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An American ex-pat’s observations of London Series

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Ron Rollins has been a reader and commenter of mine since back in 2007 when I was writing my old Blogspot blog. He’s from Missouri and is a Cardinals fan from way, way back, but he has been living and working in England for over ten years now. You will not be surprised, then, that Ron was excited about Major League Baseball making an appearance nearby.

How excited? Back in January he told me, “I got tickets for both games. Only cost me a kidney and my soul.” He said he paid £150 for seats that were not as good as nosebleed seats. “They’re eye balls popping out of the head in the vacuum of space seats,” he said. Which, hey, you do what you have to do when you’re starved for live baseball.

I hadn’t talked to Ron since then but he messaged me early this morning to give me his take on the London Series from the perspective of a hardcore American baseball fan. Some of his observations reflect well on Major League Baseball and how they handled everything in London, particularly how they orchestrated the off-field action and the spectacle and events surrounding the game. Some of it not so well, particularly the ticket prices and what that meant for the crowd that showed up.

Take it away, Ron:

  • 115,000 fans over both games. Of the people I encountered, over half were Brits. There were Japanese, Koreans, Mexicans, Cubans, Dominicans, Panamanians, Nicaraguans, Americans, Canadians, Brits, Dutch, Belgians, Italians, and Swedes, that I heard or spoke to;
  • I spoke to a lot of Dutch people. The games should have been there, as the Netherlands has much more of a baseball history and passion than the British, and have put 27 players in the majors. I talked to one Dutch guy who had worked in New York for a year and went to about 50 games. He’s a huge Yankees fan. His wife had twins boys. He named the first one Alex, in honor of Rodriguez. The second one is named Derek. Because he is number two;
  • The British were very much into the game and have a good understanding of the game. Very few people needed something explained to them. They are fascinated by the ‘stolen base’;
  • I saw a jersey from every major league team, and one from Montreal. I only saw a single jersey for five teams, but for all the others there were multiple instances of people wearing jerseys. I might have seen more if had not been sitting at the bar with the Dutch drinking beer while everyone walked by outside;
  • I also jerseys from the Dominican Republic, Japan, Panama, Venezuela, Great Britain, India, the Netherlands, and Italy. And at least seven from local British teams. So MLB can take their Yankees/Red Sox fetish and shove it. People came for the game, not the teams playing;
  • That being said, there were obviously an abundance of Red Sox and Yankees fans, many of them who did come for the game. I talked to a group of Yankees/Red Sox fans who had known each for years. They flew in for the game. And after the game, were going straight to Heathrow to fly home again. Some people live in a different world than me;
  • The atmosphere was great. It was liking being at a playoff game, and was no different an experience than being in the states. As far as the off-field action and the spectacle, they did a great job. The joint national anthems were particularly good and went over really well. They had a grade school choir sing the anthems. During the anthems, most people, of all nationalities, stood, up took their hats off, and did the right thing. Better than I’ve seen in the states the last few times I went to a game;
  • The field on Saturday night wasn’t an issue, but there were some problems on Sunday. A lot of foul ground, so some balls that weren’t caught. It looked liked the infielders had some issues on foul pop-ups. It looked like they kept expecting to run out of room, but weren’t coming to fence. They actually overran some pop-ups. I think that would normally be were the fence would stop them and they could wait on the ball, but the fact that they could keep running threw off their timing. One issue on Saturday. There was a ball hit to center field that Jackie Bradley Jr. normally would have caught, but I think he hit the warning track a lot sooner than he was expecting and pulled up, letting the ball fall in. It should have been caught, but I think it was a timing issue again;
  • The short centerfield (385 feet) only came into play on the ball mentioned above for Bradley, and two home runs. Michael Chavis and Didi Gregorius, if I remember. They both would have hit the wall in a normal field, but I don’t think they would have been caught. There were just hit too hard. There were no monster home runs, just a lot of hard hit line drives. Kind of like Philadelphia and Cincinnati, but that doesn’t explain the rest of the offensive explosion;
  • MLB hooched it with the tickets. They got greedy. While I had tickets already I was curious so I checked online Saturday night as I was walking into the park. There were a few hundred tickets still left on sale, many at face value or lower. I know a lot of people who would have went, even out of curiosity, but were priced out. Less is more. If the tickets had been even £5 ($6.43) cheaper, they would have sold a lot of those seats. £10 cheaper and they could have sold out. They made the money, but the empty seats didn’t look good. About 75% of the mezzanine level was empty on Sunday. I’m sure the tickets were sold and counted for attendance, but selling high-priced tickets to the beautiful people who didn’t come doesn’t look as good as butts in seats;
  • This carried over into me trying to unload an extra ticket I had. I listed it on StubHub to try and resell it, but had no luck. I tried all day to give it away, and other people were giving away tickets for various reasons as well. As I was walking into the stadium, I got an e-mail that someone had bought it 3 minutes before game time, so I sold it to him and I bought him a beer. He’s a Nicaraguan living in Belgium who is a big fan. He called his Dad back home to tell him about it. His Dad has never left Nicaragua and neither one of them had ever seen an MLB game. So I had to buy him another beer. On Sunday, a Brit I know called and asked if I had any other free tickets. While I was talking to him, a lady from Egypt heard me and said she had a free ticket, so I passed her the phone. The guy got a better seat than me for free. So I bought myself a few beers to get over the pain. Ex-pats are cool like that;
  • I talked to a young British couple who were thrilled to be there. They were actual fans of the game. They brought their 2-year old son, so they can get him immersed in the baseball culture as early as possible. They weren’t so happy that they had to pay full price for a seat for a kid who was going to sit on his mother’s lap the entire day. Overall there were not a lot of kids at the games. This is not surprising due to the cost. It is surprising, though, due to the fact that the UK does have a Little League, and there was a Little League tournament featuring international teams going on in London this past week. Some free tickets for the kids spread out in the outfield would have been huge. A missed opportunity again, because kids don’t buy things and Major League Baseball doesn’t seem all that interested in people who don’t buy things;
  • That said, except for ticketing and pricing, MLB did everything right. Can’t fault them for much of anything. They nailed it. It was baseball. Pure and simple;
  • The problem is, though, they probably think it was a success because they made a lot of money and sold a lot of merchandise. But that’s not why it was a success. It was a success because baseball fans got to watch major league baseball. I talked to ex-pats who had been in Europe for way longer than me and hadn’t seen games since they were kids. I talked to Brits who had been waiting as long as they had been fans to see a game. I talked to Europeans who feel that MLB caters to other countries and ignores that fact that every country in Europe has a baseball league, and Europeans are started to get signed;
  • Overall, A+ for the weekend. But the tickets take it to an A-;

Thanks for the report, Ron. Sounds like, overall, it was a success, but it could’ve been made perfect with some variations in the ticket pricing. I guess we’ll see next year when the Cubs and Cardinals take over London Stadium.

Pirates hire Ben Cherington as their new general manager

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The Pittsburgh Pirates have hired Ben Cherington as the team’s new general manager. They do so after the general manager meetings ended, but better late than never.

Cherington served as GM of the Boston Red Sox for four years, winning the World Series in 2013, but resigned during the 2015 season after Dave Dombrowski was named Boston’s new president of baseball operations. Which was a defacto demotionn for Cherington who, until then, had the final say in baseball decisions. Dombrowski, of course, was fired late in the season this year. Cherington went on to work for the Toronto Blue Jays as a vice president, but was seen as biding his time for another GM position. Now he has one.

Cherington takes over in Pittsburgh for executive vice president and general manager Neal Huntington, who was fired after a 12 years at the helm. Also fired was team president Frank Coonelly. Travis Williams replaced Coonelly recently. While the Pirates experienced a few years of contention under Huntington and Coonelly, they have slid out of contention in recent years as the club has traded away promising players for little return, all while cutting payroll. There’s a very big rebuilding job ahead of Cherington.

The first move he’ll have to make: hire a manager, as the team still hasn’t replaced Clint Hurdle since he was dismissed in the final weekend of the regular season.