On the Fourth of July, an American Baseball Invasion of London

LONDON — Charles Hill looked out over the unusual scene Tuesday at Hyde Park, where former Major League Baseball players and current cricket stars stood on a stage where Justin Bieber had sung 48 hours earlier, and hit baseballs into a crowd below them.

It was a Fourth of July home run derby in London.

“This is breaking all the rules, right?” Hill said.

Hill, who runs Major League Baseball’s London office and oversees the organization’s operations in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, helped come up with the idea for the showcase as a way to promote baseball in Britain as M.L.B. works to schedule regular-season games here, possibly for 2019.

The event featured the former players big league All-Stars Cliff Floyd, Shawn Green and Carlos Pena. They were joined by the English international cricketers Jos Buttler and Alex Hales in a jarringly American incursion onto British soil on Independence Day.

“I loved it,” said Butler, who is considered by many cricket fans to be a unique batsman. “It’s different, but there is definitely some crossover.”

The players were divided into two teams — the Red Sox and the Dodgers, in full uniforms — amid a loud public-address system with blaring music. The event was a first for M.L.B., and with the players hitting from a stage, it certainly looked that way.

Fans in a wide array of baseball shirts slurped beers and chomped on hot dogs, and many carried baseball gloves as they scrambled for the balls that landed in their midst.

“I play baseball,” said Cole Roberts, a 52-year-old postman from East London who held a black Shinola glove that his wife bought for him. He said he played for the lowest level of the London Mets in a league in Finsbury Park in North London.

“I used to play softball in school,” he said. “I got back into it when I had the overnight shift and they showed baseball games on TV here. I watched during my lunch break.”

Not all the spectators were British. Asami Kubota, an advertising executive from outside Tokyo who is living in London, arrived wearing a baseball cap of the Chiba Lotte Marines, her favorite team in Japan. Her favorite manager was Bobby Valentine, who managed the Marines twice.

“I am so happy to see this,” she said. “The U.K. people don’t like baseball. So this is amazing to see.”

M.L.B. hopes to play a short series in London in 2019. The N.B.A. has held games in London, and the N.F.L. has played regular-season games there every year since 2007, mostly at Wembley Stadium. But that field would not accommodate baseball, so the Olympic Stadium would probably host M.L.B. games.

Chris Park, M.L.B.’s point man for international development of baseball, said that he was optimistic that the games could be scheduled — most likely two.

The big question is how professional baseball games would be received in London, or if they could carve out a following for the sport in a country with an entrenched sporting culture.

“They’re basically trying to be what the N.F.L. is,” Floyd said. “The N.F.L. can be successful. If everything measures up to what they have accomplished, then it will have succeeded. I don’t know if we’ll get to that point, because it will take some time. But you start gradually.”

In addition, there is an expatriate population, many of whom are starved for American sports. Some were at Hyde Park on Tuesday wearing the colors of their favorite teams. There was at least one David Wright Mets shirt, a couple of Derek Jeter Yankees jerseys and one very dated Jonathan Papelbon Red Sox shirt.

Ruan Steege, a 46-year-old teacher at the American School in London, grew up in Queens and worked at Shea Stadium selling soft drinks at Mets games during his high school years. He and his family moved to London four years ago, and he has been to Wembley to watch the N.F.L. games.

“We came to see Justin Bieber here two nights ago, and we met a guy who works from M.L.B. who told us about this,” Steege said. “It’s a nice way to spend July Fourth.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

NYT > Europe

About

Scroll To Top