History was made in June 2019, when the Boston Red Sox played the New York Yankees in the first-ever Major League Baseball game played on European soil. Somehow, I was lucky enough to witness the series first hand. What an experience it was! Here are a few of my takeaways and recommendations for those considering to go in the future.
Let me preface by stating that many of these kinks could have been the outcome of first time inexperience, weather, or other things that are simply out of anyone’s control. With that said, I am also hoping this means that MLB’s presence in Europe will only continue to grow and get better as the years go on.
✧ Bring a refillable water bottle. During the series, London was experiencing unusually warm weather. The heat was so intense that I stood in line for 30+ minutes to refill any cup or bottle we had saved with water. Of course, the concession stands were selling bottled water and other beverages like beer, cider, and sodas. But, those lines were just as long, if not longer at times. Plus, it was so warm that only water sounded good to me.
This is one that is obviously out of everybody’s control. But, I would now recommend planning for extreme heat just as much as I would recommend planning for frigid weather. This way you cover all of your bases ;).
✧ Scope out the public transit. London Stadium sits outside of London proper in a district known as Stratford. If you’re staying for a few days, you’ll inevitably want to stay closer to the city and the main tourist attractions. However, when scoping out hotels, I recommend considering the following; how accessible is the field, how long is the ride, and how much does it cost to get there. For us, an Uber from the Bankside area wasn’t too expensive. From what I understand, parking is limited, ADA included.
✧ English fans are no joke. Typically, I would say “whoa, what is that person thinking wearing that team’s jersey to this game?” But, it turns out that there were just that many English folks who were genuinely excited to see Major League Baseball finally make its way to England. We saw people who were fans of every team from the Angels to the White Sox. While polite, the English fans were also loud, proud, and overall a refreshing crowd.
✧ Buy merchandise at the field. Compared to American sports, where you can find a team’s merchandise pretty much anywhere, the London Series gear was not as easy to find. In fact, I was surprised to see how few advertisements (print and TV) there were promoting the series. If you weren’t there for the game, you may not have even know that the two teams were in town. I’m not sure if it was a cultural thing or a novice mistake, but it resulted in merchandise only being sold in two places. The bigger of the two stores was a large tent outside of the main gates at London Stadium. The second was inside the free fanfest, known as London Yards.
✧ Plan your time around London Yards, hosted at Truman Brewery. Seeing as the event was free, you could put a lot of time and effort into enjoying the festivities. Or, you could walk around the entire building take an obligatory photo and leave. We spent our time somewhere in the middle of those. But, to each their own.
The former brewery was transformed into an MLB playground, with baseball-inspired games and virtual reality. When walking in, there were staff members to help sign you up to participate in any/all games. However, the wait times for each one were upwards of 1-2 hours. On the plus side, participants did not have to wait in line. Instead, fans could sign up for a game and go grab some food or drinks, shop at the team store, play another game, and come back at the scheduled time.
✧ Get there early. This one might go without saying, but this is a special event. So, plan your time accordingly. There is a reason the gates opened four hours before first pitch. With all of the new sights, sounds, and activities you won’t want to miss a thing. For example, the stadium is attached to a field, which was used for activations like a mini home run derby, photo opportunities and batting cages. The four hours gave us plenty of time to walk around the stadium, see what we wanted to see and grab (lots) of food and drinks before pre-game ceremonies.
The arena, which is typically home to soccer, is a circle. This plays a massive role in two things.
✧ First, this means there is really no bad seat. Of course, there are great seats with excellent views of the players, but the circular stadium ensures that every fan will get to see all of the action.
✧ Second, center field is just over 350 feet, making this a very batter-friendly field.
✧ Concessions were standard. For food, there weren’t many options outside of the ballpark basics- hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken strips and fries. Again, I am not sure if it’s that I’m spoiled with a plethora of unique food options at American ballparks, or if it was simply a rookie mistake. While I am sure they were there, I personally did not see options for those who are vegetarians, vegans or gluten-free.
The one truly uncommon food truck I found was actually a red double-decker bus, which sold fudge. The Great British Fudge Company even had a special fudge named London Series.
For drinks, I appreciate how MLB created two team-inspired bars; Bronx Bomber Bar and Green Monster Bar. In addition, these bars sold three speciality beers created for the games. Breweries from both Boston and New York came together to collaborate on the beers. This isn’t to say that breweries will do this every year, with every team. But, keep your eye out.