One million, five hundred and seventy six thousand, eight hundred seconds. Twenty six thousand, two hundred and eighty hours. One thousand and ninety five days. Three years.
And then they came. And as we say here in England – they put mustard on it.
Before a pitch was thrown in anger the Yankees jumped in front of the PR battle, fielding an all-star cast at the home of the London Mets. As a major US sports journo told us on Friday – ‘Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettite, Reggie Jackson, Nick Swisher and Hideki Matsui all at once, huh? That’d never happen in the States.’
34 degrees centigrade. 30 runs. Four hours and 43 minutes. A defeat for The Freeze!
— Bat Flips and Nerds (@batflips_nerds) June 29, 2019
A Cy Young award winner in Rick Porcello, and one of Japan’s greatest pitchers, Masahiro Tanaka failing to make it out of the first inning – the first such instance of both starters exiting like this for over 30 years. Conditions so humid, so lank and so raucous it reminded Red Sox coach Alex Cora of his hometown of Caguas on Puerto Rico. The atmosphere though, thought Cora? Electric.
Quite so. At London Yards fans of every team jostled to pose for their own Topps trading card, to flash virtual dingers encased in a clutzy VR headset and to wrest a London Series memento from the slimy grasp of fellow patrons. Rally towels, at £8, were a popular choice to counter the sweltering musk of the sub-tropical brew in which we were forced to sit.
At the Queen Elizabeth Park, the queue for the makeshift Superstore snaked as far as the eye could see. Popular myth seemed to grip that these were all American vacationers. And whilst true that our Stateside brethren have travelled in droves – the trip of a lifetime to see the game of their days – that wasn’t the whole story.
We came out too. A self-selecting, small sample they may have been, but 27 of the 30 MLB club reps we grabbed for a selfie were British (and two were legends of the game). That cornucopia of colour we see at UK NFL games was on parade – the A’s forest green catching an eye, the Phillies piercing red in the distance, and the vivid, juicy orange of the Houston Astros catching the summer sun. This was, as our friends from MLB UK Community had hoped, a ‘Festival of Baseball’.
And what’s more we knew what to do; how to be and act.
That first pop we feared – sure, we ‘oooohed’ but we knew where it’d drop and swiftly learned the rattle crack that seared that little seamed pill to the bullpens. Over and over and over again.
We sang, we chanted, waved – Sweet Caroline, Take Me Out to the Ballgame, Angel Hernandez ‘boooooooo’.
And we settled, absorbed and perched at the edge of our seats as the Red Sox juiced the bases in the bottom of the 8th, tying run at home. We were baseball fans, and this all happened in ‘our Manor’.
And that was just day one.
On day two we celebrated our own baseball culture. The indefatigable MLB UK Community who welcomed hundreds through the doors of their homestead in London Bridge; the UK Red Sox fanclub, spearheaded by the irrepressible Adam Perry, who brought hundreds more to their door, including the attention of the NESN broadcast crew; GB stalwart Jordan Edmonds who threw a lively BP for the great and good of Sky One’s ‘A League of Their Own’; our friend, the brilliant baseball artist Andy Brown, receiving a live shout out on the ESPN broadcast from Rob Flipping Manfred; and our own national coach Liam ‘First Pitch’ Carroll framing a wild one from his pitcher for a called strike flanked on either side by Aroldis Chapman and Matt Barnes.
— Bat Flips and Nerds (@batflips_nerds) June 30, 2019
— Bat Flips and Nerds (@batflips_nerds) June 30, 2019
As many clamoured to patronise the know-how of British baseball’s novice fan, we were out there marking our own muddy paw prints all over the National Pastime. Nice game you got here America, I think we’ll keep it…
Game two, for the record books, was a see-saw affair the type we dreamed in our perfect scenario during our preview podcast until the Yankees stretched out to best the Red Sox (whose later, valiant, rally came in vain) to sweep the first ever MLB London Series, by twelve runs to eight. A round 50 runs total, but no ‘Dirty Water’ in the city of the ‘dirty old river’.
‘It was outstanding. Great for baseball. I hope it happens more than twice,’ offered Cora after it was all in the books.
‘It felt like a huge event. It was great to be a part of it,’ countered his opposite number in the Yankees dugout, Aaron Boone.
And Cora’s tips for us here in the UK? ‘Tune in tomorrow! Just remember the games start at 12am’.
So what is next for the British baseball community? Here’s hoping this proves the fillip we hope it to be and sparks an end to the factionalism that riddles all efforts to take the grassroots game to the next level on these shores, to World Baseball Classic qualification and our first homegrown star in decades. If not now, never.
And for us, the hardy fans? See you in 12 months for war stories of 10 hour red-eye flights to Toledo, Erie and Pensacola; friendships forged on Eutaw, Lansdowne and Sheffield streets; bleary-eyed commutes to Northampton, Nantwich and Newcastle. British baseball fandom? We’re just getting started.
The last word, though, goes to Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner…
‘It was beautiful’.