This weekend, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees will meet for a two-game series in London that has required diligent work to prepare London Stadium for baseball.
The Red Sox and Yankees will play from June 29-30 at London Stadium, which was originally built for the 2012 Olympics and has since become home to the Premier League’s West Ham United. Leading up to this weekend, work is taking place to ensure that Major League Baseball provides as authentic of a game day experience as possible. This has included preparing a playing field at London Stadium, which is designed as a multipurpose venue but has never hosted baseball.
In its baseball configuration, London Stadium will feature a synthetic turf playing field. Dimensions will consist of 330 feet down each foul line and 385 feet to center field, where a 16-foot wall will be in place. Other baseball-specific touches are being installed as well, including protective netting, dugouts, bullpens, and more. Finding a suitable venue in London that could be modified for MLB games and then preparing it for the series has required careful planning on the part of league officials, including Jim Small, senior vice president of MLB’s international business, and Murray Cook, MLB’s senior field coordinator and consultant. More from ESPN:
“What fits is No. 1, and the orientation of what’s there,” Cook said. “Ovals are big, but venues that have a soccer pitch and also have a track-and-field venue are larger in size. So we started looking for those type of venues, and the London Stadium became pretty prominent. In 2013, we started looking, in 2014 we looked a little harder, and then started looking at just ideas and here we are.”
“The challenge for our sport is that you can’t fit a baseball field into a soccer stadium,” Small said. “The NFL has had a lot of success there, but they’re very fortunate that the footprint for a football game fits perfectly into a soccer stadium. We needed the extra little bit that comes with it being a multipurpose track and field and soccer facility, which barely allows us to put that footprint down. We wanted to play there for a long time, but it was important, finding the right venue in the right place.”
Cook and his 150-strong staff have had to build their “ballpark-in-a-box” from scratch in just 23 days, importing a lot of the materials, including 340 tons of clay from Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, and 50 tons of FieldTurf manufactured in Auchel, France. Cook explained his team had to use the artificial turf because it was simpler in terms of logistics, having to build the entire ballpark on top of an armored deck that protects the West Ham United Football Club pitch underneath.
“Under the armor deck is the track-and-field venue and this multimillion-dollar soccer pitch; we can’t anchor or dig any holes,” Cook said. “So everything has to be balanced or weighted to support all the fencing structure and foul poles. So we have a lot of weight out there. For example, the left and right foul poles have a large concrete [base] that we have to use because we couldn’t put a pole in the ground. Dugouts, bullpens, batter’s eye, field, fencing, padding, locker rooms, warning tracks, all the things you see, everything in 23 days, and we got this ‘ballpark-in-a-box’ idea coming to fruition.”
The upcoming series between the Red Sox and Yankees in London will mark MLB’s first ever games in Europe. A 2020 series will also take place at London Stadium, with the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs meeting in that series.
Image, posted to Twitter on June 22, courtesy MLB.
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