Take me out to the ballgame: Hollywood stars and over 110,000 fans revel in baseball’s flying visit to London

“Take me out to the ball game, Take me out with the crowd;
“Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack, I don’t care if I never get back.
“Let me root, root, root for the home team, If they don’t win, it’s a shame.
“For it’s one, two, three strikes, you’re out, At the old ball game.”

Hollywood stars performing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” could only mean one thing – Major League Baseball (MLB) made its long-awaited return to London.

Fans travelled far and wide to witness two games played out between the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals as London put on a British-themed show for its guests – with some American twists.

The weekend’s two games took place at a transformed London Stadium. The ground was originally built for the 2012 Olympic Games and has since become home of Premier League soccer club West Ham United. As baseball became its latest inhabitant, the stadium was almost unrecognizable.

The Cubs dominated the London Series opener storming home to a 9-1 victory. The weekend’s second game looked like following the same script as the Cubs raced to a 4-0 lead, but in the sweltering sunshine, the Cardinals pulled themselves back into the match, eventually taking home a 7-5 win.

A UK twist

Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, Karen is a longtime Cardinals fan and she has long been trying to get her British husband into the sport. Karen also enjoyed the added bonus of running into old friends she didn’t know would be in London.

“I think it’s awesome [the London Series], I love baseball and I’m slowly converting him,” said Karen. However, Paul’s attempts to persuade Karen to fall in love with a British sporting pastime – also played with a bat and ball – have proved less fruitful.

“I tried to push her towards cricket, but it wasn’t too successful,” quipped Paul.

However, cricket did feature during the weekend, as stars of the sport, England’s Jimmy Anderson and Nathan Lyon of Australia, threw the first pitches on Saturday.

Those in attendance at the London Stadium were also treated to various forms of live entertainment – including a quintessentially British take on a mascot race.

Giant inflatable heads of former UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill, King Henry VIII, Freddie Mercury and a King’s Guard raced around the home plate. Churchill won a photo finish during Saturday’s race before a kerfuffle between the competitors on Sunday allowed the King’s Guard to secure victory.

The crowd was also treated to a singalong of “Sweet Caroline” during both games. The Neil Diamond classic has been lovingly adopted during a number UK sporting events.

Growing the game

John DeCap and Scot Crain, cousin-in-laws from the US, were on opposite sides of the weekend matchup between the Cardinals and the Cubs.

DeCap, a Cardinals fan, and Crain, a Cubs fan, flew over to the UK for a vacation that incorporated watching the game.

“We’ve waited three years because it got cancelled for Covid,” explained Crain.

Since the last London Series event, the MLB has introduced a pitch clock designed to make matches shorter – a far cry from the mammoth four hour and 42-minute game between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox during the 2019 London Series.

“The time never used to bother me, but I think this is going to appeal to a much larger number of people,” outlined DeCap.

“The pitch clock does speed things up – sometimes a little too fast – but a two-and-a-half-hour game is better than a four-hour game,” Crain concurred.

DeCap and Crain were also happy that bringing the game overseas meant more fans were being introduced to the sport.

“I think we got a lot of strange looks from the average Londoner that didn’t know what was going on right now, but that’s fine, it’s a wonderful city.

“We’ve built in a nice vacation and we’re topping it off with the games.”

With each team winning a game apiece, the cousin-in-laws will return home with neither enjoying bragging rights and their “very friendly” baseball rivalry set to continue.

Hector Echevarria and his family, who are Cubs supporters, have spent their summer travelling through eight countries and, upon hearing news of the London Series, they made the UK their final stop.

The Echevarrias were delighted with the result from the first game which made the trip to London all the more worthwhile.

“It was different, but it was exciting,” said Echevarria, whose daughter was a big fan of the live music performed by Soul Symphony during the game.

While the Echevarria family – who are from the US – are big baseball fans, they liked that some people around them were able to watch their first ever ballgame as a result of the London Series.

“Obviously it’s to build the fanbase and spread baseball across the world, I think it’s a good thing,” said Echevarria.

St. Louis fan favorite Lars Nootbaar also touched on this, per MLB.com, adding: “Hopefully [the fans] leave today and we inspired some kids to go out and buy a glove, buy a bat and go in the backyard and play a little bit.”

‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’

While London added some unique touches to the weekend event, there are some baseball traditions that aren’t to be meddled with, notably the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch.

Actor and Cubs fan Nick Offerman performed the song on Saturday whilst donning a Dansby Swanson jersey. Offerman played the iconic role of Ron Swanson in the television series “Parks and Recreation.”

During Sunday’s game, Cardinals fan John Goodman, star of “The Big Lebowski” and “Monsters Inc.,” was given the honor of performing the famous song to the 55,565 in attendance at the London Stadium.

Kate Long moved to the UK from Toronto, Canada, 10 months ago but, with the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and the food on offer, she said it was as if she had been teleported back home.

“There was a couple of times I forgot that I was in London,” said Long. “I love the atmosphere of baseball games so it’s something I’ve definitely missed the most and was excited to have back.”

While Long didn’t have skin in either of the weekend’s games, it didn’t impact her overall experience and she was impressed with how the atmosphere at the London Series compared to matches across the Atlantic Ocean.

“There’s something about the energy of the crowd and the way everyone comes together to enjoy the game that’s just not the same in other sports.

“I wish baseball in London was a regular occurrence because I feel like there’s a lot more fans than I realized.”

Given over 110,000 fans attended the two games, it isn’t just Long who is hoping the baseball is here to stay.

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, tweeted: “An amazing weekend of baseball as we welcome MLB and Commissioner Rob Manfred back to our capital – now the major hub for American sport outside the US.”

The London Series will be back next year with the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Mets penciled in to make the trip across the pond.

This post appeared first on cnn.com