Monday, July 1, 2019

The View From Across The Pond - London Series edition

Hey everyone, you may or may not(!) know that this was a pretty important weekend for all us baseball fans in Britain... I’ll get to that (and the craziness surrounding it for me) shortly, however first let’s take a look in on our guys:

Astros 2019 - the rollercoaster restarts
*This was written ahead of the Mariners series*
A couple of weeks ago I was quite looking forward to writing my latest Astros County piece, things were looking rosy, we were 48-23 and more than a few of us were whispering how everything had that 2017 feel about it. 

Then the past 2 weeks happened.

My goodness what has happened to our Astros? From a position of outright dominance we’re now taking a glance over our shoulders at the Rangers just 4.5 GB. Yes, the cluster of (predominantly hamstring) injuries and bizarre stories <cough, CARLOS, cough> absolutely are a legitimate factor in our downturn, but with players coming back now - and how well we did for so long with practically a AAA lineup - I’m not buying this is it alone. 

Whatever the other factors, be it complacency, fatigue, confidence issues or something else entirely, this much is for certain: AJ Hinch needs to light a damn fire under this team. Pronto. Getting our backsides handed to us in double-digit fashion by the Blue Jays and the Pirates (twice) - oh and the Yankees - is simply not acceptable. Not for this group of guys, not for a team THIS talented. To see a bad team playing bad baseball is disappointing but expected; we’re watching a GREAT team play terrible baseball. Everyone is accountable and it’s time that they stood up to be counted. Today. Not tomorrow.

Particular positives: 
  • Josh Reddick has been pretty superb this year and I love how he’s answered his critics (of which they were numerous last year, including me).
  • Yordan Alvarez. Words fail. Ok except “INCREDIBLE HITTING PHENOM BEAST”. Let’s hope his knee isn’t in bad shape after fouling that pitch off it because his extraordinary entrance into the Majors is a story we want to run and run. Keep taking poor pitchers into the Kingdom Of Yordan.
  • Michael Brantley /applause. What a class act, deservedly going back to Cleveland to play in the All Star Game for 2019. Had a little slump but he’s back in business and boy do we need him.
  • Justin Verlander remains incredible. Susceptible to home runs at times this year but who in MLB isn’t the way this year is going? Keep on keeping on, JV.

Look, it’s not time to panic in June and I suspect we will find that magic mojo key soon. Let’s not let this continue though, hey?

I have faith that Hinch, Strom, Luhnow & Crane will find the answers.

[Update: since writing this we’ve won those two Yuli Gurriel walk-offs vs the Mariners. Let’s go for the sweep today...]

Right, let’s hop across that pond...

The London Series
This weekend is the long-awaited London Series, the two games between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox which represent not only the first ever Major League Baseball game’s in the UK but also the first ever in Europe. Considering the superior popularity of baseball (as a sport) and interest in MLB in the Netherlands, Germany and Italy (among other nations), this is a privilege and an honour that we do not take lightly. Our duty is to ensure that this year’s London Series - and the already-announced sequel between the Chicago Cubs and the St Louis Cardinals next year - are such hugely successful (and money-spinning) triumphs that MLB have no option but to return here every year as is the case with the NFL and the NBA. We will do absolutely all we can and then some.

#MLBMeetupsUK London events 
A big part of this is increasing and developing the strength, spread and exposure of MLB fans across the whole of the UK, not just London. 

In addition to being @AstrosFansUKon Twitter, as regular readers here will know I am also one quarter of MLB UK Community (@MLBUKCommunityon Twitter). We started holding MLB live watch events at venues in 2017 and created the British baseball fan movement #MLBMeetupsUK. This is an umbrella which encompasses events all over the UK and something which I, personally, feel very passionate about.

For the London Series we at MLB UK Community are holding 3 consecutive nights of events at Belushi’s in London Bridge, which is our ‘home’ for events. I write this after Game 1 of the London Series and on the Friday we had 65-70 attendees, before a reported 100 during the game at its height of numbers. Around 25-30 of us went back there from the game and were there until 2 or 3am watching yet more baseball & we’ll be back there after Game 2 as well. A huge weekend which we have been planning and working towards for months!

#MLBMeetupsUK events around Britain
I design the graphic promos for the majority of #MLBMeetupsUK events and during the London Series this is what we calling a Festival of Baseball, with live watch events also in Nottingham, Leeds, Worcester and even Glasgow in Scotland. 

When we say this is a fan movement, we really mean it!

In pushing the exposure and impact of the MLB fanbase via MLB UK Community I have taken it somewhat upon myself to pursue every available baseball and sports media avenue in order to get this for us as a group. This approach has proven enormously successful for us ahead of the London Series...

Exhibit 1: Craig Calcaterra (lead baseball writer at NBC Sports)

I reached out from @MLBUKCommunity to Craig Calcaterra after he had briefly mentioned how much admiration he had for the British MLB fanbase back in November last year. I asked if he would like to talk about baseball interest in Britain and our #MLBMeetupsUK movement. He did. 

I was lucky enough to be sent 38 questions by him and I answered all of them for him, leading to this article, of which I and we are very proud. Calcaterra is all that is right about baseball journalism, we are very grateful for his time.

Exhibit 2: Anthony Castrovince(

Prior to this my co-MLB UK Community member Hannah (@CleatsAndPinoton Twitter) and I had the chance to have a Skype interview with Anthony Castrovince. Once again this was a terrific privilege and we made the most of our time to again explain about MLB interest here and the growing #MLBMeetupsUK movement.

This was featured in a piece that ran on the front page of (wow what a buzz!). Whilst I don’t personally agree with the assertion that British fans are universally ‘nerds’, this article was excellent and represented us very well.

Exhibit 3: Kristie Ackert(NY Daily News journalist)

Another of my co-MLB UK Community members is Jack (@NYYankeesUKon Twitter) and I joined him in talking about the London Series and our #MLBMeetupsUK movement in their article.

Exhibit 4: meeting Marly Rivera (ESPN), Meredith Marakovits (Yankees clubhouse reporter for YES), Erik Boland (Yankees beat writer for Newsday)& Pete Caldera (Yankees beat writer for USA Today)

Most spectacularly, we made a connection with ESPN’s Marly Rivera after she began following @MLBUKCommunityon Twitter. 

I asked if she would be interested in discussing baseball in the UK with us. Not only was she interested in doing so but she was hugely keen on actually meeting up with us to do this, which we were blown away by.

Hannah, Jack and I met with Marly at a very (very) old-school pub in Wapping in East London and she had a surprise in store for us in the shape of Erik Boland of Newsday, Pete Caldera of USA Today and Meredith Marakovits of YES - you should have seen Jack’s face...!

Yes, they work to report on a club which is inarguably ‘the enemy’ as far as the Astros are concerned, however this was a surreal and fantastic experience for us. We put across our points regarding the expanding UK MLB interest and our #MLBMeetupsUK movement, which was, in turn, fascinating for them.

This was particularly so for Marly, who let me tell you is one of the most open, engaging and nicest media people you could ever hope to meet. She was infuriated at our tales of shunned responses to our efforts to establish regular contact with our respective clubs (to be fair to the Astros they have been much better with me of late) - and immediately set about changing that...

She sent a tweet to our very own Julia Morales which got a fairly instant reply;

The next day Marly arranged a video shout-out to Jack’s UK Yankees account from their GM Brian Cashman himself, before getting a certain Astros World Champion to give a shout-out to UK Astros fans - none other than one Mr Carlos Beltran(!), which was enormously cool.

I don’t know the context but my Twitter @AstrosFansUK was given a slightly indirect mention on MLB Network(!) - which I’m still enormously chuffed about;

Marly Rivera is a greatly impressive character and her career as a Hispanic woman carving out the success that she has in an arena dominated by white males is deserving of enormous appreciation and more. We are extremely fortunate to count her as an ally.

UK Astros flag:
You know I’ve got your backs when it comes to MLB landing in the UK! Here’s me representing for our Astros at the London Series with a custom UK Astros flag I had made.

I hold out in (potentially naive) hope that one year it will be the Houston Astros visiting our shores...

[Update 2: sweep of the Mariners complete! Let’s hope we can start regaining that momentum again now.]