It probably doesn’t need explaining that baseball is kind of a big deal in America. You’ve worn a Yankees hat. You know what a home run is. You’ve definitely used the base system to describe teenage bedroom fumblings.
The point that I’m trying to make here is that baseball is a thing that Brits know exists, but actually don’t know that much about. Well, we’re about to learn a whole lot more about it because Major League Baseball (MLB) is coming to the UK next year in, and it looks like it’s going to be amazing. It’s not just Major League Baseball as well: it’s the Boston Red Sox against the New York Yankees, the biggest rivalry in American sport, live at the London Stadium for only two nights next June: it’s the ‘Mitel & MLB Present London Series 2019’, to give it its official title.
Pre-registration for tickets is open now here, and closes at 5 p.m. November 29. General sale starts at 10 a.m. December 6.
It’s hard to explain succinctly just how big a deal this all this, but fortunately MLB flew over one of the biggest names in the sport to explain the whole thing to us. Alex Rodriguez (aka A-Rod) was on hand at the London Stadium this week to give us the lowdown, and few people could be better positioned to speak about the event and just what a Red Sox-Yankees game means than A-Rod: he played for the Yankees for over a decade, hit the most home runs in the league five times, won the best player in the American League three times, and…you get the point. Oh, and did I mention that he’s J-Lo’s boyfriend? He’s a big wheel, to say the least, and when he speaks about baseball, people listen.
The Red Sox-Yankees Rivalry Is a Really, Really Big Deal in US Sports
“When you come to America and you want to go to the best schools, you go to Harvard and Yale. When you come to America and you want to see the greatest franchises, not just sports franchises, you’ve got to go to Red Sox-Yankees,” said Rodriguez.
“The fact that we’re coming across the Pond with our greatest, our biggest, and our best, is a big win for everyone. The fact that you’re going to have the World Champions, the Red Sox, that come in with a great manager, Alex Cora, who won 108 games, and you’re going to have Mookie Betts, the 2018 MVP (Most Valuable Player) again what I think is the world’s most dominant force in (Yankees player) Aaron Judge, then it’s going to be an exciting series.
“It’s the same thing that makes Manchester United and Liverpool so very special. It’s our Goliath versus Goliath, it’s that symbol of two of our greatest cities in America, it’s like a religion, it’s like a cult, it’s so powerful. The energy is off the charts.
“The Yankees are always Goliath among Goliaths are even more inspired and motivated to get back on top. They’ve only won one championship, which we won in 2009, in the last 20 years, while the Red Sox have now won four times in the last 16 years. So the Yankees have incredible pressure from their fanbase to get back on top.”
But This Whole Thing Goes Way Beyond Sports
That’s the sporting context, but as ever with great sporting rivalries, there is more to it than just what happens on the field. A-Rod was the face of the Yankees for most of the 2000s, when the Yankees brand went from well-known to stratospheric. “You’re talking about an iconic brand, it transcends sports,” he said. “Whether you know who any player is, anybody of the 7 billion people walking around probably has heard of the Yankees and understands those pinstripes. They may not know baseball but they know the Yankees. The thing about the NY, that logo, it’s one of the most famous logos around the globe.”
It’s not like the Red Sox are lacking in global recognition either: they’re probably the single most famous thing about Boston, and can boast the likes of Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and Mark Walhberg as regular attendees at their stadium, Fenway Park. Fenway is the archetypical neighborhood ballpark, ensconced in the city and at the heart of the community. Red Sox fans contrast their club’s homely, common-man vibe with the global and commercial Yankees, whom they refer to as the “Evil Empire”. Jay-Z – celebrity Yankees fan alert – rapped “I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can”, and Red Sox fans would probably agree with him and add that their club is more of a baseball club than a hat brand.
The Best Players in the Game Are Coming
It always helps to know a few of the protagonists, so here’s a heads-up on the big names for the Yankees and Red Sox. Aaron Judge leads the line for the Yankees – he’s a 6’7, 282lb behemoth, who swings a bat like a toothpick and makes basketball players look small and weedy. In the other corner, the Red Sox’s main man is Mookie Betts, named the best player in the whole league last year. It’s hard to talk about baseball without going into statistics and Betts’ from 2018 are worth going into: he had the highest batting average in the league, stole the most bases and scored the most runs. Even if you know none of that means anything to you, you can get the idea that Mookie Betts is really, really good at baseball.
What fans are going to see is a huge rivalry with a long, storied history, but also two of the best teams from last season going at it. They met in the playoffs last year, with the Red Sox coming out on top and going on to win the World Series, reigniting the rivalry anew. Baseball fans in Britain couldn’t ask for a better pairing.
This Is What You’re Going to See When They Get Here
So we’ve established that we’re getting to two big names in the game, with some of the best players there are, at the peak of their powers. That should be enough to get punters through the gates, but, as anyone who has been to a baseball game in the States will know, what happens on the field is just half of the experience.
The game includes all of the pomp and circumstance as well as the bats and balls, from the national anthems to the Ceremonial First Pitch to singing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” at the Seventh Inning Stretch. Sure, that might not mean anything to you now, but it’ll become clear. Baseball is the most traditional and historical of American sports and sells itself on that heritage, so you better believe that a meeting of the two most historical franchises is going to be packed with stuff that goes way beyond the game. Just how they transport that atmosphere to London is going to be one of the most anticipated aspects of the whole London Series.
So expect singalongs, expect plenty of beer and food, expect limited edition merchandise, celebrity tie-ins, legendary players…expect everything. Oh, and as this is officially a Red Sox home game, that means that the famous Fenway Franks hotdogs are going to make their way over too – so slather one in yellow mustard, grab a pint and take your seat.
The Event Is Going to Be Huge, Both for London and for Baseball
As for the event, there are obviously huge challenges in moving two regular-season games to a new country, in a new stadium that has never hosted baseball before. This isn’t the first time that a game has been hosted outside of North America, as the league has traveled to Japan, Mexico, and Australia in the past, but in terms of an event, it is as big as anything that the league has done before.
The London Stadium instantly became one of the most recognizable venues on the planet during the 2012 London Olympics and, unique in venues in the UK, has the capacity to be transformed into a baseball diamond. The series will see seats reconfigured and the locker rooms expanded to give the stadium the feel of an authentic baseball arena.
“I think it’s a bit scary, but it’s fun, there’s a challenge to it that’s incredibly appealing to us,” A-Rod told us. “We’re thrilled that we’re leading with our best and our two storied franchises, one that just won a championship and the other that has 27 World Championships. Both organizations are synonymous with being champions.”
“What the people here in London are going to appreciate is not only the history of both these two franchises but also the size, the bigness, the magnitude. London deserves the very best and America is going to give it to them. I would do anything to get back out there and get a few at-bats and play in front of the great people here in London.”
“Anywhere the Yankees play the Red Sox, whether in New York or Boston or in London next summer, it’s a major event. People from America are gonna flock across the Pond to watch these games and I know the people in London are going to be thrilled to watch — and they’re going to want more, it’s going to ignite thirst that is going to start a long, long relationship.”
The Mitel & MLB Present London Series 2019 will be held at the London Stadium Saturday, June 29 and Sunday, June 30. Pre-registration for tickets for the MLB London Series is open and a pre-sale will begin on Monday, December 3 at 10 a.m. GMT. General sales will begin on Thursday, December 6, beginning at 30 GBP. Pre-register here.
- Words: Meehall Wood