20 things I learned from the MLB London Series 2019
The MLB London Series was excellent. I had so much fun attending my first ever baseball games, fulfilling a lifelong dream, and the relentless adrenaline created an emotional hangover across the country.
If you are experiencing severe baseball withdrawal symptoms, use this blog as a portal through which to relive the greatest weekend of our lives. Stop googling flights to New York in mawkish reminiscence for just ten minutes and discover twenty things I learned from the 2019 London Series.
- We might need an Olympic Stadium humidor
The Yankees and Red Sox combined for 50 runs, 65 hits and 10 homers in London. The centre field fence stood just 385 feet from home plate, a miniscule distance for premier sluggers like Aaron Judge. The exceptionally warm weather and airtight architecture also helped the ball travel further, turning lazy fly balls into arrowing dingers. This was Coors Field on steroids. We may need a humidor.
- Britain did justice to Major League Baseball
As a devout follower of baseball, I was nervous about its arrival in my homeland. I wasn’t sure if mainstream Britain would get it, but my worries were misplaced. We absolutely smashed it, logistically and spiritually. A total of 118,718 people attended the two-game series, while Saturday’s crowd was the largest for any Major League game since 2003. I’m very proud of that achievement.
- Murray Cook did great
Major League Baseball’s go-to stadium czar, Murray Cook has been a crucial linchpin in spreading baseball around the world. When MLB commits to taking its product overseas, Cook invariably spearheads the logistical operation to make those wishes come true. He did it in Japan. He did it in Australia. He did it in Puerto Rico and Mexico and Montreal. This was his defining masterpiece, establishing Major League Baseball in Europe for the first time, and we should all be very grateful.
- The Toronto Blue Jays have a large fanbase in Britain
Seeing so many different jerseys and caps was one of the most special vignettes from a wonderful weekend. Empirically, I would say that Yankee merchandise slightly outnumbered Red Sox garb, but more surprising was the prevalence of Blue Jays gear.
Toronto was easily the third-best supported team in London this year, I would argue, indicative of a large fanbase on these shores. I have always been aware of many Blue Jays fans on social media, but it was refreshing to see such a perennially overlooked team receiving appreciation.
- Red Sox fans are more bothered about the Yankees than vice-versa
Boston is a pressure cooker of sporting obsession. The Red Sox matter more than almost anything else in the city. There’s a parochial quality to that adoration, which leads to extreme passion. The gateway to outright hostility is almost inexorable from there, and the Yankees are a convenient focus of that energy. Red Sox fans abhor the Yankees, even in the post-Curse universe. Yankee fans, by comparison, seem less bothered about Boston. It strikes me as a fairly lopsided preoccupation.
- The Yankees are a big deal
Of course, everybody has heard of the New York Yankees. Ardent baseball fans are all too aware of their historical domination. The ubiquity of Yankees merchandise in just about any western city speaks for itself, but even I underestimated just how big the Yankees are.
This team means a lot to people. While the Red Sox are defined by distinct regionalism, the Yankees seem to embody some kind of national crusade. They are a staid expression of American pride, the most recognisable export of the most powerful city. I gained a lot of respect for Yankee fans this weekend.
- Baseball is not dying
Contrary to popular belief, baseball is not dead, nor is it dying. American passion for the game was abundant and obvious in London. Far more people travelled from the States to watch this series than I ever envisaged, and their passion is real. There’s an unshakeable zeal for baseball in the US, and I commend such pure enthusiasm with all I can muster.
- The energy required to complete a 162-game season is absurd
Since returning from London, I have been absolutely exhausted. The sheer wealth of baseball-wrought adrenaline and emotion zaps your energy. A long day in the sun adds to the tiredness. That people do this almost every single day from February through October is staggering. Absolutely amazing, but staggering nonetheless.
Players, writers and broadcasters spend upward of 1,500 hours, or more than 60 whole days, at the ballpark each season, not to mention countless days in airports and on buses between destinations. I tip my cap to their work ethic. How anybody manages to have Major League season tickets and a fully-functioning marriage is beyond me. The two concepts seem incompatible.
- Baseball is the most inclusive sport in the world
I love soccer but it is dominated by macho fans and unending aggression. I enjoy gridiron but it is fundamentally dangerous. The same can be said of hockey. Basketball is okay, if a little lurid, but baseball is on another level in terms of accessibility and gameday experience.
I have attended hundreds if not thousands of sporting events in my lifetime, and nowhere did I feel more relaxed than at the MLB London Series. Baseball lets you be yourself. No masks, no false pretence. Wear an oversized jersey if you want. Wear shorts and an old t-shirt. Nobody cares.
The ballpark is a non-judgemental space in a world of judgmental chaos. There is something for everyone at a baseball game, which is the perfect family outing. Everybody should go to a game if they get the chance.
- Batting practice is fun
Get to the ballpark early, take a glove, and try to catch a few batting practice home runs. You will feel like a kid again, and in our world of restless irritation, such fun is an infinite good.
- There’s something strangely satisfying about peanut shells on concrete
Those guys who chew peanuts, seeds and anything else then scatter shells all over the stands are so cool. I have no idea why, they just are.
- It is very difficult to get an autograph at a Major League Baseball game
I tried all weekend to snag a signed ball, finding myself in some bizarre situations. I pressed up against the protective netting next to the Yankees’ dugout, pleading with Aaron Judge, and I even carried a ball on the streets of London in case I found anyone remotely baseball famous.
Getting that ink is hard, man. Those guys sign four or five balls at the absolute most. At the Sunday game, I finally managed to get my first baseball autograph. Thank you, Mark Teixeira. You will live on forever.
- There is a right way and a wrong way to sign a baseball
Turns out there is a sweet spot for signing a baseball. Who knew? Once again, thank you, Mark Teixeira, for taking my ball and repositioning it correctly. Otherwise, I would have ended up with a suboptimal signature. Where’s Zack Hample when you need him?
- “Baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical.” – Yogi Berra
To the uninitiated, baseball may look like a bunch of bulky guys standing around in pyjamas waiting for something to happen, chewing bubble gum and counting money in the process. Well, that's not entirely accurate.
The mental challenges posed by baseball are profound and voluminous. Only sitting up close to the action can one truly appreciate the depth of concentration, contemplation and strategic imagination required to succeed at the Major League level. It’s quite remarkable, really.
- Aaron Judge is huge
Sure, you hear that Aaron Judge is 6 feet 7 inches tall and that sounds impressive. You watch on MLB.tv as he stands next to Jose Altuve, a hulking mismatch that speaks to the confounding beauty of baseball. But actually seeing this guy up close, seeing him cast a shadow over conventionally tall contemporaries, is awe-inspiring. I couldn’t believe my eyes, as this photo shows.
- Didi Gregorius’ defence really is that good
Any baseball fan with a working knowledge of statistics is aware of Didi Gregorius’ defensive excellence. The Yankee shortstop consistently ranks among the best performers in all of baseball with the leather.
Nevertheless, seeing that distinction come to life before your very eyes is quite sensational. Didi made a number of spectacular plays in the field, getting to balls he had no right to reach. It was a very impressive performance. The heir to Derek Jeter has serious talent, guys. Didi has done great.
- Sweet Caroline is kinda cool
As a devout listener to the Section 10 Podcast, I learned early that Sweet Caroline is pretty uncool.
The Neil Diamond classic has been played in the late innings at Fenway Park since 2002, with fan participation becoming a hallmark of a rambunctious crowd. However, the song has attractive negative connotations among Red Sox Nation, with many viewing it as a symbol of the post-2004 gimmick drive.
Sweet Caroline is filed alongside Fever Pitch, pink Sox hats and ironic Johnny Damon shirseys in the pantheon of Boston bandwagon regalia. Nevertheless, our rendition of Sweet Caroline at the Olympic Stadium was pretty damn awesome, and I don’t care what you think about that. Go ahead and laugh, but good times never seemed so good, so good, so good.
- Trying to explain balls and strikes is hard
When baseball runs through your veins, a consequence of exposure from an early age, the minutiae is subsumed into your subconscious. Only when attempting to explain the strike zone - an imaginary rectangle spanning the width of home plate and stretching from a batter’s knee to his shoulder – did I realise how utterly confusing the fundamentals can be for a rookie fan.
I’m always happy to talk and teach baseball. If you guys have any questions, feel free to ask. I’ll try my best to explain whatever you need to know.
- No baseball writer looks like his or her Twitter profile picture
In conversation with Ken Davidoff of the New York Post, I shared my excitement at seeing so many great baseball writers in London. It was a thrill to see heavyweights such as Ken Rosenthal, Joel Sherman and Buster Olney on the field. I shared a laugh with Davidoff, however, exclaiming how no baseball writer actually looks like his or her Twitter profile picture. Life catches up on us quick, huh.
- The London Series is likely to become the European Series
A lot of Americans travelled to watch the London games, but so did baseball fans from all over Europe. At the workout day alone, I saw large groups from Italy and the Netherlands, two strongholds of European baseball, among others.
The support for Gregorius, born in Amsterdam, was particularly pleasing. It spoke to a genuine appetite for baseball on the continent, which is becoming a more appealing market by the day. London was the first European city to host Major League Baseball games, but I doubt it will be the last.
“I’m thrilled to be in London,” said Commissioner Rob Manfred over the weekend. “But I’m also interested in playing in other cities in Europe.”
Any debate about possible destinations is for another day. Right now, we should bask in the warm glow of a London Series that exceeded all expectations. I’m immensely proud of what we achieved, and I can’t wait to do it all again next year.