If Romelu Lukaku can become a fan then baseball can appeal to any Briton, according to New York Yankees’ World Series winner CC Sabathia.
Major League Baseball is returning to the UK in 2023 with the Chicago Cubs and St Louis Cardinals – who have one of the fiercest rivalries in the game – announced as the clubs playing at the London Stadium on June 24-25.
The sport’s top flight made its British debut in 2019 featuring two of the league’s most recognisable franchises, the Boston Red Sox and Sabathia’s Yankees, who swept the series at the same venue.
Organisers have promised another full-fledged ballpark experience, complete with all the hallmarks of a Stateside game both on the field and in the concession stands.
— CC Sabathia (@CC_Sabathia) August 8, 2019
That was one of the reasons Belgium striker Lukaku, now back on loan with Inter Milan from Chelsea, was first drawn to the sport. He and Sabathia became close friends after sharing an agent.
“He’s come over to watch Yankee games and I try to get over to watch as many matches of his as possible,” said Sabathia.
“I think his favourite thing is coming to Yankee Stadium, hanging out with legends and eating the food.”
Flash and food are all part of the appeal of ‘America’s pastime’, said six-time all-star Sabathia who won the MLB’s top pitching award in 2007, while he stressed the fundamentals are simple to grasp for new fans.
Feels like home. We’re #LondonSeries ready.
— MLB (@MLB) June 27, 2019
“The easiest thing to understand is a hitter hitting a home run,” he said.
“You see the pitcher up there, you see the guy hit the ball over the fence, and however many guys are on the bags is the number of runs you get.”
While fewer Londoners might be familiar with the latest match-up between the Cubs and the Cardinals, 19-season MLB veteran Sabathia promised the sides would not disappoint.
“It is very intense,” said the former pitcher, who postponed his retirement when he learned his team would be playing in the first London Series.
“I didn’t realise how big the Cubs and Cardinals rivalry was until I got over to the Central (division).
“It’s like the Yankees and Red Sox. Those two teams hate each other. There’s been a lot of bad blood in between those two teams, pennant races and different things, so I think it’s awesome we’re trying to match up with the classic rivalries and bringing those to the bigger stage.”
Sabathia believes the London Stadium is what would be described as a “hitters’ ballpark”. Baseball games average around one home run per contest but teams combined for six in the opening London Series match.
Sabathia believes new rules since 2019, designed to shorten games, will be critical in growing the sport’s international fanbase – perhaps a relief to supporters who witnessed MLB’s UK opener, still one of the longest nine-inning games in the league’s 121-year history.
The 2023 match-up is the first of three planned trips to the capital, with additional series on the cards for 2024 and 2026 alongside other global stops as part of a world tour.
Sabathia added: “We’re trying to grow the game globally. (American) football and basketball has done such a great job of that. I think it’s time for baseball.”
:: St Louis Cardinals will play Chicago Cubs in the MLB World Tour: London Series 2023 on June 24-25 at London Stadium. For ticket and event updates, register at http://mlb.com/londonseries.