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Major League Baseball is coming to London this week, fulfilling my dream

On Saturday, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox will begin a two-game series at London’s Olympic Stadium. After fifteen years of devoted infatuation from afar, I will finally attend a Major League Baseball game. The surreal excitement is overwhelming.

I discovered baseball in 2004. Channel Five carried two live ESPN broadcasts every week, on Wednesday and Sunday nights, or more accurately Thursday and Monday mornings. I happened to stumble upon one such broadcast while awaiting a Dutch football rerun as a mischievous nine-year old. I was hooked for life, destined for decades of chasing triumph and tragedy in the depths of British night. 

When you’re a humble kid from a Merseyside council estate, baseball isn’t a natural passion. That it was, and always will remain, my favourite sport, above and beyond omnipotent football, spoke to a resounding otherness that defined my childhood. Such contrarian interests singled me out, distinguished me from the pack, and likely contributed to the loneliness that fuelled a teenage identity crisis and an adult breakdown. But baseball is in my blood, and I will never apologise for that.

I once spoke to a therapist about my neurotic urge to make people proud through the fulfilment of ‘potential.’

“What about you?” she asked. “What about making you proud?”

“What about that little boy in the baseball hat, reading outside in the sun?”

That is the real me, a personality I restrained from public view for so long through fear of judgement, ridicule and abandonment. Liking baseball wasn’t cool when I was a kid. It was weird, strange and somehow indicative of an unhinged mind and an untrained palette. You like baseball? Why?

Following America’s national pastime from Britain has often been a sordid, solitary pursuit. The game has only ever existed in my mind, described by books, coloured by television, and preserved by box scores.

When I first discovered baseball, keeping abreast of events unfolding an ocean away required serious dedication.

My mum recorded Baseball on Five using battered VHS tapes, setting her alarm for 1am just to hit record.

I would often stay awake until sunrise to simple gawp at MLB Gameday, which recreated in robotic animation – not even video! - the events of live games.

The advent and refinement of mlb.tv has been a cherished gift, allowing me to watch any game at any time on any device, but something is still missing. Still, I have never heard the crack of the bat or the chirp of crackerjack vendors in real life. The innocence of baseball-loving youth is still alive in this weary adult heart. At the age of 24, I will finally get my chance to experience it all.

As a kid, I dreamed of attending just one Major League Baseball game in my lifetime. Venturing to America from such meagre roots always seemed ever so slightly impossible. I have often doubted my ability to get there, to witness that ultimate game. The struggles have been multifarious – geographical, financial, familial – but here we are, and here we go. The Yankees and Red Sox will play competitive games in my homeland this week, and that will never stop being awesome.

This is a huge display of intent by Major League Baseball. They are serious about Europe, and they are fascinated by London. We’re not getting the Rays and Twins in some dead-end series here. We are getting the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. There is no greater rivalry in sports. 

Next year, we are getting the Chicago Cubs and St Louis Cardinals, another marquee matchup. This isn’t the Jacksonville Jaguars being foisted upon a populace for capitalist gain. This is Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge, Mookie Betts and Chris Sale. This is the best of the best, and we must be eternally grateful.

So many great people have campaigned for these games over so many years, making huge sacrifices for the good of British baseball. We must not forget those originals, those tireless boosters of our niche cause. People like Matt Smith and Joe Gray, Norman Wells and Liam Carroll. Their toil, often through grim adversity, has made this moment possible. I salute every single one of you, and I hope you enjoy the games.

In just a few days’ time, 60,000 people will gather in London to watch baseball, the Olympic Stadium becoming our Field of Dreams. It will be the largest crowd of the Major League season, a resounding celebration of our emotional hardball journey. We have reached the precipice, people. We have done it. Britain will host the greatest baseball players our world can muster. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by.

I understand this series may be greeted with scepticism and outright hostility in Boston, New York and beyond. I get it, this seems dumb to some people. But please understand that your logistical nightmare is my American dream. I have waited my entire life to see this, never fully convinced that it would happen, and I will savour every minute.

In high school, we were once asked to write an essay about our career aspirations. In retrospect, I understand the stifled laughter at my desire to be the General Manager of the Boston Red Sox, but at least my backup plan, to be paid for writing about baseball, came true.

I covered the 2016 World Series for BBC Sport, a true career highlight, while also penning regular baseball features for the Guardian, FanSided and Yawkey Way Report, the premier magazine sold at Red Sox games.

That was in a different life, but I’m immensely proud of what I accomplished in baseball. I’m keen to rekindle those ties, and I’m still working to secure that gig in a front office. Maybe one day I will become the first Brit to have decision-making privileges within a Major League franchise. We can all dream, right?

“Accursed who brings to light of day the writings I have cast away,” wrote Yeats, the great Irish poet. He could easily have been talking about baseball in London, because a similar sense of precious anxiety becalms every diehard fan in this land.

Baseball is a game of such nuance and introspection that I’m incredibly nervous about gifting it to mainstream Britain and sharing it with the modern orthodoxy. I’m very protective of baseball, and I’m somewhat scared of presenting it to a wider audience that is undoubtedly raw.

Baseball is alien here, and I hope the majority does not embarrass the minority that actually cares. I just want London to do justice to Major League Baseball, because its presence on these shores is a remarkable gift that should not be eschewed.

MLB is the most prolific sports league in history. Its unique schedule has necessitated more than 200,000 games since 1903. Only 23 of those games have been played outside the United States and Canada. None have been played in Europe. That changes on Saturday, when the baseball world orbits London.

When you grew up 3,100 miles from Fenway Park and 3,300 miles from Yankee Stadium, separated by a great body of water, that is quite miraculous. It is the most magical feeling I have ever experienced.

The Yankees and Red Sox have played against each other on 2,262 occasions since 1901. Even more if you include spring training and exhibition games. Never have they met outside the United States. Until now.

This is a series for all-time, a series that means more. This is a showcase but also an awakening. This is baseball’s moment in the British sun, baseball’s time to shine.

This is for Jonny Gould, who did more than any man to inspire passion for baseball in the UK. If ever somebody deserved to throw the ceremonial first pitch, it is Jonny, nobody else.

This is for Josh Chetwynd, who has been asked about the potential for Major League games in London thousands of times over innumerable years. You can finally say yes, JC. This is actually happening.

This is for Erik Jansen, who will taste food at a British ballpark. This is for David Lengel, a reward for all those flights between London and New York. This is for Todd Macklin, one of our first great baseball educators.

This is for Nat Coombs and Mike Carlson, Paul Romanuk and Mark Webster, the men who kept talking about baseball when only a handful of us cared.

This is for Tommy Boyd, wherever he may be. Glorified rounders, hey, Tommy?

And this is for Craig W Thomas, whose Roads to Redemption was our bible in the days before social media.

This is for Phil Jupitus, the popular comedian with an uncommon love for the Boston Red Sox. Your boys are coming to London, Phil, so show the world that tattoo.

This is for Colin Murray, Britain’s only broadcaster with a portrait of Joe DiMaggio in his living room.

This is for Ed Miliband, perhaps the only baseball fan ever to come within 94 parliamentary seats of occupying 10 Downing Street.

This is for Henry Chadwick, the father of baseball born in Devon.

This is for Albert Spalding, the ultimate entrepreneur who first brought American baseball stars to Britain 131 years ago.

This is for Francis Ley and John Moores, the two greatest advocates of a professional baseball league in England.

This is for Joey, the Baseball Brit, who recently quit his job to travel America and watch 162 games in a season. You are living our dream, Joey. Let’s go.

This is for everyone at Bat Flips and Nerds, a fine portal of British baseball passion. You have done great, guys. Keep it up.

This is for every student who missed a morning lecture after staying up to watch Julio Lugo kill another Red Sox rally.

This is for every night-feeding mother who fell in love with Derek Jeter at four in the morning.

This is for you – yes, you – the guy watching the Patriots' Day game at work because it’s the only contest in the entire season that begins before 6pm.

And this is for the twelve-year old me, the little kid with the baseball cap reading Dan Shaughnessy on the stairs.

At times like this, I fondly recall the summers of yore, when I would play catch with the garden wall until dusk’s sad embrace. The weary pavements of Ashfield Crescent, Bromborough were transformed into a Yankee Stadium of my mind, a concrete ballpark of vast imagination.

I leaped into hedges, making catches like Jim Edmonds. I used the doormat as home plate, mimicking Manny Ramirez. I daydreamed about seeing the real thing one day, with real heroes in real uniforms throwing real balls on a real diamond before a real crowd.

Those daydreams were tinged with the feint melancholy of realism, informed by my context of working class rigour. So much had to happen for me to rise from the council estate and travel to America, purchasing flights and tickets and accommodation along the way. It would take twenty years, I thought as a kid, maybe thirty, to finally have that poetic moment depicted in so many movies: clanking through the turnstiles, walking up the ramp on the first base side, and emerging into the verdant oasis of a Major League ballpark.

Well, it is happening this week. It is happening to me. I somehow have tickets to watch the New York Yankees play the Boston Red Sox, and that still blows my mind. Childhood dreams do come true. Even at the age of 24.

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10 comments

  • I am so glad to see that there are so many fans of baseball in the U.K.!

    I live in the Kansas City area, so my team is the Royals. We went to the World Series in 2014 and won it in 2015. We’re rebuilding now with some terrific new talent, and Kauffman Stadium (“The K”) is a wonderful place to come for a game. It’s especially known for its beautiful fountains beyond the outfield fences.

    I hope you will all enjoy the Red Sox/Yankees games in London! I wish the entire world could share this wonderful game of baseball! And if you ever get the chance, we would love to welcome you to “The K.” We have some of the best fans in baseball, as you may remember from a few years ago, and we love to share our beautiful facility with other baseball lovers! We wish you the very best, and hope to meet you some day!

    Karen Garner
  • Ryan ~ From a life long Yankees fan, so happy that you (and so many of our British friends) are going to see a real baseball game. Your passion and enthusiasm is shared by millions here in the States. We have the tremendous privilege of watching the best of the best every night. The true fan never takes that for granted. We live and die with our teams. You are going to see something special. Enjoy every moment every hotdog and every homerun, and…GO YANKEES!!!

    Robert Martinez
  • Great piece. As a Cubs fan in Manchester I’m looking forward to this time next year! Incorporating my first 3 games ever at Wrigley into my honeymoon in 2016 was incredible! I’m sure you’ll also get the thrill of experiencing Fenway sooner or later.

    Kris
  • Great piece. As a Cubs fan in Manchester I’m looking forward to this time next year! Incorporating my first 3 games ever at Wrigley into my honeymoon in 2016 was incredible! I’m sure you’ll also get the thrill of experiencing Fenway sooner or later.

    Kris
  • Ryan I thoroughly enjoyed your latest Blog. Very well written buddy. The boy has become a man.

    Huge congratulations on your Baseball journey.

    JG

    Jonathan Gould

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