by Gary Bedingfield
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As an Englishman, my enthusiasm for baseball may seem a tad strange. Baseball is not popular in Britain, and yet I developed a passion for the American national pastime at a tender age. For me, baseball represents America. Unlike any other sport baseball has woven its way into the everyday language and culture of the nation, and you simply cannot claim to know America without knowing baseball.
For 20 years I played on the baseball diamonds of England. Fleeting moments of my own achievements will always be with me, but more than anything I will remember the things that make baseball so perfect - the ballfields with their lovingly maintained grass infield, the rich brown dirt basepaths and perfectly laid white lines; the thud of a fresh white baseball hitting a well-seasoned glove; and the grace and precision of my teammates as they execute with perfection seemingly impossible plays. There's no doubt about it - I love baseball.
As my playing days came to an end, I developed an appetite for the history of the game searching for links between baseball and my own country. In 1993, I discovered a copy of a game program. It was in pretty good shape considering it was 50 years old and it had been produced for an "all-professional" game staged by the U.S. military in London, England in 1943. Scanning through the team rosters and dotted between the names of minor league players I noticed big leaguers Montie Weaver, Paul Campbell, Lou Thuman and Ross Grimsley. I was intrigued and excited; I'd had professional ball players on my doorstep, albeit half a century ago! Could this have been one of many similar events during the war years? Further investigation revealed that U.S. and Canadian servicemen in Europe played a multitude of ball games, but intriguingly these events have never been written about.
And so began the foundations of this work. Six years later, and constantly fueled by the perpetual enthusiasm of the men that have so generously shared their memories with me, the following chapters offer an insight into a period of history that will never be repeated. A time of great triumphs and incomparable tragedies; a time when baseball served as a fervent reminder of back home traditions to all Americans overseas and played a vital role as one of the few accessible distractions from the horrors of facing death in combat. Through the pictorial image that era has been recaptured - an era in which the significance of baseball was never more poignant.
Copyright © 1999 by Gary Bedingfield. Reprinted with permission.