An Open Letter to the British Baseball Federation and Baseball Softball UK

Please note: This was written Monday, 9 April… after I wrote it, I decided to give it a few days to decide if i should share it. I have decided it needs to be shared.

Dear BBF and BSUK,

As I write this letter, the potential implications of my comments is not lost on me. I have tended to try to ‘stay above the fray’ when it comes to the many political issues that plague the sport in the UK, however after the experience I’ve had in the past week I can no longer hold back.

Many years ago, I made a decision to try to be a positive contributor to the ongoing development of Baseball & Softball in this country and it is in this spirit that I would like to share my views. I do this with the interest of the sport I love and the many people whose lives have been touched by it, in my heart. You are letting them down and it is time for something to be done about it.

Yesterday, the most important day of the year for any UK Baseball player or fan took place. It was Opening Day. If the significance of Opening Day is lost on you, then you are not a Baseball person and you should probably stop reading now.

As a Chairman of a Baseball Club, first-year Manager of the reigning National Baseball League (NBL) Champions, youth baseball coach (18U, 16U and Minors), player (most recently in AAA) and parent of two young Baseball players, Opening Day is the most important day of the year for me. This letter is about my deep disappointment over the experience I have had in the past week, as we prepared to kick off the 2018 season.

In 38 years of being involved in this game, I have never seen anything worse than what I saw in the last week.

If you are someone involved in the administration of Baseball in this country, it will come as no surprise to say that there are differences and disputes going on between the BBF and BSUK. There are a number of factors which have contributed to what can only be described as a total breakdown of a professional relationship. I do not intend to take sides, nor do I wish to comment on who is responsible for what. I side with the players, parents, volunteers and fans. From this outside perspective, it is clear that your relationship is completely dysfunctional and that it is bringing the entire sport down. All of us are left shaking our heads in disbelief as you battle each other for control over the governance and ongoing development of our game, going tit for tat as you try to score points over the other guy in a ridiculous and petty manner.

If the past few weeks, let alone months, is any indication of what is to come of all of this. It’s hard not to feel that Baseball in the UK is in a dire situation. And at this stage, I would have absolutely no confidence or trust in either organisation when it comes to the leadership and stewardship of the sport.

And here is (just the most recent example of) why. Opening Day 2018.

In the days leading up to the first pitch being thrown on Sunday, none of the following was in place, which is nothing short of an absolute disgrace:

  • There was no schedule of games posted on the website
  • There was no ability for teams to register their players
  • There was no way to submit a roster, nor any communication about what to do
  • about it (despite there being a rule in place that severely penalises a team for not having properly submitted its roster)
  • The fields at Farnham Park were poorly prepared
  • There was broken glass all over at least 2 of the 4 dugouts (a known and well-documented issue) where players commonly change their shoes as they prepare to play a game
  • There was nearly 4 inches of standing water in one of the dugouts
  • The L-Screens, necessary for pre-game batting practice were locked away
  • We were given 4 baseballs for a 9-inning game in the rain
  • Proper arrangements for the use of the grounds crew were not in place, resulting in a dispute over the cost of working on the field when we needed people to be working on it so we could finish our game

It was the most uninspiring Opening Day I’ve ever been a part of.

In my capacity as a board member at my club, I have had numerous conversations with members of both BSUK and the BBF, at the highest level. I hear constantly how passionate each organisation is about the game of Baseball. After this weekend, I need no further evidence about how empty those words are.

Both organisations are failing us. And both organisations should be ashamed of themselves. Especially given how many individuals there are involved with both organisations who say that they want to see things get better.

Where is the leadership? Where is the focus? Where is the so-called passion for the game? The rest of us are tired of the results of your finger-pointing and your lackluster performances. We are tired of hearing it is the other guy’s fault. We are tired of the excuses.

You all need to do better.

Instead of finger-pointing or hiding behind service-level agreements and corporate-speak, why didn’t someone just be the bigger person and post the league schedule instead of claiming it was the other side’s fault? Why is there always broken glass in the dugouts? Why were the L-screens locked away – causing us to have to start batting practice late in the game? How come the person in charge of the National Baseball League wasn’t there to oversee, or just to see Opening Day? Why was nobody from BSUK there to make sure that Opening Day at your facility was a success?

These are rhetorical questions, so please do not bother to respond with the same blame game and political posturing that has been the norm for the past several years. And please spare us all the excuse that its just ‘British Baseball’ is therefore the best we can do. It’s not good enough. Not anymore.

When will you rise above your differences and see that the players of this game in this country, young and old, deserve better? When more clubs leave you behind and set up their own leagues and infrastructure? When people stop volunteering because it’s impossible to get anything done at a local level, when the people who run the game at a National level exist at a constant impasse? When families begin choosing other sports because of the poor experience that Baseball offers them?

Your lack of vision and stewardship over the game has shone brightly for the last few years, but for me never more than it did this past weekend. It became clear to me on Opening Day that British Baseball players can no longer rely on either of your organisations to provide the sort of environment that all Baseball players deserve.

We are becoming deaf to any accusations that it is the other party who is at fault. We see you as one group of people who seem intent on proving to be more or less ineffective at even the most basic elements of your jobs (volunteer or salaried) – which is to make this game better for today’s players and for the generations to come.

It is time for you both to take a look in the mirror and ask yourselves if you are truly acting in the best interest of the game and the people who play it, because from the perspective of someone who is deeply entrenched in it and who has spent the last decade trying to make a difference, it seems very clear to me that you are not.

Sincerely,
Drew Spencer

 

How are you using your voice?

I recently watched Snoop Dogg’s documentary “Reincarnated” (where he becomes “Snoop Lion”) on Netflix.

Movie poster for Snoop Dogg's "Reincarnated"

In it, he talks about how he realized that he had never really made any music that would “help people”. His legacy was all about violence, misogyny, and illegal activity, and that bothered him. He realized that his musical success had made him an icon, with global reach. His voice had influenced millions of people around the world and he wasn’t happy with what he had done with that influence so far. These aren’t his exact words. I’m paraphrasing, but that’s what I feel he was getting at in the film.

Snoop wanted to make a Reggae album to try to access another piece of who he is and say something different. He does not apologize for being “Snoop Dogg”, but he explains that he had reached a point in his life where he wanted his legacy to have another side to it. He realized that his music was the way it was because of the life he had lived growing up. He identified with the struggle of poor, disadvantaged kids who grew up in bad neighborhoods and didn’t care about authority because he had been one. His “reincarnation” is about the realization that that he had a chance to do something about that.

So, he went to Jamaica… and smoked a lot of what is smoked in Jamaica (in almost every minute of the documentary, so you’ve been warned) and made an album called “Reincarnated”. Of course, the album (which I liked) is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea (nor is the film, which I also liked) but for me it struck a chord. Here’s why.

I grew up with Hip Hop music and loved every aspect of it, including the sometimes questionable lyrics. As a teenager, I didn’t recognize the mysoginy for what it was. The lyrics were fun and I knew better than to take them seriously or to think about women that way. The music was also violent, but I didn’t grow up in the “ghetto” and although I was around gang violence (and my friends and I were racially profiled and regularly harassed by the local Police Department*), the violence in songs like N.W.A.’s “F__K Tha Police” or the rebellious anger in Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” were just forms of expression to me. I had enough support from positive role models in my life to have some perspective on the difference between the music and the reality. The music touched on things that I could identify with however, and no matter how it made some people feel, I believed that it needed to be heard. I would defend this music when challenged by people that wanted to label it, or the people that liked it in ways that I didn’t agree with. Like every generation feels about the music which defines it, Hip Hop spoke for me and for people like me.

As I got older, and especially once I became a parent, I started hearing lyrics differently. (This is also when I completely stopped using the N-word, which I stupidly used among my friends for years).

I began to wonder if people like Snoop Dogg ever thought about how many people their lyrics had impacted and what exactly that impact had done to people’s lives. I had friends that went down the wrong path because they wanted to be seen “big pimpin”, or thought it was cool to be a “thug”. I wanted Snoop (and all of the rest of them) to realize what a powerful force they could be if they changed their message and used their voice as a vehicle for helping people to get out of the struggle, rather than to perpetuate it.

I wasn’t completely hating. The world needs people to shine a light on what goes on in the places that most people would rather pretend don’t exist. It always will. These stories need to be told. And there’s no getting around the fact that some of them aren’t very nice stories to tell. Art does that, and Hip Hop is art. What I wanted, was for these successful global artists to stop glorifying the struggle and to use their voice to help people gain some perspective and to get out of that way of living. And then to help someone else in their community to do the same. Each one, teach one.

Today, a friend asked me to watch a video of Ben Drew or “Plan B” (musician, actor, writer-director) who is a British Hip Hop artist and writer/director of “Ill Manors” (an amazing film about “the struggle” in East London). The video is a TedxObserver video in which he gave one of the most inspiring talks I’ve ever seen anyone give about this very thing.

If you have 20 minutes, you should watch this video. It will make you think twice about a lot of things. It will make you think differently about our society and how quick we are to judge people for being born in the “wrong part of town”, or for dressing a certain way. It will make you look at the London riots in 2011 a little differently and cause you to question all of the things said about “today’s youth” by the media. It might also make you think a little differently about certain words that you use to describe people from the wrong part of town, and how you regard those kids in “the streets” that we are all a little too quick to discount.

It should also inspire you to do something about it, like Plan B has done. He started the Each One Teach One Trust in the UK and is helping create opportunities for those that need them. Not just opportunities to make music, or star in films (though he’s done that too). His organisation is about creating opportunities and enable positive, long-term changes in the lives of young people. Watch the video. It’s a must.

It definitely inspired me. Not only to write this post today, but to remember that each of us in our own way has the ability to influence people. And not just as individuals in our personal lives, but in our businesses and governments and in the clubs and gangs that we belong to. It’s in the stories we tell. In the ads we make. In the movies we see and the songs we listen to. It’s in the news we read. It’s in every post we send on the Internet. We all have a voice and our voices influence people.

My blog is about marketing, creativity and technology. That’s what I do. I know not many people read it, but today I wanted to shine a light on one little organisation trying to make a difference. It just struck me that everyone (from Snoop to Plan B) at some point starts to think about how what they have made of their opportunities, both good and bad. Both Snoop and Plan B struggled in poor families and bad neighborhoods. Both had a talent that gave them a chance to be heard, by millions of people. One made a Reggae album**, so that the world might see him differently. The other took a reggae song (see below) and used it to build an organisation that helps disadvantaged kids to see themselves differently.

We all have a voice. What will you do with yours?

*The Glendale Police Department stopped me nearly 20 times over a 2 year period in high school. The majority of the time I had at least one other “ethnic minority” in the car with me. Once I was asked to take my backpack (which happened to be full of purple and white pom pons that we were selling to raise money for my H.S. Baseball team) out of the car and to place it on the roof so that the officer could stand at a safe distance while he waited to check my license. Another time, two of my latino friends and two black friends were in the car and we had a flashlight shone in all of our faces and were then asked if we were all brothers.

**I’m sure that Snoop Dogg has used some of his money and influence to create programmes and organisations in the community that help people too. I will gladly share his TED video when it comes out.