Monday, June 10, 2024

Baseball in London - watching the MLB World Tour

A few weeks back my friend Gawain asked me if I'd like to go with him to a game in the Major League Baseball London Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Mets. Naturally I leapt at the chance to a) see some live baseball, and b) spend a day hanging out with Gawain! So off I went for the Sunday game in the series.

I saw the Mets play the Phillies a long time ago, way back in 2007 (and in the very early days of this blog! Here's my write up, which omits the most memorable part of that game, which was Art Garfunkel singing the National Anthem!)

I was in Swindon on the Saturday, so had driven on to Reading in the evening and stayed the night there. In the morning I caught a nearly empty train to London Paddington before swapping to the Elizabeth Line to Stratford station near the London Stadium, which was hosting the series. 

Train selfie

I was repping the Padres for the day. That's a thing at these games - everyone wears the shirts of the teams they support. I saw most of the MLB teams represented, a few minor league teams, and also some shirts from British teams including Cardiff Merlins, Sheffield Bruins and a guy with 'Telford' emblazoned across his shirt. I also saw an Expos cap - repping a team that disappeared almost 20 years ago when the franchise was relocated from Montreal to Washington and the team became the Nationals. Gawain was unique in his Cuba international shirt.

I visited Stratford station a few times during my time working a conference at the Excel Centre back in April. I had also visited the London Stadium in April to watch a football match - the playing area was quite different this time, however. It took me a while to work out where I stood in the stadium last time. But I got to see more of the stadium this time as we were able to wander around quite freely. 

We went and stood behind the Mets bullpen to watch the starting pitcher warm up, then meandered around to find some free seats.

We ended up sitting with the Mets wives and girlfriends, who all had very natty jackets with their names on the back. I imagine this was a road game where they all wanted to join their husbands and partners. We were joined at this point by Jamie, a Mets fan from the UK.

Cinnamon pretzel!

Philadelphia fan Rob McElhenny was there with his wife Kaitlin Olsen. He was introduced as the co-owner of Wrexham AFC. He was meant to be throwing the ceremonial first pitch and turned it into an even bigger "look at me" moment by changing it to "the first ever ceremonial double play!!" Later he and Kaitlin led the singing of 'Take me out to the ball game' during the seventh inning stretch

The Wrexham co-owner wasn't the only link to Cymru. Katherine Jenkins sang God Save the King before the game. She did pretty well to make that terrible tune listenable. But unfortunately she followed Marisha Wallace who sang The Star Spangled Banner with incredible force. I hadn't heard of Marisha before - she's a Broadway star apparently - but she had some pipes on her!

We also had some pre-game entertainment with songs from Jess Glynne. I don't know the names of the songs she sang, but I recognised them all when she sang them. She was pretty good and managed to sing without getting distracted by the mascots, Phillie Phanatic and Mister Met bobbing and weaving around her as she performed. 

Unfortunately I wasn't able to get near to the Phillie Phanatic and had to settle to watching his antics on the big screen. 

I got some relatively good photos of Mister Met though, as he came over to our section. 

As to the game, it took a while to get going. The pitching was atrocious. They had so many pitching changes the game ran over 3 hours. 

Both closers got relieved midway through the final inning. That was where the game lit up. The Mets were trailing 4-3 at the start of the ninth and were 3 outs away from a sorry defeat. Somehow they scrambled 3 runs from a mix of poor pitching and errors. The Phillies got a run back but couldn't tie the game and lost on a weird double play which involved the catcher tagging home plate before throwing to first after Nick Castellanos broke his bat swinging for the fences.

Some local knowledge from another UK based Mets fan, John, got us into Stratford Station without getting stuck in massive queues (like the ones I was in after the football match in April). From there it was another trip on the Elizabeth Line back to Paddington and then on to Reading and a drive down the M4.

Talking to Gawain, we concluded that many (maybe most) of the Mets and Phillies fans had come over from the USA to watch their team. This is probably what makes a series in London viable as both teams have large fan bases. There are baseball fans in the UK, and many are really into it, but there probably aren't enough to fill a stadium without being augmented by traveling support. 

The European series was meant to be in Paris next year but has apparently been pulled, so there probably won't be another opportunity to watch MLB this side of the Atlantic until 2026 at the earliest now. 

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