When they announced last year that they would London would be hosting the first ever MLB gamer played in Europe, I was thrilled. Even more when it was announced that it would showcase one of the greatest rivalries in American sports history – the Yankees and Red Sox.
So, I waited patiently for the dates to be set and tickets to go on sale and the day they did, I ended up buying them and booking my trip, almost 9 months in advance. It’s amazing how fast the time has passed.
This is the 2nd international trip I’ve taken to see a MLB game this year after Tokyo in late March – and my first trip to England in over 10 years. This trip is part of a 5 country 11 day European ‘adventure’ for Cathy and I. We started out in Ireland 3 days ago seeing Dublin, Galway and the Cliffs of Mohar before coming here to London. After we leave here, we are headed to Barcelona, Marrakech and finally to Lisbon.
It’s hard to say how well received MLB will be in England. Since 2007, there have been regular season NFL games played in London’s Wembley Stadium – now there are as many as 4 per year played there – and they have been really well received. But baseball may take some getting used to here.
We arrived yesterday morning to Heathrow and took the underground from the airport to Charing Cross the ride was 45 minutes – 30 stops – with no A/C. Charing Cross / Covent Garden is an ideal part of the city to stay in with its central location and bustling activities and attractions. The hotel however, looked a lot better on Expedia than it did in person. We were warned that due to exterior remodeling, the windows on our room were covered by boards. The room itself was the size of a large walk-in closet. Couple that with the complete lack of natural light, and it was almost like sleeping in a coffin. They did promise an upgraded for the next day (oh, boy!). There are countless things to see and do in this amazing city that 2 days barely lets you scratch the surface. We tried to cram in as much as possible and spent some quality time at Borough Market, the Tower of London (got to see the Crown Jewels), Harrods, Hyde Park , Piccadilly Circus, ? Other neighborhoods?
London Stadium (formerly and also known as Olympic Stadium and The Stadium at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park) is a multi-purpose outdoor stadium at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in the Stratford district of London. It was constructed for the 2012 Summer serving as the track and field venue, and as the site of their opening and closing ceremonies. Following the Games, the stadium was subsequently renovated as a multi-purpose stadium and now serves primarily as the home of West Ham United of the Premier League.
Getting through the gates was a little slow given the large number of fans and getting around the concourse and finding my seat was a little complicated, but my overall first impressions of the stadium were very positive. Despite the fact that it clearly is not a stadium designed for baseball, they did a pretty decent job with the configuration to give it more a sense of intimacy.
The stadium has a cantilever roof (the largest of any sports venue in the world) that allows natural sunlight to pour in. Given the 7 PM start, there was a real lot of glare coming in from over the outfield fences at the start of the game forcing players and fans to contend with a setting sun that cast shadows across the field early in the game.
Although they did a pretty impressive job of transforming a huge soccer stadium into a baseball venue, there were plenty of elements that were less than ideal. White seats in the stands that made the ball hard to see, an expansive foul territory on each side but little behind home plate, and a center-field wall that is 16 feet tall but only 385 feet away from home plate.
Although M.L.B. officials have said most of the tickets to the games were bought in the United Kingdom, the stands seemed to be filled with Americans on Saturday. Still, some of the in-game announcements were geared for baseball novices, such as reminders that any balls hit into the stands can be kept. The concession stands sold ballpark classics hot dogs, hamburgers, ice cream, nachos, popcorn and peanuts (which oddly were labelled ‘Monkey Nuts’). Not a lot of interesting differences or anything special in the food offerings (like there was in Tokyo) plus the concession lines were all long as hell. The gift shops were either poorly stocked or sold out of gear quickly. Vendors were in the stands (not typically done there for other events), selling beer and – in a very nice UK touch, Pimm’s on draught!
The national anthems of both the US and the UK were performed by The Kingdom Choir, a vibrant group of 20 singers, and the ceremonial first pitches were thrown by participants of the Invictus Games with Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and his wife, Meghan accompanying them.
Maybe it was the humid air, the artificial turf or the shorter fences, but the crowd of almost 60,000 was treated to an offensive fireworks display with both teams combining for 30 runs. The Yankees came to bat in the top of the first (The Red Sox were officially the ‘home team’ for these games) against NJ native and former Cy Young winner Rick Porcello. Porcello was torched for 6 runs and didn’t make it through the inning. Yankee fans jubilation was short lived as the Sox returned the favor in the bottom of the frame scoring 6 of their own runs off Yankee starter Masahiro Tanaka who also was sent to the showers before the inning was over. The first inning alone lasted 58 minutes. The game in total featured 16 pitchers, 422 pitches and 37 hits. It lasted four hours and 42 minutes
There was a pretty balanced mix of Brits and US tourists in attendance. The group sitting next to me were Londoners watching their first ever baseball game. They had plenty of questions for me such as, “why is the player standing there next to the base not doing anything when the ball is hit?” to which I replied that he was the third base coach. Throughout the game, there were several announcements explaining the rules of the game to the many likely confused fans. No doubt the same thing that Americans would experience while watching a cricket match.
Unfortunately, given the length of the game and the fact that Cathy was waiting for me back at the hotel, I bowed out after the top of the 7th and avoided the crowd on my journey back to Covent Garden. Being a warm Saturday night, the streets were still bustling with people and we had plenty of time for a great dinner and drinks.
Tomorrow morning, we have an early AM flight to Barcelona.
No more baseball games planned for 2019 – but only a little more than two months until football season!
Fans – C – It was a real mix of (both friendly and obnoxious) American tourists and (both polite and clueless/drunken) British locals
Features – C – Despite all the efforts to convert the stadium for these games, it was still obviously a big European soccer stadium that lacked the subtle charms and amenities that most US baseball parks have
Location – A – Not the most accessible or active part of London, but London nonetheless
Food – C – Nothing exceptional. A weak attempt at American baseball fare and not a lot of local British favorites. They do get points for Pimms on draught.
Game – A – If you love offense, this game was a dream. What started out as an apparent blowout turned into a back and forth slug-fest. The four hour plus time was a bit much though
Overall Experience – B+ – It’s hard not to give the experience of attending the first ever MLB game played in Europe an “A”, but a few things were lacking. Still, it was a very fun and memorable experience.