Team Great Britain (with a Distinct Bahamian Flair)
by RENALDO DORSETT
PHOENIX, Arizona – D’Shawn Knowles was going through his second round of BP, and in between swings, exchanged a series of one liners with Chavez Young about hitting home runs over the deepest part of the Chase Field wall.
That lighthearted, but animated interaction between Knowles, a Los Angeles Angels prospect, and Young, a Pittsburgh Pirates prospect was indicative of the energy the Bahamian influence has brought to Great Britain baseball.
You would never guess they were hours away from what they both called one of the biggest games of their respective careers against Team USA Friday night.
Their jerseys may say Great Britain across the chest, but there’s no mistaking the impact that Bahamian culture has on this team headed into the World Baseball Classic.
The Great Britain roster includes infielders BJ Murray (Chicago Cubs) and Anfernee Seymour; pitchers Tahnaj Thomas (Pittsburgh Pirates) and Chavez Fernander (Detroit Tigers), catcher Ural Forbes; outfielders Young (Pirates), Knowles (Angels), and Trayce Thompson (Los Angeles Dodgers) – the son of Bahamian basketball icon Mychal Thompson.
The coaching staff includes San Francisco Giants first base coach Antoan Richardson and International Elite Sports Academy co-founder Albert Cartwright.
“We bring so much to the roster, our camaraderie, our energy, we just feed off each other and I think that helps us to just go out there and play our game,” Knowles said, “It means a lot. We do this right, we play well, there are more opportunities for the boys back home to play with Great Britain in the future or even better, if we have our own Bahamian team. We would get to put our own culture and country on the map.”
Team Great Britain opens pool play against the USA Friday night followed by a March 12 matchup against Canada, March 13 against Colombia and March 14 against Mexico.
“Brother love, that’s the vibe we have anywhere we go,” Young added, “The energy is going to be there, we’re our brother’s keepers out here.”
Seymour emerged as a leader on and off the field for Great Britain at last year’s qualifier in Germany leading the team in hits, RBI, stolen bases and producing one iconic image planting the Union Jack at home plate.
“The Bahamian guys, we bring all the energy, we bring all the excitement,” he said, “The other players and the staff always say when we’re together nobody can understand us, but they know we’re having a good time. That spreads through the entire team and brings us together.”
Knowles, who has spent his entire pro career with the Angels said showcasing their skills at the highest level at the WBC can impact their careers and the future generations of Bahamian players.
“To get this opportunity to do this, it means alot – not just as a country, but also for us in our careers respective organizations’” he said, “I finished in High-A last year, this year I’m looking at getting to AA, making my major league debut, and who knows. Whether it’s against the USA or anyone else, it’s just another game, we’re just trying to have fun. I did well in the qualifiers but this is the real deal. I just want to go out there and have fun, enjoy the moment because who knows when something like this will happen again.”
Young was recently traded from the Toronto Blue Jays organization to the Pirates organization. He homered last week in a Spring Training appearance with the Pirates before he left the club to join Great Britain to the WBC.
“My approach is to just have fun, it’s another opportunity. I’m grateful to be here but it’s more important that I’m here with my brothers. It’s rare for us to have a chance to play together at this level so we definitely want to take advantage of it,” he said, “This competition is going to be amazing, when you think of the World Baseball Classic you’re facing Team USA’s best and the best from around the world. You forget about playing for stats, you’re playing for team and country so it’s more about leaving your pride in the trunk of the car and thinking of how you can impact the team.”
With Lucius Fox a late scratch from the roster, Seymour made the shift from the outfield to the middle infield. He saw reps at both shortstop and second base in pre tournament scrimmages against the Milwaukee Brewers and Kansas City Royals.
“I just want to show my value and show that I can play everywhere – I can play short, I can play second, I can play outfield. I can play anywhere I need to to help a team win,” Seymour said, “It’s an honor to play amongst my countrymen, my childhood friends. This is probably the only opportunity we will have to come together as one and play on the same team so this means alot to me. It means so much for us to be together, we get to talk about the game, help one another out – which we don’t get to do on a daily basis.
Seymour said he hopes to lead by example for his Florida Beach Ballers travel ball club which made its tournament debut last month in Sanford, Florida.
“This is also for all the little kids home, especially with me opening my Florida Beach Ballers organization, I just want to show them to respect the game and play hard,” he said, “Everything I try to teach them and coach them is what I try to do.”
This marks the third time Bahamians have been a part of a Great Britain roster at the WBC Qualifiers.
Richardson and Cartwright were the first to join the roster when Great Britain made its debut at the 2013 Qualifiers in Regensburg, Germany. The team finished 1-2.
At the 2017 Qualifiers in Brooklyn, New York, Richardson and Cartwright were joined by Ali Knowles, Jazz Chisholm Jr, Kyle Simmons, Todd Isaacs Jr, Reshard Munroe, Byron Murray and Champ Stuart. That team finished just one game shy of WBC qualification when they suffered a 9-1 loss in the final.
Bahamian players are eligible to compete for Great Britain once their parents were born in the Bahamas while it was still a British colony, prior to Independence.
“We have some OGs on this team, Antoan is here, Albert is here and we have Anfernee. Anfernee is one of the main guys in that group that followed behind Antoan to be drafted and find his way to pro ball. They really paved the way for this floodgate of guys signing now,” Young said, “It’s a great opportunity to play with guys who opened the door for us.”
Great Britain is currently ranked no.22 in the world by the World Baseball/Softball Confederation (WBSC) while The Bahamas is ranked at no.64. To achieve a higher ranking and gain eligibility for international events, The Bahamas is required to gain points by competing in regional Pan American Baseball Confederation (COPABE) events. COPABE is the governing body for baseball in the Americas.
The path toward gaining those points began in earnest when The Bahamas finished 4th at the Caribbean Cup last December at the Andre Rodgers Baseball Stadium. Prior to that tournament, the last senior men’s national team to compete was at the 2009 World Baseball Challenge in British Columbia, Canada.