In MLB This Week I usually round-up the UK-friendly early games taking place in the days ahead.
You can still find that below, but there’s a pretty big UK-related event happening on Tuesday that falls under the UK-friendly heading for different reasons.
London Mayor Sadiq Kahn and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred will be staging a press conference in the capital to finally formally announce a two-game series for June 2019.
Baseball fans in the UK have had hopes for many years of MLB coming to these shores, with actual plans to do so being discussed publicly since 2011.
The key details, that it will be the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees facing each other at the London (Olympic) Stadium, have been known for a while, albeit not officially confirmed by MLB.
What else might we learn?
When and how it fits into the schedule
ESPN’s new story about the forthcoming press conference states that the games will be played on 29-30 June. Assuming that’s correct, that’s already useful in terms of long-term planning of potentially making one of those games.
However, what we don’t yet know is how those games will fit into the almost non-stop MLB schedule.
It’s relatively easy enough to take a series to Mexico – as they did this past weekend with the Dodgers and Padres – without much disruption, whilst trips to place such as Japan – as the A’s and Mariners will do next year – can be scheduled in March before the regular season gets underway.
The logistics of bringing games to Europe, and the UK in particular, have always posed the question of how you do it without it causing scheduling problems for the teams involved. That’s vitally important if we want MLB to see coming to London as a completely positive venture and to encourage future visits.
So, how the off-days will be sorted out and how it will fit into the schedule will be a key talking point that hopefully will be clarified.
How it fits into London Stadium
As above, going to places like Mexico and Japan is less challenging as they have ballparks you can either use as they are or bring up to a better standard.
We don’t have such a venue to use in the UK (maybe one day?).
Sydney Cricket Ground was transformed into a ballpark for the 2014 Opening Series between the D-Backs and Dodgers, so it can be done and the London Stadium has been chosen from various sites in the capital as the best fit.
However, staging games in a non-dedicated baseball ballpark unavoidably means that there will be some compromises in terms of the playing dimensions and viewing angles. It would be great to see some images of how MLB expects it to look.
What about 2020?
It may seem hugely ungrateful, after years of waiting, to respond to news of MLB games in 2019 by asking for more.
But, it’s a valid question in this case as the MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) included plans to come to London in both 2019 and 2020.
So, are we going to get a firm commitment on Tuesday that this isn’t a one-off and MLB is coming both years, or will they be coy about a potential return?
Most signs have been pointing to the New York Mets making the trip in 2020. It’s worth noting that it couldn’t be a Subway Series, or a Boston return, as the current CBA prohibits the same club from playing more than one non-Mexico/Dominican Republic/Puerto Rico international event during the 2017-2021 agreement.
We shouldn’t expect any specifics about the match-up at this point, there’s no reason to do anything to take away attention from the 2019 Red Sox and Yankees series, yet not confirming the 2020 event too will take something away from the announcement bearing in mind it’s public knowledge that this is the plan (in other words, fairly or not, sceptics would latch onto it as MLB lacking confidence in making a success of 2019).
MLB’s longer-term goals
The NFL’s London project always had the potential end-game of an expansion team being based here, following the lessons learned from the NFL Europe competition. For a whole host of reasons, that’s clearly not in MLB’s mind as a realistic model to follow, so what actually is the plan?
When I raise this question here I do so with no great expectation that we’ll get any detailed answers at the press conference. No one wants to be held a hostage to fortune, least of all the MLB Commissioner, so I would expect discussions of MLB’s longer-term goal to be shrouded in generic aspirational terms.
In any case, the whole point about this is that – different to the NFL’s approach – MLB’s venture into London is part of a much wider international plan. That’s a great thing for baseball, but I think is something being overlooked by some UK baseball fans based on Twitter comments (again, seeing it through the lens of the NFL London expansion).
Take the MLB International office in London, for example. The MLB UK Twitter account leads people to refer to it as the MLB UK office but it’s really not in that sense; its remit extends across the whole of Europe, the Middle East, Africa and India. Much as they will have a huge role to play in the London series, their work is far from solely focused on expanding MLB in the UK.
The current CBA includes not only International Play Events but also Spring Training and post-World Series trips. I expect that the next CBA (subject to any lingering free agency-related acrimony) will continue this approach and that MLB’s medium-term plan is to make international series events a standard part of the MLB regular season calendar, with perhaps four or five series every year in different countries. That would likely include future games in London beyond the 2019-2020 events, although playing a series elsewhere in Europe (especially established markets such as the Netherlands, Italy and Germany) would make a great deal of sense too.
Whatever extra topics they do or don’t discuss at the press conference, the key details are something many of us have been waiting years for. Tuesday should be a memorable day for UK-based baseball fans.
As for the action on the field, here are the pre-midnight BST starts for this week:
Monday 7 May
No early games
Tuesday 8 May
18:15 Twins at Cardinals (Odorizzi (2-2), Martinez (3-1)) *BT Sport/ESPN
Wednesday 9 May
17:35 Mets at Reds (Wheeler (2-2), Romano (2-3))
18:10 Indians at Brewers (Carrasco (4-1), Guerra (2-2))
19:05 Tigers at Rangers (Liriano (3-1), Colon (1-1))
19:10 Pirates at White Sox (Williams (4-2), Lopez (0-2)) *MLB.com Free Game
19:20 Marlins at Cubs (Chen (1-1), Quintana (3-2))
20:10 Angels at Rockies (Barria (2-1), Anderson (2-0)) *BT Sport/ESPN
20:35 Astros at Athletics (Cole (3-1), Mengden (2-3))
Thursday 10 May
18:05 Giants at Phillies (Blach (3-3), Velasquez (2-4)) *Facebook Game
Friday 11 May
19:20 White Sox at Cubs (TBD, Chatwood (2-3)) *BT Sport/ESPN
All of these games are available to watch or listen to live via an MLB.TV subscription, other than the Facebook live game which is exclusive (but free) to Facebook subscribers. TV coverage of MLB in the UK comes courtesy of the BT Sport channels and these are highlighted above, as are any games that are available to view online for free via MLB.com. The above list of games just shows those starting before midnight UK time. The full schedule of MLB games can be found on MLB.com