The story of how the Red Sox landed in London

Rob Bradford
June 25, 2019 - 11:39 pm

Creativity was going to be a necessity. The Red Sox and Major League Baseball knew that.

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Playing baseball in London simply isn't a turn-key proposition.

So when sifting through the ins and outs of what awaited the team's two games against the Yankees at London Stadium the Red Sox found themselves with somewhat of a roadblock, literally. While the distance from the team hotel to the ballpark/pitch/stadium was just under nine miles traffic was going to make the trip about an hour. Too much traffic. No police escort. As Red Sox Chief Strategy Officer Dave Beeston pointed out, "There was no way around it."

This is where outside-the-box thinking was going to be called upon. So the Red Sox' brass actually contemplated the unthinkable: Maybe the team could get to work via London's subway system, known to most as The Tube.

"We tried. It didn’t work because it was too hard," Beeston said with a smile. "We had the visual of the team getting on the team in the Tube. But we couldn’t get security."

The traffic issue is something the Red Sox are willing to live with. They've come too far, adjusted too much, and now find themselves on the doorstep of a dream that was hatched more than three years ago. On the day his team departs across the Atlantic Ocean Beeston --  a chief point person for the London Series from the Red Sox' side of things -- has been now able to shift his focus from trying to Americanize the sports fans of London to fret about what might matter most.

"At this point, I'm not worrying about anything specific," Beeston said. "Probably the biggest thing for me who has been charged with leading the trip for us is making sure it doesn’t get lost that these games are two games that matter."

They've come along way from when this thing was officially hatched back at the 2017 Owners Meetings.

After the Red Sox and Yankees agreed to the particulars of playing these two games in the middle of the regular season, the real hurdles stopped popping up. Most notably, where to play. London Stadium, the home of West Ham soccer team, would be the somewhat imperfect landing spot.

"The stadium was probably the biggest hurdle. It’s a soccer pitch," Beeston explained. "It was like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. How to fit a diamond into a track."

Beeston and a group of Red Sox representatives ventured over to London in January to see exactly what they were dealing with. What they found was a stadium with no clubhouses, but just bare-bone spaces called "boot rooms" where soccer teams showed up from their respective training facilities took off their boots and got ready to play their game of choice. Those were going to need some work. "You’re not going and hanging out, which is what our guys do," noted Beeston about the difference in London Stadium's usual place for preparation and what the baseball teams might need.

As the visit unfolded more aspects of the games were defined. The Red Sox would be flying into Gatwick instead of Heathrow. There would be a ton of foul ground, but a very short distance to the deepest part of center field (385 feet). The field was going to be artificial turf, placed on top of a solid surface which will rest on the soccer pitch's natural grass. And (get this) special dispensations were put into motion in order to have vendors roam through the stands to sell beer and popcorn.

"You go to a soccer match, you sit down at the kickoff and you stand up at the end of the match. You don’t leave your seats," said Beeston, who saw the soccer fans way of doing things first-hand when venturing outside of London to watch Liverpool take on Brighton. "You come here and everyone is up five or six times. People get up in the middle of the match? What are you talking about."

Some of the adjustments will undoubtedly be a work in progress.

Most English sports fans will want to relate baseball to a sport they are much more familiar with, cricket. That means there will likely be the inclination to throw all balls hit into the stands back onto the field, as is customary within the Laws of Cricket. Fortunately, Major League Baseball plans to sell portable radios at the concession stands in order to translate what is happening as the games unfold.

And the education isn't limited to the fans. All the Red Sox players are receiving cheat-sheet cards reminding them when and when not to sleep, along with other travel tips, in order to make the four-day excursion as palatable as possible. (They are encouraged to sleep a ton on the flight over, and not sleep while jetting back to Toronto.)

Getting to this point, however, has been anything but easy ... for more than just the teams.

MLB has had a team on the ground in London preparing the field since the outset of May. And making their job even more difficult was an early June concert that put the whole process on hold.

"It's been a sprint," Beeston noted.

And now, the finish line.

"From what I heard from people over there, people are intrigued. It’s a city of 20 million so not everybody is intrigued. But it did sell out in like 15 minutes.

"We need to spread the game globally, and we think this will help do that."

Traffic or no traffic, they got there.