Ian Johnson sits on a Toronto Blue Jays cushion and wears a Kansas City Royals warmup jacket. His feet are on a cooler covered with major-league team stickers.
He is watching his teammates who, like him, are definitely baseball fanatics and definitely British. The team is one of nearly 50 in four British associations that play at a skill level about equal to that of U.S. high school teams. About half of the participants are transplanted Americans from 17 to 33 years old, but a surprising 40 percent are Britons who have latched on to the U.S. national pastime.
Cricket, the baseball-like game with two wickets instead of bases and a bevy of gloveless fielders, continues to be the top summer sport here. But some of the British consider its five-day matches much too long and the action tedious compared to baseball.
Last year Dwayne Munson, the brother of the New York Yankees' late catcher Thurman, played briefly here. However, most of the play is sloppy, with simple throwing and catching often comically amateurish.
British players all know the major leaguers from Pete Rose to Dwight Gooden, but the conversations in pubs usually concern the problems of being a baseball addict in a country that considers the sport an oddity.
Baseball fields here are usually natural grass -- and little else. Central London's fields have no permanent backstops, no mounds and no basepaths nor cutouts.
"The park attendants put down foul lines for us, but I usually must call beforehand to remind them," said Don Ferguson, the Southern England Baseball Association publicist and a team manager.
Only two London shops carry baseball equipment and the teams usually count on visiting Americans to import everything from boxes of balls to major-league souvenirs.
This in a country that has played organized baseball for 100 years. In the late 1930s, the game reached its zenith with a semipro league and thousands attending top games, Goff Phillips, 56, a London draftsman and longtime player, said. After World War II, numerous U.S. soldiers stayed here and rekindled interest. But the number of teams dropped to about eight in 1980.
What has caused baseball's British resurgence? One Londoner who has experienced the recent boom of American fast food chains here guessed it was the "hamburger cult and their Budweezer." However, officials of the 24-team Southern England Baseball Association believe that the weekly telecasts of U.S. football and a growing interest in U.S. sports in the 1980s has piqued the English curiousity.
Increased travel between the two countries also has boosted English baseball. Ferguson said he had never even heard of the game before traveling to the West Coast four years ago. After attending a few major-league games in southern California, he was hooked. Ferguson then drove through the Sunbelt and the Northeast, stopping to take in games in Houston and Arlington, Tex., Atlanta, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York.
Alan Blomfield had baseball handed to him. His father coached the local club, the Button Braves, and Bloomfield picked up the game when he was 11. Now he's considered the best native player.
Bloomfield, 20, is often advised to try professional ball, but he says he's had insufficient coaching here and couldn't compete with U.S. minor leaguers.
The stalwarts of British baseball are still the Americans who come here with the armed forces or to study for the summer or to settle down. Mike Saur, 28, was raised in Rockville, Md. He works in London as a geophysist and manages the London Warriors, the SEBA's top team. He said, "In my eyes, this is good high school ball."
Brett Tracy, 18, was attending high school in Lexington Park, Md., before following his Navy captain father to London. He plays for the U.S. Navy team and is disgruntled with the umpires, a common complaint.
"I dove head first into third and the umpire called me out. And you know why? Because he had never seen a head-first slide before and thought it was illegal," he said.