Regular readers of this site over the last couple of years will have seen plenty of coverage of the MLB’s attempts to carve a small foothold in the consciousness of the British public. From initial fan engagement events, through to the jamboree of MLB Battlegrounds, to Commissioner Rob Manfred finally pulling the trigger in front of the UK’s fifth estate, and Tom Pringle.
With the reality of an MLB series here in the UK (and not just any series, but one between the game’s two signature and – at time of writing – best franchises in the Yankees and Red Sox) now a mere year away, it’s time to move on from the nuts and bolts of the endeavour and consider it in broader terms.
With the greatest of respect to our American cousins, and their corporate objectives for this jaunt, just why is this important to us here in old Blighty?
Doing it for the kids…
In his remarks at the London press launch, Red Sox owner John W Henry noted a hope that the US national pastime found a root with the UK’s young; that the exposure of games in London would drive more to local baseball diamonds and maybe inspire a new generation of British baseball enthusiasts. It is a call which has been echoed repeatedly on our podcasts by GB Baseball coach Liam Carroll on our podcasts, too.
For all that we may enjoy the insulation of our enthusiast bubble, the truth is that baseball fandom, never mind baseball participation, is very much a minority pursuit in the UK. It is far below all of its American sister sports in terms of players, and fans.
This is partly down to a dearth of facilities, but it isn’t just that – it’s hard to see baseball here, and even understand it in the most rudimentary of terms. Even a single ‘punch’ from the MLB will shine the light on the sport in a way never before seen on these shores – it’s a golden opportunity for the sport to grasp.
British baseball needs this chance
Which brings us to the next point.
You don’t need to dip a toe too far into ‘British Baseball Politics’ to find that it is an unhappy place. The sport in the UK is driven by the passion and goodwill of die hards and volunteers. With the greatest will in the world, this can only take the sport so far. This piece is not interested in, and will not try to solve, the deficiencies in UK baseball governance, nor to understand the internecine squabbles and misunderstandings (most of which are borne from valid disagreements) which have led to a fragmented, and barely intelligible national structure for the sport.
Put simply, baseball in Britain is not ready for the opportunity which 2019 presents to grow participation and improve the offer to young people, and even spectators.
Other American sports – notably ice hockey and basketball – have hardy and committed followings for their pro and semi-pro leagues, and the chance should be there for GB baseball to catch a little reflected glory from Aaron Judge and Mookie Betts.
The administrators have exactly one year to lay down arms and find a way to work together to take advantage of a generational opportunity.
Knowing me, Knowing EU
The UK will have left the EU by the time of the MLB London Series (transitional arrangements notwithstanding, of course) but we’ll still be part of Europe, which is still a hotbed of baseball fandom. Much was made at announcement time that the Netherlands world class facility at Hoofdorp, or a venue in either Germany or Italy might have been a better bet for a baseball game.
That maybe so, but ignores the global nature of London as a city and its own sporting heritage. Surely the real competitors for hosting were Paris, Barcelona and possibly Berlin?
Nevertheless, those who have attended the NFL’s Wembley series will know that fans from mainland Europe travel in their droves to these games and contribute to the Capital’s game-time party atmosphere.
In the words of Cumbria’s greatest ever rock band, British Sea Power – ‘oh you, who’ve come so very far/oh, welcome in’ – it’s very much your time too!
It’s about time people started to love this sport here
Baseball hasn’t been on network TV in the UK for almost 10 years, nor radio for a long time either. The truth is that ‘stumble upon’ fans best chance to get hooked on baseball is via trips to Disneyland or the Big Apple – which condemns them to lives following the Rays and Mets, the poor souls.
The London Series provides an opportunity to move that needle, not just through those who buy a ticket out of idle curiosity, but by leveraging the surrounding interest into ‘eyeballs’ on television and ears on radio.
MLB.TV subscriptions are wonderful (and a genuine bargain) but for those with little prior knowledge of the game they’re a £100 tombola. Done well, MLB London Series should hook in a few more subscribers over and above those who manage to snare a ticket.
Talk of a surrounding ‘Festival of Baseball’ is promising, but will work best if it spreads the love to the UK’s other major cities including the national capitals, Manchester, Bristol, Leeds, Birmingham, Newcastle and the Red Sox’ own Liverpool.
We deserve it
This is for me and you, and those of us who DO tune in at 2am in October.
What a bloody lovely old thing.
Mike Trout deserves it too
The greatest player in baseball, and perhaps its greatest ever and yet one of the world’s most under appreciated athletes. The man deserves a proper fanbase. Get over to England Mike, we’ll love you here.