On Saturday, I stood in sweltering conditions for hours on end. It was 35 degrees in the shade, although as shade was at a premium, I don’t know how they recorded that. Refreshments from a makeshift bar involved a one-mile walk and then a 10-minute queue. The action, when it finally arrived, was brief and, to be honest, a little underwhelming, but I loved it. How many times in your life do you get to be at the roadside to watch the Tour de France?
And, in stark contrast to Crystal Palace two weeks earlier, no one around me was whining about the heat or queues or action or the beer prices or the lack of shade or the insufficient provision of water or the boring format, they knew they were privileged, and they were determined to enjoy the day.
A couple of weeks have passed since the first ever Home Run Derby X, and full disclosure, I loved it. I knew I would. I don’t know what is wrong with me; maybe the constant “glass half full” outlook comes from searching for silver linings from Cincinnati Reds performances. In fact, I was so excited that this innovative new MLB event was being held in London that I purchased tickets on the day they were released.
Unfortunately, my ticket partner found something else to do, so I attended on my own. Usually, this might have concerned me but there is a camaraderie among baseball fans that isn’t the same as, say, football. Which is a timely reminder to suggest you read Nick Wright’s article “Sometimes baseball is much more than a game” – the most thought-provoking post on Bat Flips & Nerds this year.
So, whether it was on the tube to Crystal Palace or in one of the many queues, it was easy to spark up a conversation with the person next to you. This is not usually an easy thing for a socially-anxious person like me, but I met some new people and put faces to familiar names; plus, I got to reunite with the Bat Flips & Nerds gang, who feel a bit like family now.
Home Run Derby X received a lot of negative coverage on social media, but I guess I was just lucky with my experience. Not long after arriving, I joined the refreshments queue, and 30 seconds later, we had cold beers in our hands. I bought drinks five times during the day, and there was less than a two-minute wait on four occasions.
The competition concept was excellent – far better than the usual Home Run Derby – although it probably needs some tweaking. With Cubs vs. Red Sox and then Yankees vs. Dodgers, followed by the third-place matchup and then the Championship Final, it dragged by the time I reached hour seven.
Perhaps my only other slight disappointment was being unable to see the fielders’ catch zone, which was on the same level as the crowd. The idea of a catch scoring points for your team was inspired, and we did see some tremendously athletic plays on the big screen, but maybe looking down on the field of play would have given a more enjoyable aspect.
And oh my, there were some very over-excited people in the supporters’ catch zone. Each time the ball was homered, 10, 20, 30 fans would sprint, push, and shove for the souvenir. The last-minute decision by the organisers to withdraw under-12s from the zone was disappointing but understandable.
The most bizarre occurrence happened with one of the first plays I saw. The ball cleared the fence, and several of the crowd bundled. In almost surreal slow-motion, a mobile phone shot in the air towards me. I caught it (no glove necessary) and tried to hand it back to the numpty on the floor. “Hey buddy, your phone”, but it wasn’t his or the other two wrestling on the floor. Maybe it was the lucky recipient of the ball, but he had gone off celebrating. There I was, holding a phone and looking around for someone to give it to. Ultimately, I had no option other than to hand it to security.
There was a tinge of pride watching the quartet of GB National team members participate, and the two British wild cards (Liv Cooke and Spencer Owen) were good “influencer” pickups by MLB, but Erika Piancastelli, Nick Swisher, and Adrian Gonzalez stole the show for me.
The heatwave in London was not a surprise – it had been forecast – so I packed sunscreen, a long-sleeved top, and a wide-brimmed hat. We might not get weather like this frequently in the UK, but 30-degree heat doesn’t mean a common sense breakdown is inevitable. Maybe we Brits have become too soft, too simple or too entitled.
Due to the heat and the almost constant competition – an initial delay put the schedule behind – I didn’t fancy food until much later in the afternoon, which seemed fortunate after hearing some of the horror stories of getting served. I like a pizza as much as the next guy, but I seldom need one enough to warrant standing in a sun-scorched queue for an hour.
One of the many negative comments about the event was “Usual boring, overpriced ballpark food” well, let me tell you, Fried Aubergine Tacos is not your usual boring ballpark food. Presumably, the comment came from someone who stood in the hot dog line.
And that wasn’t a one-off. The Thai Green Veggie Curry was to die for.
Other negative comments concerned the queues at the hitting/pitching cages and the lack of range available from the merchandise stand. Neither of these issues bothered me, although now I am appalled to find out that they didn’t stock Jonathan India or Brandon Drury jerseys.
The Yankees won the whole thing, which is (1) not a line I’ve ever typed before and (2) not something that displeased me; they were thoroughly deserving champions.
I missed the music finale, which is a shame as I had genned up on AJ Tracey at Glastonbury and, for once, my daughters thought I was cool. But home was three hours away, and my app showed two trains had already been cancelled.
I don’t know why I feel so defensive about Home Run Derby X. I want baseball to succeed in the UK, and any event like this that is held in London rather than Paris or Amsterdam or Tokyo is great for the game and the fanbase. I don’t know if it achieved any aims of bringing baseball to a different demographic, but to mash a couple of cliches, if you don’t try, you won’t succeed, and you learn from experience.
The next two events (in Seoul and Mexico City) will likely be immense. I expect the crowd and media to get hysterical. Maybe us Brits are just a bunch of whinging Poms who don’t deserve nice things, or perhaps the event was as brilliant as I thought, and I just need to stay away from the negativity that is social media.
And a final note to those scrimmaging in the catch zone. Good things come to those who wait.
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