Baseball in London? Major league showcase set for Hyde Park

A player warms up during an event in Hyde Park in London, Tuesday, July 4, 2017. Major League Baseball transformed London’s Hyde Park into a baseball field to host a huge 4th of July party. The MLB Battlegrounds presents British Summer Time in Hyde Park festival site to introduce a quick-fire, big-hitting format of the sport. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

LONDON (AP) — A bit of American sports culture will be on display in London’s Hyde Park as baseball comes to town on July 4, the U.S. Independence Day.

The exhibition Tuesday will feature several former major leaguers playing a Home Run Derby in one of London’s best-known open spaces.

It’s part of Major League Baseball’s plan to showcase the game in a bid to build interest in the sport in Britain and Europe, a region where soccer is the overwhelmingly favorite sport. The move comes during the summer hiatus in England’s Premier League.

Charlie Hill, the managing director of Major League Baseball for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, says it’s possible that some official games will be played in London as soon as the 2019 season.

“The teams are enthusiastic,” he said. “That is the target and it’s becoming the expectation.”

If MLB league games are played in London in two years, baseball will still be way behind the National Football League and the National Basketball Association, which have already played official games in Britain.

Hill said the July 4 exhibition does not feature an actual game but instead will be a Home Run Derby, similar to the one that precedes the league’s All-Star Game. It’s an easy-to-understand demonstration of hitting prowess.

One concern is that baseball’s somewhat arcane rules might make the game seem incomprehensible to Britons — much as Americans can be slow to grasp the finer points of cricket.

“We don’t want to play games here from a cold start,” Hill said.

John Boyd, who heads Baseball Softball UK, said there’s already strong interest in the game. He says there’s an estimated 1.5 million baseball fans in Britain, partly because it’s become so much easier to watch live games.

“Now I can watch it at the pub,” Boyd said. “I have an app that lets me watch it in real time. The globalization of tech has made it a lot easier to follow other countries’ national pastimes.”

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