As a travel advisor, I steer clear of recommending trans Atlantic visits during Summer. It’s hot, crowded and more expensive than other seasons. Given the previous post relates how we got to London in June when it’s all of the above, now for the why...
It began last December 4th. I groggily rose at 430am, clicked on my Ticketmaster UK account. Pre-registered, I had my special access code ready to pop in precisely at 5am when pre-sales began. Who does this? A diehard baseball fan, intent on going to the first Major League Baseball game ever played on UK soil starring my beloved Boston Red Sox and our nefarious rival, the New York Yankees. Having just minutes to scour the digital stadium for optimal seats (naturally, I’d previewed West Ham Stadium’s seat chart), I claimed two within budget. I had no idea who I was going with or how I was getting there. I just knew I would be in London on June 29th.
Who to invite? Leadoff man: my son Jeff, fellow Sox fanatic, with whom I shared a rip roaring World Series Game One experience last October at Fenway. Talk about frantic plans: within 3 days of first pitch, Jeff found Stub Hub seats, I used miles, he found $200 round trip flights from Chicago, then we split a ludicrously priced $700 hotel room used for mere hours around game time. Cray cray? Debatable. The memory? Irreplaceable.
So there you have it. A pricey peak season trip to London during sizzle season with a baseball game as centerpiece.
Jeff was unavailable, so I began making rounds with various friends. I happened to be chatting with gal pal Trisha, an equally rabid Sox fan who was spout over teakettle about going to London. Mere months later, we were hopping the Tube from Heathrow to our Belgravia hotel.
Saturday, June 29th. Game day. Donning our Sox gear, we headed out early to beat the crowds. Gates opened at 2pm; we arrived West Ham Stadium at 215pm. Located in Olympic Park, this site was built for the 2012 Olympics and became the futbol (soccer) home of West Ham United.
I had my doubts how a soccer stadium could be transformed into a ballpark, especially a 66,000 capacity venue. Then we walked in. Scanning left to right, up and down, I became gleefully giddy over the green scene.
I just stood there, taking deep breaths, harking back to my nascent fanhood days growing up in Providence, Boston’s back yard. Cerebral flash cards arose…listening to the Sox on the radio, cutting class in high school to catch an afternoon game at Fenway, making the early winding drive up Route 1 with a carload of friends to catch batting practice and score parking in Back Bay. From teenage years on, I made it to every Sox game I could for as long as I lived in Rhode Island. Now, here I was in London, witnessing the first MLB game ever played in Britain featuring my cherished World Champion Red Sox. And the gnarly Yankees. Such an uplifting, momentous experience. I was living a dream that didn’t even exist back then. Such a lucky girl I am.
The summer’s European heat wave swept through London that day. Temps reached 91F as we took our seats, fortunately in the shade. We spent pre-game time getting to know fervent fans around us. Two ladies from York who’d adopted the Red Sox as their team 20 years ago…the cockney accented fellows behind us in Sox shirts bellowing their support…the family of four who’d taken the 4 hour train from Plymouth. But the champion fan was the lone whiskered man from Wales who’d driven 5 hours from home, able to afford a single ticket, no hotel, driving 5 hours back after the game. He became a Boston fan as a young man after watching games on the Telly. The UK surely has a heart for baseball. We even met some nice Yankee fans from Florida. Yes, they’re out there! Every MLB team’s fanbase was represented, up and down both American and National leagues, baseball devotees donned their hometown gear and showed up in London for this heralded event. Pre-game festivites featured a band, gospel choir – and fireworks!
The Brits – and all involved – did an exceptional job converting a soccer stadium into a ballpark, truly impressive. Not so the outcome. First inning lasted over an hour with 12 runs scored, 6 per side. We witnessed 30 runs total scored over 4 plus hours of baseball with the Sox on the losing end of a 17-13 score. Grrrr. Upside: I got to see Bogey (Xander Bogaerts), Benny (Andrew Benintendi), JBJ (Jackie Bradley Jr), and Mookie (Mookie Betts), all my fave players, in the flesh. I was breathing some rare air.
Eight hours after arrival, we headed back to our London base, gleefully exhausted, soaked in sweat, richer for the experience.
Worthwhile, was it? Heavens, yes. Witnessing baseball history among equally ardent fans along with my cheerful chum, Trisha, will forever remain an unmatched highlight in my lifebook. Despite baking in the shade, the bonkers expense, breathless effort, and woeful score, we boarded our Dulles-bound Virgin Atlantic flight two days later, bubbly and energized. The Cardinals and Cubs are on deck for 2020. Who’s up?
“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.” – A. Barlett Giamatti