Murti: Yankees Try To Help MLB Make Headway In Europe

Maybe Games Can Inspire Future Baseball Stars

Sweeny Murti
June 29, 2019 - 1:25 pm
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LONDON — Maybe it’s just a waste of time. Maybe this will be like bringing soccer to America, where it is accepted and even worshipped in some parts, but has never really taken its place among the major sports in our country.

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But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Bringing Major League Baseball to London might not result in growing the game to any meaningful extent, but it is worth the effort. And that’s why the Yankees and Red Sox are here. 

“We want to grow our game, and it’s an opportunity to do that,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said here Friday. “(We’re) seeing kids from here that already have a passion for baseball. If we can light a few more fires with fans, with kids about our game — we’re bringing over a lot of great players that are easy to attach to and become big-time fans of. And if we can kind of spread that fire just a little bit, then it will have been a really good trip for us. Because we do have a responsibility, I think, to grow our game and continue to pass it on, and hopefully this is something that starts that in London, in England and all across Europe.”

Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge signs autographs at The London Stadium on June 28, 2019, in London.
Peter Summers/Getty Images

The Yankee logo is familiar here, but the Yankees themselves?  They still have some ways to go, it seems. 

“I was walking near the London Eye (a major tourist attraction), and I ran into a couple of people that had the Yankee hat on and they had no idea who I was or anything,” laughed Aaron Judge, who is both literally and figuratively the biggest star on this team.

Teaching kids here who the Yankees and Red Sox are is just one step. It starts with loving the game, and then it moves to learning the game. Teams have demonstrated they are willing to go to all ends of this world to look for talent. Twenty-five years ago the idea of players from the Far East was unheard of. Now we have had major leaguers from Japan and Korea, professional players from China and India, even from Africa.

There are great athletes all over the world. Teaching them how to translate that athletic ability to the game of baseball should be the gift every fan of the game would want to give.

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2009 World Series champion Nick Swisher is here as part of the Yankees contingent of ambassadors who took part in a youth clinic for some British lads here Thursday. 

“Like I try to tell all kids,” Swisher explained, “'You gotta try everything. You gotta try because you never know what you’re going to be good at, right? You might be a great soccer player, but you might be a phenomenal baseball player.’”

Baseball players don’t grow on trees. They have to be developed. And it takes time and effort to do that in places where they aren’t as familiar with the game as we are in the States.

Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees’ vice president of amateur scouting, once told me a story about a trip he made years ago on the amateur trail. He was out to see a college team, but on an adjacent field he saw a West Indies cricket team working out. Oppenheimer was wowed by the athleticism of these young men, who played a game that looked a little like baseball even if in reality it is a very distant relative at best.

“I think I’m here to see the wrong team,” Oppenheimer told his boss. “I was just watching this West Indies cricket team work out, and I saw about a dozen guys that look like Devon White.” 

White, for those who don’t remember, was the Jamaican-born center fielder — one of the smoothest in the game — who won seven Gold Gloves and three World Series rings (two with Toronto in 1992-93 and one with Florida in 1997).

The athletes are out there. You just have to show them the game. And maybe one day a star is born and gives an entire European nation a rooting interest of national pride.

“That would obviously go a really long way, to see somebody rise up and become a star in our game,” Boone said. “I was frankly a little bit surprised to see the level of athlete and kid participating in our little clinic. If those kids and their passion can lead to some of their friends starting to play and the eyeballs that are obviously going to on this (series) over here with our best rivalry in our sport, hopefully that’s something that can contribute to that. But a star from here eventually goes a long way in upping the popularity here.”

Remember that photo of a Little Leaguer named Todd Frazier standing next to Derek Jeter? Or the more recent one that was shared of a young Adam Ottavino getting David Cone’s autograph? Perhaps one day a photo will surface of a young British boy standing next to some Yankees or Red Sox players during this first venture into Europe, and that young boy will have gone onto big-league stardom himself.

Judge was asked Friday what advice he had to the young men seeing them for the first time and hoping to follow in their footsteps.

“Just keep working hard,” Judge, the perfect ambassador, said. “Always have fun with what you’re doing, enjoy every moment with your friends and family and just work hard. ... Never be outworked by anybody, and when you do that, you can always chase your dreams.”

And maybe one day here someone will actually recognize Judge as he walks down the street.

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