Since he took the job in 2015, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has talked a lot about expanding the game on a global level. He’s mentioned both Mexico City and Montreal as desirable expansion destinations, and has pushed for regular season games to be played in Mexico as early as 2018. Now, he’s turning his attention across the pond.
MLB will host a Home Run Derby at Hyde Park in London on July 4 featuring some former All-Stars. Cliff Floyd, Shawn Green and Carlos Peña will take each other on in the event, but the rules are a bit different than you might expect.
The league is pushing both the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers during the festivities, encouraging fans take a side and pick whatever team and city they prefer. As such, the players will be divided up on those two teams during the Derby. Floyd and Peña may have only spent a year each with the Red Sox, but they will represent them in this matchup. Green will represent the Dodgers.
That trio will be joined by stars of “football, cricket and hockey.” The players from those sports will choose whether they want to be on Team Boston or Team Los Angeles, and it sounds like they’ll take some hacks and compete in the Derby.
From June 30 to July 1, fans can go to Pop Brixton, an event venue, for an interactive VR experience. There is also live music planned. In keeping with the theme for the main event, the DJ will play music from both Boston and Los Angeles. Food and drink staples from both cities will be served. Oh, and the whole thing is free. Pretty neat, right?
All in all, a Home Run Derby doesn’t sound like a terrible way to introduce new fans to baseball. Home runs are often the most exciting part of any game. Plus, it’s always fun to watch massive human beings send baseballs 500 feet. People in the United States are willing to spend hours listening to Chris Berman just to watch that happen.
You could argue that sending former stars could lessen the excitement for the event, but we’re not so sure. If MLB held a Home Run Derby for recently-retired superstar players once a year, we would probably watch. Barry Bonds reportedly still has some pop in his bat. Let’s see if that’s the case. And any excuse to get Jim Thome back on a baseball field hitting bombs is a good thing. So, yeah, most fans would probably watch Floyd, Green and Peña sock a few dingers.
Involving players from other sports seems like the right move. It gives the local fans someone to root for almost immediately. Plus, it should be entertaining to see how athletes from other sports fare at hitting for power.
Some may complain that only two MLB teams are being featured, but it makes sense from a marketing standpoint. By asking fans to choose a side, MLB has created rooting interests among fans who normally wouldn’t care. There’s already a sense of competition. It would be harder to accomplish that by featuring all 30 clubs.
Sorry, Milwaukee Brewers fans. You won’t suddenly have a bunch of new supporters jumping on your team’s bandwagon. On the bright side, there will be more cheese curds for you.
It’s at least a solid try by MLB to make the game more popular abroad. Manfred has entertained a lot of ideas in his short time as commissioner, some of which, like banning the infield shift and softening MLB’s stance on gambling, he hasn’t followed through on just yet.
That’s not the case here. Manfred’s commitment to expanding the game globally appears to be a priority. Based on the creation of this event, Manfred is both serious and passionate about bringing baseball to new markets.
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