Yankees, Red Sox ready to make history in London

London (AFP) –


As Major League Baseball prepares to make history in London, New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone and Boston Red Sox coach Alex Cora are united in their desire to make the ground-breaking trip memorable on and off the field.

The Yankees are playing two regular-season games against the Red Sox at the London Stadium on Saturday and Sunday as MLB looks to expand its global brand.

The 'London Series' marks the first time MLB games have been played in Europe, although the league has previously staged matches in Japan, Australia, Mexico and Puerto Rico.

With the Red Sox controlled by the Fenway Sports Group that owns Premier League club Liverpool, baseball's powerbrokers have decided the opportunity to cash in on the British public's seemingly boundless passion for sport is worth a gamble at a pivotal point in the game's history.

At a time when baseball is enduring a popularity crisis amid falling attendances and criticism of the sport's slow pace, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred hopes playing showcase games in Europe can open up a lucrative new revenue stream.

The NFL has enjoyed huge success in exporting American Football to England, with up to four regular-season games per year playing to sell-out crowds since 2007.

Basketball's NBA has also jumped on the bandwagon, playing one game a year in London, leaving baseball once again playing catch-up to the two sports that have surpassed them at home.

Against that backdrop, it is no coincidence the Yankees and the Red Sox are the standard-bearers for baseball's maiden voyage into Europe.

The Yankees, baseball's most famous team, and Red Sox, the reigning World Series champions, are historic franchises and their American League East division rivalry is the fiercest in the sport.

While the action over the weekend counts in the regular-season standings -- the AL East-leading Yankees are currently nine games ahead of Boston -- the consensus between players and coaches on both teams is their roles as baseball ambassadors is more important than the results.

"I'm looking forward to giving London a look at Major League Baseball, two historic franchises going at it, the best rivalry in our sport," Boone told reporters on Friday.

"It's exciting. To be part of the first game in London, it's an honour. It's something that guys cherish.

"We want to grow our game. We are bringing over a lot of big-time players that are easy to get excited about.

"If we can light a few fires for these kids in London about our game and grow that passion it will be a really good trip."

- 'It's a big deal' -

In the midst of his team's disappointing title defence, Cora agreed with Boone that planting seeds to help baseball grow in the future makes the long trip worthwhile.

"It's very important, not only for us and the Yankees but baseball in general. It's a chance to show the world what baseball is all about. Having the Red Sox and Yankees here is a big deal," he said.

"If this is the beginning of something big, if MLB and London can keep doing it, that would be great. I think it's a great idea."

Players from the Yankees and the Red Sox have embraced the experience, with many heading out on sight-seeing excursions on Thursday's day off.

Boone and Cora took a trip to Buckingham Palace to watch the 'changing of the guard' outside the Royal residence.

"It was cool, saw the changing of the guard, it was neat," Boone said.

"Got to experience some culture. It was good to see that."

The royal pageantry was an eye-opener for Puerto Rico-born Cora, who said: "That was interesting to say the least!

"It's a new experience and one we are going to embrace. We are going to have fun with it to."

Whether Boone and Cora get the chance to return for more sight-seeing with their teams in the future is another matter.

MLB has already signed off on a two-game series between the St Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs in London next July.

But more than 70 percent of tickets for the London Series at the 60,000-seat arena have been sold to British people and it remains to be seen whether the novelty factor can sustain a genuine long-term interest in the UK.

Boone insists having the Yankees in town is the best possible start.

"We have a lot of eyeballs on the team. That's why we're the Yankees," he said.

"That's one of the reasons we are here to showcase our game."