On the 13th and 14th June 2020, Mitel and MLB are transforming London Stadium into a field of dreams à la Kevin Costner and from what I understand it’s quite the transformation. Following the success of the London Series 2019 – which saw New York Yankees go up against the Boston Red Sox in a record breaking event — MLB is returning for a second consecutive year.
This will come as no surprise to the 120,000 baseball fans who attended this year’s event and raved about the insane atmosphere at London Stadium.
However, next year’s games are set to be even bigger and better, as old rivals St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs (two of the biggest teams in MLB) go head-to-head. Providing I can get my hands on one of those giant hot dogs and a giant foam finger, I’m there.
Now – full disclosure – I am not a baseball fan, nor am I really a sporting fan in any way. Supporting the Vivienne on Drag Race UK is about as close as I get to team fandom. So, I must say, I was a little nervous about meeting Max (pictured below) as I didn’t really know the first thing about baseball (apart from you could buy pizza slices bigger than your face from the games).
Nevertheless, the traditionally American sport has enjoyed a gradual rise in popularity here in Europe over the past few years – a renaissance Max is all too happy to be a part of.
Max was born in Germany and discovered the sport at an early age in Berlin. Max picked up baseball at a time when the sport was hardly celebrated in the country. Because of it’s lack in popularity at the time, the equipment wasn’t always available when he was growing up, so he had to make do with what he had access to play with:
“When I was growing up, we were playing on gravel fields where we would push wooden mounds onto the field and throw some plates. Our home-run fence was an orange construction fence,” he said.
“People in Berlin – in Germany in general – played baseball more as a hobby; just on the side of whatever else they were doing. But once I moved down to the south of Germany, to Bavaria, where I got put into a boarding school just to play baseball and study – you could tell that these kids were more invested in getting better at the game. That was their main focus.”
Luckily for Max though, his talent was spotted at an early age, and aged 14 he was scouted – an impressive achievement given that European scoutings for baseball were extremely rare at that time.
“At the time I think we only had about two or three scouts – European scouts – for every team in the MLB. But that wasn’t really on my mind until someone told me I have the potential to go play in the US and there were people coming to scout me. But yeah, it was small. Baseball was very overlooked in Europe,” he recalled.
At 16 years old, Max hopped across the pond to develop his skills professionally in America – a decision which certainly paid off. After making his American debut for the Minnesota Twins rookie affiliate team in 2010, Kepler gradually made his way through the team’s structure of affiliate teams to make his full MLB debut September 2015. Kepler has now established himself as the starting right fielder and leadoff hitter in a Minnesota Twins team that had an impressive 2019 season.
In fact, he still says how ‘surreal’ the whole London series is after baseball was overlooked in Europe for so long.
“It’s surreal. I was actually at the field getting ready for the game that day and, yeah, it looked like a movie to me. It literally looked like a scene out of a movie to me; just to see how many fans showed up and were invested in the game was just incredible. I know they’re the biggest teams in the MLB, but I think if we introduce other teams around the league to different parts of Europe, slowly, little-by-little, I think people will get a grasp of the game,” he said.
As Max puts it, “the sky’s the limit” for baseball in Europe right now, and he’s just as excited as we are to see if grow even further.
“The sky’s the limit. It just depends on the audience and how far we decide to push the game. I honestly think it’s the youth that’s the main key to pushing any type of sport in a new country. If soccer gives us some leeway to make some ground, then the sky’s the limit,” he commented.
I have to hand it to Max; this Major League Baseball player managed to turn a clueless British journalist’s ignorant baseball opinions around in the course of a 25-minute interview. In fact, our meeting sounds like the plot for a new summer comedy about the unlikeliest of friends. I think I’d call it Homie Run and we’d have to switch bodies Freaky Friday-style and learn about each other’s completely different lives.
Then we’d learn that we’re not that different after all.
Hollywood, if you’re listening, my name’s at the top of this article.
Anyway, on June 13th – 14th 2020, London Stadium will be transformed into Europe’s largest ballpark as it becomes MLB’s home once again. These are regular season games with everything on the line as this oldest of rivalries plays out on new ground.
And this clueless Brit will be there – avec giant hot dog and foam hand.
The St. Louis Cardinals will play the Chicago Cubs in the Mitel & MLB Present London Series 2020 on June 13 – 14 at London Stadium. General sale tickets are available from Thursday, 5th December – get them here.
Images via Getty
Having worked in children's media and publishing for almost a decade, Ben is thoroughly excited to now be able to swear in stories and features. He is such a big fan of Disney and Horror films that he started an LGBTQ+ podcast called 'Once Upon A Scream'. His mum listens. You can contact Ben at [email protected] Twitter: @PulsfordBen / Instagram: @thebenmidlerFollow