Walton-on-Thames to hold event celebrating history as the surprising ‘home of baseball’

Walton-on-Thames is capitalising on its status as the site of the first recorded baseball match and pursuing affiliation with a Major League club.

During a day of festivities on 7 July, a blue plaque will be unveiled and the Great Britain baseball squad will play a demonstration game.

But the surprising home of America’s ‘national pastime’ is dreaming big.

Joanna Gordon, managing director of Walton-on-Thames Trading Alliance (WoTTA), which is organising the event, said: “I would like to somehow team up with a massive American team. The New York Yankees are worth $4 billion on their own.”

Ms Gordon went on: “We could get some kind of affiliation. They love history in America and why not?

“We could invite them over in their offseason, have a little meal with them in the cricket club pavilion, something like that would be fun. We could run a little team.”

Tracey Blandford, a marketing and communications manager and member of WoTTA, said that the club had been in contact with some baseball teams.

She said: “We have had some interest and we will follow it up after our event. We’d like to get an affiliation, even a twin town or something like that.

“We’ve also had a lot of the local clubs around London start to show an interest in helping us to develop the event next year.”

And Ms Blandford enthused about the idea of starting a baseball club in Walton.

“I’ve got three children and I’m sure they would love to be involved,” she said.

“We’ve had some feedback on Facebook saying ‘Wouldn’t it be fab to have a baseball team in Walton?’ We’ve pushed it over to the cricket club for them to think about.”

Walton-on-Thames Cricket Club, established in 1898, runs four Saturday teams and has around 190 junior players.

Graham Mann, community engagement officer for Walton CC, said the club was open to the idea of starting a baseball team at some point, but pointed out it might pose some logistical problems.

“There are some challenges because the baseball season and the cricket season clash. So we need to find a solution to that,” he said.

For the time being, though, all eyes are on Sunday 7, when Walton will descend on Ashley Park for a day of baseball-related merriment.

In 2013 baseball historian David Block found a mention of a baseball match in Walton in 1749.

Mr Block, a member of the highly-regarded Society for American Baseball Research, was poring over a copy of The Whitehall Evening Post when he encountered a surprising news item: “On Tuesday last, his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, and Lord Middlesex, played at Bass-Ball [sic], at Walton in Surry [sic]; notwithstanding the Weather was extreme [sic] bad, they continued playing several Hours.”

Ms Gordon found out about Mr Block’s discovery while doing research for a Walton history trail at the town’s cricket club.

She said: “They casually dropped in that the first recorded baseball match was played in Walton and I said, ‘What? This is massive!’”

And with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees playing two games at the London Stadium from 29-30 June, baseball’s unlikely home has received extensive international media attention, especially from America and Japan.

Ms Gordon said: “We had a Japanese TV crew come and film us and they’re coming to the actual event as well. They were here for about an hour and a half. I had to get mic’d up and everything.”

On the day itself, alongside the baseball match and plaque unveiling, there will be batting cages for members of the public to try their hand at the sport, as well as food and drinks and children’s rides.

Henry Haines, 7, said: “I think it’s going to be really fun. I’m going to whack it really far.”

Mr Block will also be signing copies of his new book, Pastime Lost: The Humble, Original, and Now Completely Forgotten Game of English Baseball.

Looking forward, WoTTA has just launched a crowdfunding campaign for an interactive baseball statue in Ashley Park.

Ms Gordon said: “I would want a big backdrop which would be a big round baseball. On the floor possibly the footprints which could be the Prince of Wales’ footprints from 1749. People can come and stand in those footprints, hold a suspended baseball bat and take a selfie.”

The idea, she explained, would be to help drive trade in the town: “It would hopefully bring baseball fans to visit. And they would have a cup of coffee or something in the town.”

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