London games ‘can help hit baseball into Major League of global sports’

Daniel O'Mahony
Royal fans: Harry and Meghan with the Red Sox at the London Stadium in June: Chris Jackson/Invictus Games Foundation

The president of one of baseball’s most famous franchises today said playing regular Major League games in London was a crucial step in turning “America’s national pastime” into a global sport.

Bill DeWitt III, whose family own the 11-time World Series winning St. Louis Cardinals, said he hoped inspiring fans and players abroad would help baseball mirror the appeal of football.

This summer the London Stadium hosted the first ever Major League Baseball matches played in Europe for two games between arch-rivals the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.

For the second instalment of the London Series next June, the Cardinals will play against their own nemeses the Chicago Cubs over two days in the capital.

Mr DeWitt, whose father William DeWitt Jr bought the Cardinals in 1995, said he was confident of winning new converts to baseball in London.

Harrison Bader of St. Louis Cardinals (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

“I think there’s just an affinity for things that are authentically American throughout the world,” he said. “We hope to pick up some new fans. They might be inspired to come and visit the States and tour the US and come visit some ballparks.”

Asked if he could envisage a future MLB franchise based in London, he said: “I think the first step is games over there. This is the second year back. I think if you see significant enthusiasm again, which you should, MLB might extend [the London Series] into a regular thing.

“I think it’s more likely that you would have a league form over there, and then maybe you could build it out, in the way that soccer … really has robust leagues in different countries. Then the World Cup becomes the true World Cup.” The games between Boston and New York this year were the most attended regular season MLB games, in any country, since 2003, drawing nearly 120,000 fans. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex were among those to attend.

St Louis is the second largest city in Missouri, and the Cardinals’ Busch Stadium near the banks of the Mississippi is one of the citadels of Major League Baseball. Between 1953 and 1996 the team, whose post-season campaign ended at the hands of eventual World Series champions the Washington Nationals last month, was owned by the St Louis brewing company Anheuser-Busch, the makers of Budweiser.

Mr DeWitt said the city’s passion for its baseball team would shine through across the Atlantic. He said: “Cardinals fans always show up [at away games] and I have no doubt they will do in London as well.

“When you think about who St Louisians are, they are typically those midwest US values, family values. People who grow up here tend to stay here, and they pass it down. We have been in this city for 127 straight years. It makes for a very strong bond between the fans and the team, and my job is not to take that for granted.”

The St. Louis Cardinals will play the Chicago Cubs in the Mitel & MLB Present London Series on June 13-14, 2020 at London Stadium. Register for pre-sale now mlb.com/LondonSeries