Sun, Jul 22, 2018 - Page 11 News List

MLB’s big plans for London

The Guardian

The MLB has staged regular-season games in Japan, Australia, Mexico and Puerto Rico, but nothing it has attempted overseas comes close to the scope of what it plans to do in June next year, when the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox cross the pond to play two games.

“This will be our biggest [international] project yet,” Phil Bradley, the players’ union’s special assistant for domestic and international events, said this week.

The MLB knows that by bringing two of the US’ most iconic teams and the game’s biggest rivalry, it has a rare opportunity to build momentum in a new and potentially lucrative European market.

The league is also trying to do anything it can to make London Stadium look like a big-league ballpark, giving British fans the impression they are actually at a US stadium.

This is not easy to do. London Stadium, built for the Olympics and home to West Ham United and athletics events, does not have the natural look of a quaint US ballpark.

Transforming it into something that closers resembles Yankee Stadium is to take significant work, which is why several people from the league’s UK office were in Washington over the past week for the All-Star Game, studying Nationals Park and creating a blueprint that would give off the feel of a MLB game.

“There are a lot of additions to ensure that it isn’t any old stadium, but actually built like a ballpark,” MLB UK office managing director Charlie Hill said.

“For a number of people in the UK, this will be their first time to go to a baseball game. You want to give them something that feels compelling,” he said.

This means moving seats in the stadium to create a ballpark’s intimacy, as well as building party decks and special seating areas, but it also means making dugouts and building clubhouses on the indoor running track beneath the stadium’s stands, which is more than the MLB has done in any of the other places it has gone for regular-season games.

The locker rooms in London Stadium are excellent for soccer, but major-league clubhouses are significantly larger with more amenities, Hill said.

However, nothing in the project is to be bigger than the field that the MLB must build.

In its other international endeavors, it used existing baseball fields. There is no way to cut infield dirt into West Ham’s pitch.

Instead, the MLB is going to install a field on top of the soccer pitch, laying a protective cover over the grass and installing new sod a few centimeters above the current playing surface.

All for two baseball games.

Already, the interest in tickets shown from people in the UK has been a surprise, Hill said.

That has put more pressure on the league to create as authentic a feel as possible.

“How would you transform the London Stadium, the Olympic stadium into a baseball field?” Hill asked. “I don’t think it’s pragmatically how do you build a field, how do you build clubhouses, but how do you generate an atmosphere that is actually a baseball atmosphere?”

The All-Star Game provides some guidance, because it is a big event with side attractions like fan festivals that the MLB hopes to operate during London’s games, but even as Hill and his staffers walked around Nationals Park, they were not trying to copy what they saw, but take ideas.

For instance, the layout of London Stadium is to limit the center field fence to about 119m, making it a very much a hitter’s park.

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