MLB London Series – An Event for all of European Baseball?

Welcome to BFN Tim Vergoossen

The new baseball season is approaching the end of its first full month. With that, the first matchup between two American baseball franchises on European soil – for so long a dream we never thought would happen – has become something of the near future. The visiting New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox recently completed their first series of the season, which resulted in a sweep for the Bronx Bombers. The two historical teams will only face each other once more by the end of May before they will square off at London Stadium for the first ever official MLB games in a European stadium. Or… a British stadium?

As June 29 draws closer, the attention from US media has obviously increased. Prior to the season started, attention for the series was mostly created by European media outlets. Twitter feeds like that for Bat Flips and Nerds are preparing the UK audience for the series and local British fanclubs are regularly holding baseball meetups across the country.

As for myself, together with some baseball enthusiasts from the Netherlands, I am preparing the Dutch audience for the event through the Dutch American sports news website

Most notably, the 162 baseball game journey by Joey “the Baseball Brit” Mellows has awoken some attention from baseball reporters on the American side of the Pond. As a Boston fan myself, hearing local Red Sox colour commentators Dave O’Brien and Jerry Remy speak about the upcoming trip to London makes me giddy with excitement.

However, a little kind of uncertainty about the angle of this attention has started creeping up to me.

Though the US coverage so far has been very respectful and positive in regard to understanding the scope of the event on the European side of the Atlantic, it has mostly been very much British oriented. Of course, as the games are held at the Olympic Stadium of the British capital and the series is officially marketed as the “London” Series, I cannot blame them for trying to understand what this series means to the British baseball community.

Recently I saw an image of London Series merchandise being present at Yankee Stadium fanshops, with the famous “Keep Calm And …” catch phrase on an officially licensed Yankee cap. Also, the interview that Joey held at the MLB Now started with what the Series means to the British audience after which the questions pretty much moved towards finding out whether British visitors to the games actually know about baseball or that they are just visiting the games out of curiosity.

Now I am not British, and there will probably be people saying “well, you’re just jealous that the first European MLB games will be held in Britain”, which I will admit a hundred per cent, but I really urge everyone involved in the promotion of the London Series to stress that this series is a European event.

No, my dear British baseball friends, I am not trying to steal your thunder. I am actually trying to have your back here. And I have two reasons for that…

The first one is that the British and European baseball experience are actually not really on par, which leads to a misrepresentation of the way baseball lives in Europe when US broadcasters flock London in June.

For example, in Germany, where many expat US military personnel is deployed, American sports generally find very fertile soil for interested fanbases. The Minnesota Twins have a German born player on their roster in Max Kepler. Italy, which once had New York Met Hall of Famer Mike Piazza on its 2006 World Baseball Classic roster, has participated in every WBC to date. The Netherlands, which houses some MLB superstars due its historical ties with the Caribbean islands of Aruba and Curaçao, has finished as the fourth best baseballing nation in the last two editions of the global championship. It even won the last edition of the World Cup of Baseball back in 2011, when the tournament was played without MLB players. Other countries like Belgium and Spain are always hard fought opponents at the European Championship of Baseball.

Team GB, unfortunately, is not. Yet.

The London Series might do a whole lot for the nationwide attention of the sport, but compared to the other European countries, it still has a long way to go. Therefore, when US reporters come to Europe and ask whether people know baseball over here, and British people have to respond with: “well, it’s still a work in process”, it is not only detrimental to the image people in the States will get of a European series, but it is actually incorrect as well. Baseball is very much alive in Europe, just not yet in the UK.

Then why are the games held in the UK? Well, it obviously has to do with the historical ties and the cultural similarity between the US and the UK. Besides that, London is a stunning international location capable of organising an event of this magnitude.

Says the Dutchman.

Plus I think the Olympic Stadium is very suited to hold baseball games, even for a non-baseballing venue. However, only as short as five years ago, the Netherlands were very close to bringing the MLB over to Europe for the first time.

Then-commissioner Bud Selig was keen on bringing the sport to this side of the Atlantic while nearing the end of his tenure. A baseball stadium was built in Hoofddorp, just miles South of Schiphol Airport. The stadium, which houses the Hoofddorp Pioniers, is one of the most modern on the continent and has the possibility to be temporarily expanded to 30,000+ seats. However, the deal was never made and an “Amsterdam Series” has not come to be.

Again, people might think I am just envious that a nation where baseball culture is less prevalent than in the Netherlands is now the organiser of the party. And again, I will not deny that. But I think it is very important to have mentioned this little history because of my second argument to including the whole of Europe more in the London Series experience. It’s that if you misrepresent yourself, you might be taken advantage of.

When Joey was asked whether the British audience will be showing up to the Series because they love baseball or rather because something exotic is coming to town, I started having images of ESPN commentators strolling through Stratford asking unsolicited Londoners whether they know what a homerun is.

Obviously, baseball is not up to the standard of common interest as football/soccer has in the UK, but we do not have to downplay our eagerness to learn about the sport. Let me give you some of that Dutch directness here: as baseball lovers who have to endure nightly hours to watch our favourite teams play, we are entitled to show up for ourselves and let those Americans know that we do know our baseball. There may not be many of us yet, but we exist.

We all know that MLB regularly ventures into other continents to promote its brand. It has been to Japan, Mexico, Puerto Rico and even our Australian friends have had the privilege of seeing MLB action before us. However, these are mostly one-off events. The only way for a European Series to become a lasting success beyond 2020 and maybe even have annual MLB games for years to come, is to show that it is not merely a novelty to us but something that we are very eager to embrace.

The only way to do that is not to stress that the Series is merely a British event, because I firmly believe that it will downplay our chances, but rather as a European event, with its diversity of baseball experiences. We could have had Didi Gregorius, Max Kepler, Aaron Altherr or Dovydas Neverauskas as representatives promoting the Series as European born players. We even have Bruce Bochy as a European born coach and Bert Blyleven as a European born Hall of Famer!

Unfortunately, there are no current British MLB players and as much as I hope that this will soon be a thing of reality, I believe that this is a missed opportunity by the London Series marketing team.

This piece has gotten way longer than I initially anticipated, but I hope it conveys my point as to why it is important that the London Series should be more promoted as a European event. Not only does it promote the image of the majority of people visiting the Series, a good deal of very baseball knowledgeable Europeans, but it also improves the chances of MLB games in Europe for years to come.

Do not let US reporters think that we do not understand baseball or do not have any history. It could not only come back to haunt us like a curveball, but it is simply false.

Us Europeans can do this.

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