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The British review: MLB is coming to London

by Matt Smith

I’ve had a plan for a few months to start a regular, hopefully weekly, British baseball review column looking at the key domestic news as well as international and MLB.

And now seems a pretty good time to launch it …!

Confirmed – MLB coming to the UK in 2019 and 2020

It’s been rumoured for several years, and there has been some false dawns along the way, but now we can confidently say that MLB games are going to be played in London in the near future.

The initial plan was for games to be played in 2016, which then got pushed to 2017 and then put on hold. Thankfully the delay was simply in MLB and the Players Union coming to an agreed process on how the next round of international ventures would be organised.

MLB has consistently had a strong vision of coming to London – arguably a little unfairly on the Netherlands who have invested heavily in trying to be the first country to tempt MLB to Europe, fingers crossed their time will come in the next round of international series – and the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that was ratified over the off-season has placed a firm commitment to make that a reality.

There are plans for June series in 2019 and 2020 in London alongside a further 11 series taking place across Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Asia between 2018 and 2021.

Tom on Batflips has looked at some potential series already. The rumours over the recent years have, unsurprisingly, focused on East coast teams heading this way and within that especially the Tampa Bay Rays, who have consistently been at the bottom of the home attendance rankings (currently averaging less than 16,000 per home game so far the season).

Their Florida counterparts the Miami Marlins have similar attendance issues (3rd-lowest so far this season with just under 21,000 average per home game) so might be a National League option to give up a couple of home games, although their relatively new ballpark and impending ownership change may complicate things.

The 2nd-lowest in home attendance this season are the Oakland A’s. They don’t tick the East coast box, of course, but would certainly be very welcome with this A’s fan and the Moneyball link that non-baseball fans are still likely to have heard of over here.

MLB Hall of Fame and Trade Deadline

This weekend is the Hall of Fame weekend for MLB, with Jeff Bagwell, Ivan Rodriguez and Tim Raines the 2017 player inductees, and we also have the excitement of the trade deadline on Monday.

That’s not quite the farce that the football transfer deadline has become, and all the better for it, not least as it is still possible to trade players after 31 July if they can clear waivers as part of the process (further details on that are explained in the MLB Trade Deadline FAQ).

It is still an exciting process as teams seek to make an addition or two as part of their play-off-place push or as part of a rebuilding effort. The deadline is 21.00 BST on Monday, so a convenient time for us to enjoy all of the last-hour rumours and then the immediate fall-out and instant reaction on winners and losers.

MLB UK supporters meet-up

Such is the rumour mill as the deadline approaches that the games can almost seem like a back-drop sometimes. There are five pre-midnight UK time starts on Saturday, including a Rays-Yankees contest (18.05) with New York seemingly primed to make another splash on the trade market just one year after taking the opposite approach and dealing players away.

Every team is then playing a day-game on Sunday other than the San Francisco Giants and LA Dodgers who will be the ESPN Sunday Night game.

The Blue Jays-Angels and Yankees-Rays games are going to be featured in an MLB UK fan meet-up in London on Sunday. It’s being held at the Victoria Sports Bar & Grill from 17.30, so go along and meet up with some fellow baseball nuts (as Jonny Gould used to call us).

Great Britain’s roster announced for U23 championships

In British news, Thursday saw the announcement of Great Britain’s Under-23 roster for the inaugural U23 European Championship.

The event replaces the previous U21 tournament on the international calendar and gives teams the chance to win World Baseball & Softball Confederation (WBSC) ranking points for their nation as well as a place at the 2018 U23 Baseball World Cup.

GB will be in Wels, Austria, to start the event playing against Austria on Monday 8 August, then Poland and Spain on the following two days. A top two finish in the group is needed to qualify for the quarter-final stage that will be held in the Czech Republic.

Full details on the roster and tournament ahead are available on the BBF website.

London Little League does GB proud

There’s no doubt that momentum is growing in British baseball and that was on display this past week in the Europe/Africa Little League Majors Division (U13) tournament.

Great Britain’s representatives, The London Youth Baseball League team (LYBL Bulldogs), made it all the way to the final where they were defeated by Italy’s representative’s Emilia Romagna by a score of 12-2.

Had they won they would have been jetting off to the famous Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. I know some UK MLB fans grumble at BT Sport’s MLB coverage being taken over by the Little League event for a week or so every August, but I’m sure everyone would have been delighted and hugely proud to watch the Bulldogs on our screens.

Nonetheless, making the final was a fantastic achievement by the team. It goes to show the potential that there is in this country and should be an inspiration for the kids, coaches and volunteers involved in Little League events in the UK.

BBF this weekend

As for the adult leagues, the London Capitals (14-9) are on a high after defeating the Essex Arrows and Southampton Mustangs last Sunday to move within one game of the latter for second-place in the National Baseball League standings.

The Capitals travel to Grovehill Ballpark, Hemel Hempstead, on Sunday for a double-header against the Herts Falcons (7-15).

The Mustangs (14-7) will hope to show some bounce-back-ability as they travel to Town Mead Ballpark, , to face the Essex Arrows (9-11), who they defeated 16-5 at Farnham Park last week. The other top-tier double-header is scheduled to be the league-leading London Mets (16-4) taking on the bottom-placed Brighton Jets (3-17), although this will be subject to the Finsbury Park field being fit for play after a recent flood and the Jets being able to raise a team.

In Triple-A, the league-leading Richmond Knights (17-2) are in Oxford taking on the Kings (4-14), with the second-placed London Mammoths (12-7) squaring off against the third-placed Taunton Tigers (11-9) in Somerset.

In Double-A, the 18-0 Birmingham Bandits are on the road facing Milton Keynes Bucks (2-14), whilst in Single-A the 11-0 Norwich Iceni are travelling to Westmorland Park to take on Bracknell Inferno (3-8).

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