Baseball fans in Britain received some exciting news today with the announcement of a baseball event in Hyde Park to coincide with America’s Independence Day on 4 July.
The BST Hyde Park Facebook update confirms the following details:
Major League Baseball will host a huge July 4th Party at Barclaycard presents BST Hyde Park during our Open House event!
The celebration of sport, street food and music will also feature representatives from Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers who will go head-to-head in a quick-fire game of baseball, never seen before in Europe!
Not only that but the Great Oak Stage will play host to a huge Home Run Derby with special guests battling it out to score the most home runs against the clock.
Best part… IT’S FREE. Come on down!
Tuesday 4th July, 5pm to 10pm.
Now, as soon as “Major League Baseball”, “London”, Boston Red Sox” and “Los Angeles Dodgers” started appearing on social media, it was understandable to get over-excited at Clayton Kershaw squaring off against David Price. Maybe you might see this event as a slight disappointment as a result.
But you shouldn’t.
Firstly, MLB hasn’t done a whole lot in terms of big events in the UK previously. There was the Legends of Baseball event at Old Trafford (Lancashire’s cricket ground, rather than Man Utd’s stadium) in 1989 with Willie Stargell and Bob Feller and other ex-MLB players taking on the GB national team. Feller had come across to the UK the previous year and helped to inspire the Old Timers club in the UK, still going strong in the BBF leagues years later.
Then four years later, Surrey’s Oval cricket ground hosted a game between minor-leaguers from the Red Sox and New York Mets, attended by over 5,000 curious spectators.
That was the end of the visits though, so it’s been 24 years since we had an event like that on these shores. The fact that MLB wants to stage any sort of show over here now has to be good news for anyone with an interest in baseball.
The other thing is that the true goal for MLB should be to raise the profile of the sport.
MLB needs to get itself out there to people who might not otherwise pay it any attention. Of course, playing regular season MLB games can be part of that and hopefully that dream will come true in the next few years, but it’s far from the only way they can achieve that aim.
For those of us that are already baseball fans, getting the chance to watch ‘real’ MLB games right here would be fantastic, but beyond the short burst of publicity it might bring (sadly, as we’ll all be aware, accompanied by plenty of dismissive comments from those who will refuse to give ‘glorified rounders’ a chance) that may largely end up being a case of preaching to the converted. For example, the MLB games at the Sydney Cricket Ground in March 2014 were fun to watch, but it doesn’t look like they have sparked any longer lasting additional interest in the sport in Australia.
Staging a big free event in Hyde Park will be a great way to grab the attention of people who perhaps wouldn’t initially shell out money to watch a full MLB game. A “quick-fire” game will give those in attendance the chance to see the essence of the sport: the speed of a blazing fastball, the glorious crack of the ball off the bat, the skill and grace of a smartly-turned double-play.
Home run derbies are always a great way to provide a few oohs and aahs too without expecting people to sit through a 3 hour-plus game playing rules they don’t fully (or even half-way) understand.
The “special guests” part of the derby should also present some opportunities for MLBUK to get some positive social media coverage.
Joe Gray’s article on this site from November 2010 told the tale of the two most notable home run derby events in the UK over the past thirty years. They involved England cricket stars Ian Botham in 1987 and Graham Gooch in 1988, the latter facing off against Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks.
Baseball purists may not be so keen, but if the likes of Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff are there to try to turn their hand to hitting another type of ball a long way, that will certainly garner some wider publicity and make for an enjoyable event.
So this event sounds like a great thing to me. Who knows, perhaps it could be turned into an annual event with other baseball-related meet-ups and promotions packaged alongside it.
Doing events like that, with all of the social media promotion that’s possible nowadays too – there was no one tweeting about Ian Botham doing his Babe Ruth impression back in 1987 – can help to lay the groundwork for a more sustainable growth in interest rather than just a quick flash in the pan, with clubs like the London Mets hopefully able to piggy-back onto that enthusiasm too and get even more kids and adults playing baseball and softball.
If events like this can do well and we then add a few MLB games in London on top of that in a few years’ time, we just might be on to something!