Joey Mellows, of Portsmouth, England, is living the American Dream; or at least the dream of many American baseball fans.
Once an English teacher in Seoul, South Korea, the 34-year old Briton quit his day job and is now in the middle of a quest across the United States to see 162 baseball games over the course of the 2019 season.
Mellow’s goal? To grow interest in the sport across Europe by documenting his journey just as Major League Baseball prepares to make its splash on the continent with a two-game series between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees to be played in London’s Olympic Stadium later this month.
After starting his travels in Japan watching the Seattle Mariners open the season against the Oakland A’s, Mellows is now three months into the American journey he’s financing with his life savings. So far, England’s chief baseball fanatic has made visits to Baltimore’s Camden Yards, Houston’s Minute Maid Park and a whole lot of places in between.
Over the weekend, Mellows’ travels took him to ONEOK Field where he saw the Drillers take on the visiting Northwest Arkansas Naturals. On Monday, the Tulsa World spoke with him to learn about his trip to Tulsa and to catch up with him on his journey.
How did you, a Briton living in South Korea, become so enthralled by baseball?
“I saw my first game in Japan on holiday with my parents. I fell in love with it. After that I went back to my apartment in Seoul and just immersed myself with baseball watching the KBO (Korean Baseball Organization). I watched a lot of the Texas Rangers early on. All of the Ranger games were shown on Korean TV because of Shin-Soo Choo, the Korean outfielder. That was my introduction to the game.”
Driving all over the country can be an experience in itself. Have there been any troubling moments along the way?
“Yes — I was in Louisiana and I drove into some really extreme weather. The rain was coming down so hard I couldn’t see anything out of the car. Finally, I just had to stick my head out the window in the driving rain in the middle of a hurricane just so I could see, and a huge branch flew right by my face. That was it for me. I got off the road and stumbled out somewhere in the middle of Louisiana as some British guy just trying to find somewhere safe. I was just thankful I was alive.”
How did you wind up coming to see a game in Tulsa?
“My visit to Tulsa was quite spontaneous. I woke up in Independence, Kansas, and was meant to be headed somewhere else, but then I saw that I was much closer to the Drillers. I’ve never seen the Los Angeles Dodgers play ever, so I figured it’d be cool to see the Drillers in Tulsa and then head to Oklahoma City next to watch the Dodgers’ Triple-A team there.”
Did you have any time to check out the city?
“I went to Andolini’s, which had been recommended to me by a pitcher who played in Korea while I was there named Seth Frankoff. He used to pitch for the Tulsa Drillers and told me specifically to try Andolini’s so I did before I went to the ballpark. Then last night I got some barbecue at Albert G’s and really enjoyed it.”
What stood out to you about the stadium?
“I think the recent history it has is very cool. I spoke to a guy who worked at the ballpark and he was telling me about how Cody Bellinger used to play here and Walker Buehler, as well. They’re both having great seasons for the Dodgers; Bellinger is probably going to be the National League MVP. It was interesting to learn about all these younger players coming through and hearing about some of the prospects on the way up.”
What’s been your favorite stop so far?
“I really liked getting to Houston to see the Astros. They’re the best baseball team I’ve seen play live this season. That’s a young team and you can just see how much they enjoy the game. I got to meet Alex Bregman, Colin McHugh, and I met their general manager Jeff Luhnow, as well. I actually spent four days there, which has been unusual on this trip, and that was a perk.”
Favorite ballpark meal?
“I got to see the Memphis Redbirds and had an incredible meal at their ballpark. I had these pulled pork tacos with queso cheese and it was absolutely fantastic. Normally I just go hot dog, peanuts and a cheap beer. That’s what I live off. I don’t spring for the barbecue tacos most days.”
You’ve been to ballparks all over Japan and Korea. What do they do in those stadiums there that we should be doing here in the United States?
“Well, for starters, it’s a lot cheaper to attend a game in Korea, for sure. And you can get a liter of beer there for about $3 and ticket prices are cheaper, as well. There’s also a lot more music going on there. Each player has his own song that the fans sing. Here you’ve got walk-up music, but in Korea every player has his own song that all the fans sing in unison. It’s a whole lot louder in those stadiums.”
Now getting to experience baseball here in America, do you think there’s anything American fans should change about their view on the game?
“I personally would like to see more emotion in the game of baseball in the United States. In Korea and Japan, bat flips are part of it all. It’s not seen as a sign of disrespect, they view it as a celebration for something you’ve done well. I really don’t get the fuss. If you pimp a homer, you should be able to celebrate it. I don’t understand all of the unwritten rules the game has here. Seems a bit silly to me.”
What have you learned?
“It’s amazing how different the regions are. That’s something I’ve really enjoyed. This is as much a road trip throughout the USA as it is a baseball trip. I happen to be at a baseball game most evenings, and that gives me a location I need to get to each day. But really, I’m just driving through small towns and speaking to people and learning more about each area. I plan to write a book about all of this when I’m done.”