Old Rivalry, New Ground

Hannah Tomlinson makes her Bat Flips and Nerds debut, as she visited one of MLB UK’s 108 Sessions in London.

So, there it was, in an abandoned warehouse-cum-brewery-cum-music venue, the first sign of major league baseball in London. The 108 sessions, so-called because of the 108 stitches on a baseball, was one of a series of events MLB is putting on in the lead up to the London Series. Alerted to the event only two days prior, one question came to mind. What was MLB London up to? Living within walking distance of the address, I had to find out.

I read up online about what appeared to be a music event, inspired by and synonymous with two of America’s most renowned baseball cities, Detroit and Chicago. Oh, and London. I was still none the wiser. What music in my city was interweaved with baseball? How does this fit into the build up of the London Series? What on earth does it all mean?!

And so, armed with intrigue, I took the short walk to Mick’s Garage, Hackney Wick. I am very familiar with this area (it is home to one of my favourite breweries – Crate) and when I arrived and saw the event in progress, my questions about why no longer seemed relevant. Like many buildings in Hackney Wick, Mick’s Garage is an old warehouse surrounded by redevelopment. I’m not sure whether using this location was a conscious decision, or whether it was chosen simply because of its proximity to The London Stadium, but looking back it was absolutely the ideal venue for this event. The old with the new. The old being the similarity to what I imagined to be some of the ‘gritty streets’ of Detroit and Chicago – or perhaps more appropriately, Boston and New York. The new being baseball in London. The London Series tagline – Old Rivalry, New Ground.

The outside of the venue looked fantastic. Major League Baseball written in bold on the top of the door.  The logos of the Tigers, White Sox, Cubs painted on the wall. I hadn’t registered for a ticket but one of the bouncers was kind enough to let me go inside to have a peak. The venue was packed. I can’t say I was a fan of the music being played but that’s irrelevant. It looked like (well, it is) a keg warehouse that had been hastily transformed into an underground music venue. That was the charm. This isn’t the kind of event I’m known to attend and it didn’t at all fit into my image of what this series would be. It was odd and didn’t make sense.  But after seeing a huge MLB logo lit up on the wall I instantly felt a connection, however bizarre it might have been. I felt excited. This is happening! Another event with a Major League Baseball theme. In London, in the UK.

When I first arrived to scout things out, it could not have seemed more random. I’ll admit that I sneered. I have spent the 2018 season hanging out with fellow British baseball fans, enjoying games together in person and discussing them online. Naturally, I expected any marketing to be directed at people like myself. But this event wasn’t. If I could have done a poll on how many people attending the event had found out about it via the MLB London twitter account, I would be surprised if 5% had said yes. That is the point, though. People like me don’t need to be converted. I’d be at the London Series whether it was the Yankees v Red Sox or the Rangers v the Reds (no offence, guys). Baseball in the UK has nowhere near the reach that the NFL did when it announced its first London game. So, the task ahead of MLB London is enormous and consequently a slightly different approach is needed. Following Sunday’s event, I re watched the original promo video for the UK series and it fits perfectly.  Slowly but surely, I am starting to understand this approach.

I, like many of the existing posse of UK baseball fans, have been wondering ever since the London Series was announced why MLB has been so quiet. If this is the kind of thing they’ve been working on, good for them. Whatever the strategy, this event drew a crowd. Was it a conventional crowd? Was it the marketing I would have predicted? Absolutely not. Did it work? Yes. Did some of the people attending this event also go to MLB Battlegrounds last year? Will these people buy tickets for the London Series? Who knows. But people came, it’s a start. If a few of the people who came to Sunday’s event turn up to the London Series, its an experiment that worked. Who am I to question that. A sport I have loved from thousands of miles away for 25 years is coming to a stadium that I can see out of my bedroom window. It doesn’t get any better than that.

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