Reports from Bloomberg pointed to the Yankees and Red Sox finalizing a two game series that will be played in London for the 2019 season. This will not be the first time MLB takes a sample of games to other countries (Japan 2004/2008, Australia 2014, Mexico 1996/1999), and will also play some games this season in Puerto Rico and Monterrey, Mexico. However, what is the reception going to be like for baseball’s best rivalry when the Sox and Yanks battle each other in London Stadium? I had some questions, and John from the UK’s only baseball podcast had answers.
Justin: How well do you think the game of baseball in general will translate once many people from the UK will finally get to see a game or two in person?
John: Good question! I know there’s a view in the States that UK fans like ‘all action’ and ‘non stop’ games based on the dominance of soccer and rugby here, but I don’t buy it. Cricket, even in its livelier forms, is really sedate and the American sports that have a foothold here – especially NFL – are really stop start. It feels vital to me that the organizers aim to capture the ballpark environment, though. That’s the real point of difference that MLB has, like the tailgate in football. Two games isn’t enough to explain to people why you throw an outside fastball in a 3-1 count; MLB needs to be smart and think about their pitch (no pun intended). Everything we’ve heard from them so far has been positive – make it about the cultural experience as much as the game, but don’t ignore that as there’ll be seasoned fans tuning in too.
JG: Reports say that the two game series would be played at London stadium. In your opinion, is this the best venue for a professional baseball game in the area?
John: I’m not sure. I think ‘least worst’ is potentially a better way of putting it. Obviously cricket grounds have better dimensions, but they’re quite small (20-25k max) and England is hosting the Cricket World Cup around the same time as these games are billed, anyway. The London Stadium’s selling point is that it can be adapted for different events, and that feels important – there’s also plenty of space for events around it too, which is lacking at stadiums like Wembley or Arsenal’s home, Emirates Stadium. I’m a bit nervous about the atmosphere – on my one trip to the Stadium for a West Ham game it was pretty flat; they did lose 6-0 to Man City, though!
JG: How big has the sport of baseball become in recent years in the UK?
John: That’s a difficult question to give a straight answer. Arguably, it’s less popular than its peak in the early 2000s when it was on network TV and had a proper cult following. That said, there are plenty of die hards, and it feels (from our viewpoint at least) that it’s swelling. In the Opening Week of the season there are going to be ‘watch parties’ in five different UK cities, and the fact we are running a podcast with a growing, sustained listenership, didn’t seem likely when we started a couple of years ago. The sport is a popular, if niche, participatory activity too – along with softball the estimates are around 20,000 people playing regularly in the UK, which isn’t bad for a sport with little coverage and an ‘amateur’ domestic league.
JG: Rob Manfred has briefly touched up on a possibility for an expansion team in Mexico City. Do you think this could eventually lead to a possible expansion team for London?
John: It feels highly unlikely. I know the NFL trajectory feels like it’s going this way, but 8 games a year, with a week of rest, is different to managing a 162 game schedule across two continents with a minimum of 5 hours in time differences.
JG: Which player(s) between the Yankees Red Sox rivalry are you looking forward to see play in London the most?
John: There’s a difference between who I’m most looking forward to, and the consensus! As a Red Sox fan, I’m biased, but even I appreciate the idea of seeing Judge and Stanton in London would be a thrill. Personally, I’m a massive fan of Craig Kimbrel and Jackie Bradley Jr, so I’ll say those two. My fellow podcast hosts would tell you it’s Joe Kelly, who they think I have a soft spot for on account of being a fellow glasses wearer (they’re right).
JG: Any tips for Americans that will be making the trip over especially for their first time visiting London?
JG: If you could name a London expansion team, what would you name it and who would you want to manage it?
Featured Image: Melissa Bell