanks to Jacqueline Brewster of NYTimes.com for allowing us to reproduce this article.
SPORTS OF THE TIMES; Playing Baseball inWales
By George Vecsey
Published New York Times: August 11, 1986
Many thanks to Jacqueline Brewster of NYTimes.com for allowing us to reproduce this article.
ON our first morning in Wales, our host Alastair made a pot of tea and announced, ”So, we’re off to a baseball game on Saturday.” We indulgently ascribed his talk to Celtic mysticism, visions of long-lost cities in the driving surf, ancient Druid deities in the mist. If Alastair thought he could find a baseball game inWales, more power to him.
Alastair’s stone cottage looks out on a rolling valley with a rushing river, a scenic canal, two brands of sheep grazing on separate farms and a mountain range in the distance. Only two miles from his home is a thriving market town where one can find just enough Caerphilly cheese and Jan Morris books to revive the dream of Getting Away From It All.
The exact name and location of Alastair’s town will remain a secret, lest this damp little version of paradise become Hamptonized. There are enough public footpaths and castles and Roman gold mines and rocky promontories overlooking the sea to make a New Yorker get over the fact that Len Dykstra and Kevin Mitchell are nearly 3,000 miles away.
On Friday night, we sat in yet another picturesque pub, drinking cider and eating grilled trout, when Alastair said, ”Well folks, tomorrow is the baseball game inCardiff.”
The day of the alleged big game dawned bright and clear, and we drove through twisting mountain roads to the defunct coal mines of theRhonddaValleyuntil we reachedCardiff, capital of a nation with no government, whose last prince, Llewelyn, was murdered seven centuries ago.
We foundRoathPark, a long green strip with stone row houses on one side and a grove of trees on the other – an urban oasis something like Memorial Stadium inBaltimore, without the stadium.
Shortly after two o’clock, there was a bustle of robust men in bright uniforms of cleated shoes, short-sleeved shirts and bright shorts, like soccer players. They carried a few bats, rounded on one side, flat on the other; a few baseballs slightly smaller and slightly softer than the American brand, and they began warming up in what any American baseball buff would immediately recognize as a game of pepper.
Then an umpire arrived, and they began playing a game that seemed halfway between North American baseball and the cricket played in the rest of the English-speaking world. Ten fielders aligned themselves in a 360-degree circle around a batter, while the pitcher, or ”hurler,” fired his missile from an underhand position, much like Dan Quisenberry of the Kansas City Royals.
The basic idea is that the batter tries to catch a piece of the ball and slice it or hook it ”where they ain’t” as Wee Willie Keeler was supposed to have said. What would be a foul ball in the United States can become a four-base wallop, with a fielder chasing the ball into the street behind home plate while the batter rounds the bases, tapping four poles inserted in the ground.
The catcher wears two gloves that fit snugly over both hands, but nobody else wears gloves. The players position themselves depending on the hitting skills of the batter and, occasionally, make nifty diving catches of slashing fly balls. The teams keep batting until every man has been retired once: Two full innings constitutes a game.
Midway through the game, it became apparent that the hurler for the Llanrumney team, a burly right-hander with straight sandy hair, a droopy sandy mustache and a solid athlete’s paunch, was one tough Welshman. His best pitch was a spinning, rising fastball straight at the chin – the top of the strike zone. He reminded one touring Yank of Billy Smith, the gruff hockey goalkeeper of the New York Islanders, and, it turned out, he was himself a Smith, named John.
”He is the most capped Welsh player in history,” explained William Barrett, a headmaster by profession who helps run the Welsh league. ”John Smith has played 13 straight years against the English in our annual international match.”
As Llanrumney, champions for 12 years, scampered from post to post on this brisk afternoon, William Barrett told how Jane Austen had differentiated between cricket and baseball in ”Northanger Abbey,” written in 1792, or 47 years before Abner Doubleday was supposed to have created baseball inCooperstown,N.Y.
The game took hold inNewportandCardiffin southWalesin the late 19th century and also surfaced inMerseyside,England. William Barrett filled us in on the exploits of the great Fred Fish, who once hit 11 homers in 12 times up; the immortal Tommy Denning who was capped 12 times against England; the Irish immigrant, Paddy Hennessey, who allowed the tiny sum of six runs in one inning to England in 1964, and how American sailors from the Manley had played both versions of the game with Welshmen in World War II.
Only a few relatives and a few fans were watching this game, a far cry from the crowds of 4,000 to 5,000 that used to come out. ”Too much else to do now,” Barrett noted, proudly adding that thousands of Welsh boys and girls play baseball as their main summer sport.
After slashing hits to the four points of the compass, burly John Smith was finally retired, and wandered over to talk a little baseball. He is a docker in the fadingportofCardiff, who pays one British pound (currently nearly $1.50) to play on weekends and 50 pence on week nights.
”I don’t make anything from baseball,” he said, ”but it’s a nice feeling when the youngsters come up to you and say, ‘Don’t you play for Wales?’ ”
Standing on the grass inCardiff, this most amateur of athletes sounded as professional as any hurler in one of the enclosed baseball parks in theNew World. He readily agreed: ”Yes, I do aim at their chins. It puts pressure on them. That’s what this game is all about, pressure.
”One day I’ll pressure them and the next day they’ll pressure me. There are lots of batters who can hit me. They learn to use the pace on my ball to their advantage.
”I’m 34 now, getting on in years, and I don’t throw as hard as I used to. But the beauty of this game is that you learn to get them out other ways. I’m trying to place my fielders more now. Let them get the batters out for me.”
John Smith looked blank when the visiting Yank compared him to another aging hurler named Tom Seaver, who had learned, years ago, to compensate for loss of velocity.
Smith seemed to know little about American baseball except that those players make money at the game, but the discrepancy did not seem to trouble him as he swaggered back to the field to aim a few more fastballs at a few more chins.
Article found – South Wales Echo: Jan 12 2006. – Accessed 8th October 2012
Reproduced by kind permission of Wales Online.
‘He loved sport and his family’
A sports fanatic, Ted Peterson had been opening bowler for the Welsh International baseball team, and received an MBE in 1997 for services to sport.
Born in Canton, Cardiff, on May 6, 1960, Mr Peterson championed local baseball, playing for his beloved Penylan who regularly had epic battles against the Grange Albion team.
His son Alan, 58, said: ‘He was a big fish in a small pond.
‘Baseball was very popular after the war. My first memory was him playing in front of 15,000 people in the Castle grounds. All the way through as a family we just had him on loan because his commitment to all levels of sport was so great.’
Mr Peterson worked from 1937 until his retirement in 1981 for Great Western Railways in the docks of Cardiff, Barry and Newport – where his father worked before him.
He served for six years with the Royal Engineers, in Dunkirk in 1939, at the age of 23, and the D-Day landings in 1944 – later becoming Quartermaster Sergeant.
‘In his wallet he would carry Eisenhower’s message to the troops, and some francs,’ said Alan.
Mr Peterson had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease for more than 10 years, and had spent many months in Llandough Hospital. But he was brought home to Inverness Place, Roath, Cardiff, where he passed away peacefully surrounded by his family on Monday, December 19.
Alan paid tribute to his father and said: ‘He was known to everyone as a great gentleman – he was like that at home as well. He was fun and he had a great sense of humour. He wasn’t generally massive with material things, he wanted us all to be well-educated. His kids and his wife were right up there.
‘He was a gentle person and yet very competitive in sport. He always saw the best in people and situations – he was a born optimist. He was an overnight success, it just took him 80 years to get there.’
Mr Peterson leaves a wife of 66 years, Nell, 87; five children, Barbara, 65, Frances, 63, Alan, 58, Lynne, 54 and Neil, 47; 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Ted Peterson – Wikipedia
British Baseball – Wikipedia