London Series: When the Cubs came to the capital

Since becoming a Cubs fan, I’ve witnessed some of the best moments in franchise history.

I saw them overcome the odds to win the 2015 NL Wild Card game; upset the rival Cardinals in the 2015 NLDS; kill the curse by beating the Dodgers in the 2016 NLCS; and I saw them end the 108-year World Series drought on that unforgettable rain soaked Cleveland night.

While nothing will ever top that last one, getting to watch the Cubs play in my hometown last year came pretty close.

To date, just four fanbases – those of the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs and Cardinals – have had that privilege and for those of us who spend countless hours streaming our teams’ games and travelling overseas to watch them in person, there’s nothing quite like having them play in the UK.

This despite the fact that 2023 was far from a vintage year for the Cubs.

Gone was the World Series winning core that would have played here had the series taken place in 2020 as originally scheduled, replaced by a group so light on household names that Major League Baseball barely had enough recognisable faces to put on their promotional materials.

Still, Cubs fans have a reputation for travelling far and wide to watch their team and so it proved as the they took over the Horse & Guardsmen pub in Westminster a couple of days before the series.

Decked out in ivy, logos and flags, ‘Cubs Pub’, as it was dubbed on social media, offered the travelling support a taste of Wrigleyville in central London and featured appearances from Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, radio broadcaster Pat Hughes, owner Tom Ricketts, President Jed Hoyer, GM Carter Hawkins, announcer Jeremiah Paprocki and reliever Hayden Wesneski.

As seemingly the only British fans in attendance, Renee, Mark and I (looking bleary-eyed after several beer bats) all got to appear in a promotional video shared on the Cubs’ social media channels:

One of the true highlights of any London Series is workout day, which offers fans an opportunity to see the players take batting practice at the London Stadium as part of a small crowd. It also presents an albeit limited opportunity to speak to and snag autographs from some of the players.

I met Nick Madrigal, Patrick Wisdom, Adbert Alzolay and Christopher Morel at last year’s, all of whom were extremely generous with their time, not to mention keen to learn about British food.

On the Friday evening I headed up to the fan zone in Trafalgar Square for Home Run Derby X, an event described by MLB as a “brand new type of home run derby that features defense, dingers, and plenty of star power.”

While only a virtual home run derby, World Series winner Dexter Fowler captained the Cubs to victory before leading a sizeable crowd of Chicagoans in a solid rendition of “Go Cubs Go” in the heart of central London.

As far as the games themselves were concerned, the first, which took place on the Saturday evening, was an absolute dream for the Cubs. They came into the series having won 10 of their last 12 games, a hot streak saw them go from 10 games under .500 on 8 June to just two games under come 24 June.

That form carried over to London as they hammered the rival Cardinals 9-1 behind six superb innings of one run ball from Justin Steele and home runs from Ian Happ (who got two on the day) and Dansby Swanson.

While that game couldn’t have gone much better, game two was very different. Up four runs before the afternoon was three outs old, the Cubs were undone by a Trey Mancini two-out error in the bottom of the second that killed their momentum and allowed the Cardinals back into a game they went on to win 5-7.

While this collapse briefly dampened what was, otherwise, a near perfect weekend, the whole thing ended on a high as MLB announced that roughly 110,000 fans attended the games over the course of the weekend, making it a huge success:

For me, the best thing about it was getting to hang out with other members of the MLB UK community, while also meeting a bunch of fellow Cubs fans who’d travelled overseas – as I’ve done so many times – just to watch them play.

While this year’s series between the Mets and the Phillies won’t be quite the same for me personally, it’s a real privilege to have Major League Baseball visit these shores and I hope as many UK-based fans as possible get the opportunity to watch their team play in the UK some day.

Photos: Author’s own

Sean Guest is the Chicago Cubs correspondent for Bat Flips & Nerds. You can follow him on Twitter @ThatLondonCub

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