The British Baseball Federation announced last month that Drew Spencer ’97, a former Dartmouth outfielder, has been named the head coach of the Great Britain national baseball team. Spencer replaced Liam Carroll, who retired after serving six years in the role.
Originally from Glendale, California, Spencer was one of Dartmouth’s most decorated baseball players at the time of his graduation. Named to an All-Ivy League team in each of his four seasons in Hanover, Spencer ended his time in green as the career record holder in 11 offensive categories. Today, he still ranks among the top 10 in batting average, hits, runs, stolen bases and RBIs.
Dartmouth baseball coach Bob Whalen said that while he doesn’t necessarily pinpoint players who he believes will become coaches, he thinks in retrospect that Spencer had the makings of a future coach.
“I knew that he was very passionate about baseball and that he had a very kind heart,” Whalen said. “... Baseball is a big part of him, not just coming to Dartmouth, but also part of his upbringing.”
Spencer will have the opportunity to achieve some firsts for baseball in Britain. The country has yet to advance past the qualifying stages of the World Baseball Classic, an international baseball tournament. Additionally, with baseball and softball reinstated for the now-postponed 2020 Olympics, Spencer could lead Britain to its first Olympic baseball appearance.
“Very few baseball players ever get this experience — even the guys in the major leagues — to button up a jersey that’s got a flag on the sleeve or a country on the chest,” Spencer said.
What brought Spencer to Great Britain, though, wasn’t baseball. Spencer said that he never intended to live in the United Kingdom for more than one or two years. After the birth of his son, he and his now ex-wife, who is British, “made a mistake in the green card process.” This required a move to Britain to sort it out. Now, Spencer is in his 15th year living in the U.K. and has been coaching baseball since his son started playing T-ball.
“You’re sitting on the sideline, and people are going, ‘Hey, we don’t have enough coaches. Would somebody like to help out?’” Spencer said. “For me, I had been away from the game for a while but always was really interested in following it and wanted to be back involved.”
Spencer’s first exposure to coaching came during his summers in college. He played baseball in the Cape Cod League, and he would help teach the game to children as part of the Orleans Cardinals’ — now Firebirds’ — summer baseball clinics.
“That was probably when I knew for sure that I really enjoyed [coaching],” Spencer said. “I always took the youngest age groups. I really enjoyed working with the kids, teaching the game and making it fun for people.”
After about six or seven years coaching youth baseball in the U.K., Spencer eventually made the transition to amateur adult coaching. In 2018, he was named the manager of the London Mets, leading them to back-to-back championships in the National Baseball League, the highest level of British amateur baseball. He has also coached Britain’s under-23 team for the past two years, propelling the squad to a fifth-place finish at the 2019 European Championship, the country’s best ever performance at that age level.
As manager of Great Britain’s national team, Spencer’s role will expand beyond just setting lineups and managing pitching staffs. With baseball still an emerging sport in the U.K., he also has an additional responsibility: to grow the game.
Spencer noted that it has been difficult for baseball to gain traction in the U.K. due to the existence of cricket, an already ultra-popular stick-and-ball sport.
However, he said that the sport has recently seen growth in certain pockets of the nation, especially in places like London, where there is a larger American community that sometimes can serve as de facto liaisons of the game. Additionally, with the MLB hosting its first-ever games in England during the 2019 London Series, baseball reached an even larger British audience.
“So much of any national team’s coach’s role is about inspiring the next generation,” Spencer said. “For me, I think this was a big part of my selection.”
Spencer is also inspiring current Big Green baseball players. Justin Murray ’22 pointed to Spencer’s hiring as an example of how Dartmouth baseball alumni can remain in the game after their playing careers are over.
“Obviously [playing] as long as I can is the first choice that I would prefer, but whether it’s coaching at any level or going into a front office — which we’ve had a couple Dartmouth guys do before — I think being around the game would definitely be something that interests me,” Murray said. “Just to stay active and give back as much as I can, whether it’s to younger kids or just to people throughout the game.”
Despite the large responsibility that Spencer will have in this role, Whalen said that he thinks the new manager will succeed.
“I could see [Spencer] doing an excellent job because he’s passionate about baseball, he’s passionate about competing and I think he’s found a niche over there that he’s very comfortable in,” Whalen said. “Clearly, he’s had success putting the foundation of his coaching career together, and my expectation is that he’s going to do very, very well.”