The baseball dead zone has arrived with the end of the World Series. There’s not likely to be any serious action for some time. Much like the Cardinals, it’s time for their fans to start planning for 2020. The Boston Red Sox took on the New York Yankees in a two game series in London this past June in a series aptly titled “The London Series.” The league has already announced the continuation of the London Series for 2020 with the Cardinals taking on the Chicago Cubs. As many of our readers may be considering making the trip, and since I made this year’s trip, it affords me a chance to give you a guide to regular season baseball in London. Here is a breakdown of what you can expect and what you need to know as you bridge the long, baseball-free gap to next season.
For our trip, we stayed at the Doubletree a few blocks from the Tower Hill tube stop and the Tower of London. It’s close enough for a gorgeous walk across the Tower Bridge to the south side of the Thames, and then west along the Thames. That direction is where you’ll find the London Eye, Borough Market, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Shard, the London Bridge, and many other attractions. If you’d like a frame of reference, several of the London scenes in Spider-Man: Far From Home were filmed within a mile of my hotel. Just as they joke in the film, the bridge that you will assume is the London Bridge is actually the Tower Bridge.
The Doubletree near the Tower of London happens to be a block away from the Four Seasons. In a happy accident, the Yankees were staying there during our trip. As we were wandering around the city, we walked right past Aaron Judge, Aaron Boone, Reggie Jackson, Brian Cashman, and yes, Luke Voit, amongst others en route to a publicity event. There is a very good chance that one of the two teams next season will stay there if you’d like to plan accordingly.
The Tower location was convenient for our activities. There are other tourist locales that are a little further away- Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, and Buckingham Palace, for instance, are all over two miles away. That said, the Tube was helpful and highly recommended if you don’t want to walk that far.
This was my first trip to London, so I’m hardly an expert. Many of our Cardinal fans living in the United Kingdom will have more information. If you are a Cardinal fan with knowledge of London, please feel free to leave information in the comments.
Getting to the Stadium
There are countless ways to get to London Stadium. The trip on the Tube from our Tower Hill location was brief. If you stay near the Tower Hill stop as I did, you’ll board the District Line and take it to Mile End. Deboard there, and then transfer to the Central Line. It will take you to the Stratford stop- the London Stadium stop.
I can only directly speak to the trip from our location, but I imagine any trip on the Tube will get you to the stadium with some ease. Failing that, the official London Stadium website has a great deal of pertinent information. The city also has a convenient trip planner.
In my experience, the split of British to American fans was approximately 75% to 25%. That’s quite a bit different from what I expected. I anticipated more American fans making the trip. Instead, it was an opportunity for England’s baseball culture to watch a game in person. Surprisingly, there were also many fans from other countries. At various times, both at the stadium and in my journey around the city during the weekend, I met baseball fans from Sweden, Austria, and other European countries.
British baseball fans were also much more knowledgeable than I anticipated. At the game, a father sat to our left next to his grade school aged daughter explaining the game to her. When we chatted up the locals at the game, they were well aware of the standings, best players, league developments, and even the fact that the Cardinals were coming next year. I know that last part because my Ozzie Smith jersey and Cardinals hat prompted many conversations. We saw at least one fan of every MLB team at the game. For the uninitiated British fan at the game, the scoreboard flashed tips explaining the basics of the game and the game program also had a section explaining the basics.
I met multiple British Cardinal fans, including an especially friendly couple on the Tube who had made the trip from Nottingham. They had learned about the game the same way several others we met had learned- through Major League Baseball on Five, a British baseball news show that aired from 1997 through 2008. Craig Calcaterra talked about it briefly here- the Channel 5 generation of fans. It just so happens that the Cardinals in those years were one of the league’s most successful franchises, and Albert Pujols was one of the league’s premier players. That enhanced profile created Cardinal fans in a place you would never expect. In fact, I’m not sure that I met any other Cardinal fans from the United States. Of the 8 to 10 that I spoke to, they were all from the UK or Austria.
The added bonus was the enthusiasm of these fans. If you’re a baseball fan living in the UK, you don’t get many opportunities to see baseball in person. Getting a chance to do so in your backyard is going to put you in a great mood. As such, everyone I interacted with at the game was as friendly as could be.
A Boston Globe article in early June promised scotch eggs, meat pies, and sausage rolls. This sent me on a wild goose chase around London Stadium to find the scotch egg. I had no luck, nor did I see any sausage rolls. I believe I saw a meat pie truck in the outer ring concourse of the stadium. It was right next to a fudge truck shaped like a vintage double-decker English bus and a stand selling Pimm’s and prosecco (but not together in a single probably hideous beverage). If you’re a giant dork about Edgar Wright movies like I am, you’ll be happy to know that there were ice cream stands selling both strawberry (Shaun of the Dead) and classico (Hot Fuzz) cornettoes. If you’re more of a World’s End person, they didn’t have the mint cornetto but you could always honor that movie by drinking beers from twelve different concessionaires.
In the outer rim concourse, one side was dedicated to Boston and the other New York, with other various items sprinkled into the mix. The Boston side had clam chowder, and the New York side had... pizza? I can’t recall. At one point or another, I saw:
- a fish and chips stand
- a Krispy Kreme donut truck
- a two-foot long hot dog
- two feet of nachos
- Mac n’ cheese (along with some other vegetarian options)
- vendors in the stands selling Krispy Kreme donuts
- vendors selling Pimm’s and prosecco
- vendors selling a jar of “Sweets and Fudge”, which included a marshmallow, some gummi worms and/or bears, and a lot of other stuff you would never think to buy at a baseball game in the U.S.
That’s in addition to the items you would assume- hot dogs, nachos, pizza, and popcorn. They did not sell jellied eel, nor did I see a stand selling a nice Sunday roast (though I did have a delightful one at the Mayflower Pub on Sunday).
Allegedly, Mondo Brewing created a special beer just for the series and Brooklyn Brewing was supposed to be represented. However, all I could find was Amstel and Heineken for £6 a pour. There was also a lot of Bulmers cider and pre-mixed hard alcohol beverages available. If you wanted, they sold beer in a glorious two pint size for approximately £10. They didn’t stop selling beer at any point during the game.
Pro tip: there are several filtered water stations around the stadium, and a lot of locals had brought their own bottles to refill. If you want to save money on water purchases and just generally be nice to the environment, filtered water is available.
Ticket Prices, the Ballpark, and Ambiance
There are two rings to the stadium–a lower bowl and an upper bowl. Our tickets were £45 apiece to sit in the upper bowl on the foul side of the left field foul pole. Here’s how ticket prices broke down by section:
And here’s the view from where I sat:
It was a good, unobstructed view and involved a climb up a few flights of stairs to get there. For my money, the best values are the two cheapest options. Your mileage may vary, but I don’t think the additional cost in other sections of the ballpark offer enough value to justify the additional money.
Prince Fielder wasn’t there, but Prince Harry was, along with Meghan Markle. It was just one way Major League Baseball treated it like a blowout event. There was a pre-game performance by Tom Walker, fireballs shooting behind the teams during pre-game introductions, and performances of both the Star-Spangled Banner and God Save the Queen by The Kingdom Choir. Unlike games in the States, nearly all fans in the ballpark sang along with their own national anthem.
The league bent over backwards to introduce several U.S. baseball traditions to British baseball fans. The game featured:
-the grounds crew performing the YMCA, just as they do at Yankee Stadium
-Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline piping over the speakers, just as it does at Fenway Park
-a mascot race. Instead of sausages, presidents, or pierogies, this one featured Winston Churchill, Freddy Mercury, the Loch Ness monster, and Henry VIII.
-and finally, a fan raced- and beat- The Freeze.
Capacity for the ballpark is in the 60,000 range and it sold out both days. Saturday’s game was a 17-13 affair that took nearly five hours and included 12 runs scored in the first inning alone. If you could condense every 15 walk, 12 pitching change, 8 homerun Red Sox-Yankee game from history down into a rich, cloying sap, it’s what was crammed down the throats of British baseball fans that day. Naturally, I felt obligated to tell the locals “This isn’t the way it usually goes! Don’t normalize this!” To their credit, most fans stuck around until at least the seventh inning stretch. That was when ushers and various stadium staff led fans in their rendition of Take Me Out to the Ballgame. The ballpark itself didn’t help the slugfest, with dead center sitting just 385’ from home plate. I suspect they’ll revisit those dimensions before the Cardinals and Cubs come to town.
There were many options for entertainment around the ballpark, though I can’t personally vouch for any of it. Again, if you’re a Cardinals fan from London, please feel free to leave recommendations in the comment section.
The best I can tell you about merchandise is that if you want to buy any souvenirs other than game programs or beer cups, you should arrive early. Lines built up quickly and stayed that way throughout the game, so much so that folks purchasing souvenirs probably missed half of the game. There was a huge tent at one of the main entrances to the ballpark, plus multiple smaller stands around the outer ring. All of them were packed. Additionally, there are other locations around the city where you can buy merchandise. However, at least one of them- at the top of the Shard- required paid admission just to see the building. In other words, you had to pay just to go to the store. We passed on that.
- There are no guarantees that your hotel room will accommodate your American charger. You can plan ahead by bringing an adapter for your phone charger.
- Heathrow Airport is far away from the city. A trip on the Tube or a taxi/ride sharing service can take nearly an hour. Fortunately, the airport offers Heathrow Express, a train that will take you directly to the bear-free Paddington Tube stop in approximately 15 minutes.
- If you’re looking for a good curry, there are tons of Indian restaurants in the Brick Lane neighborhood. That same neighborhood is also home to Kill the Cat, a craft beer store with some serious American unicorns available from breweries like Jester King and Stillwater Artisanal, just to name a few.
- The Truman Brewery in Shoreditch had several baseball-themed events over the weekend, although it was hard to get admission. If you want to attend, lock yourself in as early as possible.
- If you go, I hope you like London Calling by the Clash, because you’re probably going to hear it countless times.