'Kind Hearts Everywhere I Went': Roadtripping With The Baseball Brit

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I don’t know if you’ve noticed this — you probably have — but the news lately has been discouraging.

It seems like no matter which side of the U.S. political aisle you’re on, you’re probably not terribly happy with the way things are going.

But I recently talked to a guy who feels pretty differently about this place many of us call home. And, maybe not coincidentally, he’s British.

Joey Mellows visited ESPN in April. (Courtesy Joey Mellows)
Joey Mellows visited ESPN in April. (Courtesy Joey Mellows)

Growing up on the South Coast of England, Joey Mellows — the Baseball Brit — didn’t know anything about baseball. But he did know that everyone around him seemed to be on the same path — Joey calls it a "conveyor belt": study hard, get good grades, go to university, meet someone you can spend your life with, buy a car, take on a mortgage, have a baby.

In 2014, when Joey was approaching 30 years old, he decided to take a job teaching in South Korea. Why?

"It was a romance that ended, and I did the perfectly rational thing of moving 5,000 miles to get away from all the bad memories," Joey says.

About a year later, Joey’s parents came out for a visit. Then all three of them flew to Japan to see the cherry blossoms. That’s where Joey’s next romance began.

"I was in a bar in Osaka, and there was a game on the bar television," Joey says. "And there was this huge chap with a big belly. I said to the barman, 'Who is this guy?' And he said, 'Oh, that's C.C. Sabathia.' And I said, 'Oh, crikey.' And I said, 'What sport is this?' And he said, 'This is MLB. This is baseball.' "

I said, 'What sport is this?' And he said, 'This is MLB. This is baseball.'

Joey Mellows

Joey asked his hotel concierge, and, sure enough, there was a game in Osaka that night. He took his mom and his dad. And he got himself a beer.

"You know, growing up in England with soccer, you can't drink a beer in view of the field in your seat," Joey says, "so that was a real novelty."

But the opportunity to drink beer at his seat isn't the only thing Joey liked about baseball.

"I like the pace," Joey says. "And I know that's not a popular opinion at the moment in particular, but the pace of play. The game took just over three hours, I think, and it gave us time to talk. And I'd say, we had some of the best conversations together, maybe possibly for years whilst we were sat in between innings trying to work out what was going on."

Joey went back on his own the next night to try to understand the game better. And, for the next four years while living in Korea, Joey watched MLB games in the morning and Korean games at night, trying to learn everything he could.

A Lifelong Dream

But to really understand how a love of baseball could completely transform Joey’s life, you have to know one more thing about him. When he was a kid, Joey watched a lot of movies — American movies.

And, while watching movies like Easy Rider, Joey became fascinated with the idea of taking a road trip across the U.S., seeing the cities and the wide open spaces, talking to the people.

And when he discovered baseball, he figured he’d found the perfect excuse to go from place to place.

He announced his plans in a video posted to Twitter:

"I started in Japan," Joey says. "That was where the Major League Baseball season began between the Oakland Athletics and the Seattle Mariners."

After Japan, Joey flew back to South Korea to see opening day in the Korean league. And then he flew to the U.S., where he hit the open road. He saw Major League games, Minor League games, college games. He even visited the Field of Dreams movie site.

Joey had his life savings and eight months to see 162 games and all 30 Major League ballparks.

He didn’t have much of a plan. Every few days, he’d sit down and map out where he wanted to go next.

"The one thing I missed the most whilst I was on the road was the ability to access a kettle," Joey says. " 'Cause I drink tea every day. You know ... there are stereotypes of English people, and I fall into many of them."

Joey couldn't afford to stay in a hotel every night. Sometimes, he'd just sleep in his car.

"The first time I did it, it was bonkers," Joey says. "I had just driven [to] Montgomery, Alabama. The Biscuits. I think at the AA level. And I wanted to go there 'cause I just liked the name 'Biscuits.' I wanted to get a T-shirt, and I'm just a goof.

"So I drove 11 hours to get there. It got rained out. I was staying in a shoddy, dreadful hotel. It was depressing as hell. And then, the next day, I drove to the Braves, and they'd been in touch to say, 'Hey, Joey, like, you know, we heard you're coming. Where are you staying tonight?' And I said, 'Oh, I'm not staying anywhere. I don't have anywhere to stay. It's too expensive.' "

The Braves' head of marketing told Joey not to worry. He could stay in the team hotel for the night."

"And he messaged me, saying, 'It's all paid. You've just got to turn up.' And I got there, and they said, 'Hey, like, we need the credit card.' So I was like, 'Well, I don't have the credit card because the Braves paid for it.' So they said, 'Well, you're gonna have to ring him, and he's gonna have to give us the number.' And it was, like, 1 in the morning. So I went and drove my car around to a skip in the back of this hotel."

(A "skip" is better known as a "dumpster" in the U.S.)

"I slept in the back of the car, put the seats down, and then had an anorak over my head," Joey says. "The worst thing is just, like — as a 34-year-old man, having to urinate around the back of a skip at 1 o'clock in the morning, after the Braves have done something very kind to you, because you're too scared to bring up the head of marketing."

Joey made it through the night. And, as it happens, he’d already been invited to stay at the home of a stranger the next day.

"And, when I arrived at his house, it was huge. And I asked him, I said, 'Hey, what do you do? You've got a lovely house.' He said, 'Oh, I'm the Vice President of the Atlanta Falcons.' And I was like, 'Is that the NBA team?' He's like, 'No the NFL team.' I was like, 'Oh, wow!' And that's what made it so fun, was that you could have the rough with the smooth sometimes."

(Courtesy Joey Mellows)
(Courtesy Joey Mellows)

"Mike Egan — I hope Mike doesn't mind me saying his name — and Mindy, his wife, who is absolutely — Mindy gave me a kettle. I was staying above the garage. I drank so much tea whilst I was at their house. It was wonderful.

"We went out and watched the Braves game. It was really short. It was over, like, 2 hours, 38 minutes or something. And we came home, and I said to Mike — I was leaving the next day, and he'd mentioned that he had these baseball cards. So I said, 'Oh, if it's not too late, go up to the attic and get your baseball cards out.' So he ran upstairs, and he came down with all these boxes. And we were going through them.

"So I saw this Nolan Ryan rookie card. And, because of the Texas Rangers games I'd watched in Korea with Shin-Soo Choo, even I knew about Nolan Ryan. So I was like, 'Jeez, a rookie card. That's gonna be worth some money.' So I Googled it and, yes, it's worth $25,000, and it was in prime condition. And Mindy, his wife, came down. This is about like 1 in the morning. And we're just making all this noise and whooping and, you know, being really excited kids, like, looking at these cards in the kitchen.

"She's like, 'Boys you need to go to bed. Mike, you've got work at 6 [a.m.]' But then Mike was, like, 'No, Mindy. Look what Joey's found.' And she was like, 'Boys, take as long as you want.'

"There were people like Mindy and Mike — kind hearts — everywhere I went."

So, whenever Joey needed a ticket or a place to stay or a recommendation for where to eat, he’d just ask.

"I had a wonderful time every day," Joey says. "And that's not to downplay all the politics and things. But, in this day and age, I think there's so much stuff online, in particular, that can divert and divide people. And I think baseball's something really important because it allows people to come together on an almost daily basis."

Plan Thwarted, Plan Changed

In June, Joey interrupted his road trip for a flight back home to see the Red Sox and the Yankees play in London. That’s where his goal of 162 games and 30 ballparks hit a snag.

Joey went out dancing with some friends.

"And I just remember dancing and then waking up the next day. And my wallet had just — it [was] gone."

It took two weeks for a new driver’s license to arrive. When it did, Joey flew back to the U.S. and got back on the road, but that 162 game goal started looking less and less likely.

"To begin with, I was desperately trying to find doubleheaders," Joey says. "And I went to a college tournament where they had, like, three games on a day and stayed there for, like, two and a half days just to try and rack up the numbers. But there came a point, where I just thought, 'This trip's been so much more than trying to get 162 games. Maybe that number is just a silly number anyway.' "

So, on Oct. 1, after visiting Toronto, his 30th Major League ballpark, Joey Mellows arrived back home 16 games shy of his goal.

He’d get invited back to see a World Series game, bringing his total to 147. Now, he’s working to develop a podcast and is starting his own business — hoping to help grow interest in baseball in the U.K.

"I had saved up money, and I'd planned to spend not all of it. And then I spent all of it. And, yeah, I'm currently in a lot of debt.

"But, every now and then, people would come up to me at a ballpark and say, 'Hey, like, we're really jealous of what you're doing.' And I'd kind of look at them, and, you know, they'd be with their partner and their children. And they'd have a nice car and a home that they're going back to. And I'd kind of think to myself, 'Jeez. Like, why are you jealous of me? You've got you've got everything, really. I didn't have anything. I didn't have a mortgage or a car or a girl, or anything like that.'

"But I did have these eight months on the road. And the opportunities that have come up since then, I could never have imagined. So sometimes I think you just gotta roll the dice, stop waiting for things and, you know, make things happen."

"So looking back, what did you learn from this whole journey? What do you take away from it?" I ask.

"I don't think I learned anything, really," Joey says. "I wish I had something deep and meaningful to kind of say. 'I found myself,' whatever. But I was always a pretty happy guy. And, at the end of the day, it's just an idiot watching baseball for a summer."

Maybe we don’t need to learn something deep and meaningful from Joey Mellows' journey. Maybe it’s enough to be reminded that baseball season is right around the corner. And, when it arrives, we can go to the ballpark and sit in our seats and drink a beer and eat peanuts and talk to the people in the seats next to us — even if they don’t support the same political candidates we do. And maybe — for those few hours — maybe it will all be okay.

This segment aired on January 25, 2020.

Karen Given Executive Producer/Interim Host, Only A Game
Karen is the executive producer for WBUR's Only A Game.



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