Many of us have known for several years that MLB was serious about bringing games to London and, more recently, that a 2019 series between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees was almost certainly going to happen.
That didn’t make the announcement any the less thrilling, though. There have been false dawns in the past and so the potential for it to be postponed to another year, and then maybe cancelled altogether, couldn’t be completely shaken off.
The sight of MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and co making it official, and confirming a 2020 series is on track too, not only gives all in the UK baseball community something to look forward to, but something to rally behind to raise the profile of the sport more widely. This blog post from BaseballSoftballUK puts it into context perfectly.
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Configuration of the playing field
Yankee fan (and Norwich City fan, so I’ll forgive him) Dave Clarke put together some potential field dimension plans for the London Stadium on Twitter.
Been looking at potential field layouts for the #LondonSeries and reckon given the location of the 'posh seats' that the top one is most likely given the constraints of the Stadium. The plan is to scale and the field dimensions are based on Yankee Stadium pic.twitter.com/U1MpcJjfRN
— Dave Clarke (@clarkedp) May 10, 2018
Since Dave’s efforts, the preliminary dimensions of the field have been reported in various sites Stateside, such as this report at TheStar.com:
“The centre-field fence will be an inviting target, just 385 feet from home plate under the preliminary configuration of the stadium, which will accommodate 55,000 spectators.
The closest centre-field wall in baseball is at the Red Sox’s Fenway Park, where the 17-foot high wall is 390 feet from home plate. It quickly juts out to 420 feet in right-centre field and is adjoined by the Green Monster to the left. The wall at London Stadium will be between 12 and 14 feet high between the power alleys.
The power alleys will be 375 feet and the foul lines 333 feet with an eight-foot fence running between the alleys and the foul poles. Dimensions will be finalized in September”.
During the A’s-Yankees games on Saturday, the A’s broadcasters Glenn Kuiper and Ray Fosse made reference to it when Aaron Judge flied out to centre field at Yankee Stadium with a shot that almost certainly would have been over the wall in London. The dimensions of a make-shift stadium will always be a compromise, but let’s hope it produces a good contest and isn’t too homer friendly (much as seeing homers hit in the stadium would be fun).
Yankees and Red Sox show what to expect
It was likely no mere coincidence that the Yankees and Red Sox were playing a series against each other in New York when the London Series was announced.
They showed how good those games could be by producing a dramatic series, with the Yankees taking the first two – the second involving a four-run rally in the eighth off Craig Kimbrel to make it 17 wins out of 18 for New York and to lift them to the top of the AL East – only for the Red Sox to salvage a 5-4 win from the series on Thursday thanks to a J.D. Martinez home run in the eighth inning after the Yankees had scored four in the seventh to level the game.
We know we’ll get two competitive games in London next year, but the one hesitation I had with the news of it being the Red Sox and Yankees coming across the pond was in respect of the length of the games.
One of the comments I hear from Brits who don’t follow baseball is the preconception that games take a long time and if ever there were two teams that could make a nine-game inning last four hours or more it’s the Red Sox and Yankees. Even if it’s an exciting game for the rest of us, the casual observers would likely see that as a negative.
The games from this recent series lasted 3.30, 3.42 and 3.21 (with a 55 minute rain delay). The average game time for a nine-inning contest so far this season has been dead-on 3 hours and it’s probably safe to assume an extra half an hour on top of that when these two teams come together.
It’s part of the ‘every pitch matters’ intensity of the games that shows MLB at its best – several players commented on the atmosphere at the recent series being akin to a play-off game – and so long as it doesn’t stray too far into the four-hour territory, few people will have reason to grumble.
Playing the game so you can’t lose
Years ago (not sure now in these app-betting days) I knew a few football fans who would put a couple of quid on the opposition winning when going to an away game, on the basis that if their team didn’t get a point or three they could at least soften the blow by having a ‘free’ takeaway that night from their winnings.
The fantasy baseball equivalent is getting the benefit of a player performing well against your chosen real-life team, or the other way around.
We have four potential starting pitcher slots in the BGB Fantasy League on any given day and I had five of my pitchers scheduled to take the mound on Friday. I decided to put former A’s pitcher, current Yankees pitcher, Sonny Gray in my line-up (benching Lance Lynn, which was not a difficult decision considering how he’s pitched for the Twins so far this season) so that if he pitched well against my A’s – which seemed a given – then at least it would be a boost to my fantasy team.
Just as those football fans didn’t care about their stake going to the bookies when celebrating an away win, I brushed aside the fantasy match-up impact of Gray’s night ending with 5 earned runs conceded and another L to his name.