I’d be a heck of a player – MLB star Jeff McNeil discovers fondness for cricket

The Mets staged a dramatic ninth-inning comeback on Sunday evening at the London Stadium to secure a 6-5 victory and split the two-game ‘road’ trip across the Atlantic with National League East rivals and division leaders the Philadelphia Phillies.

Players taking part in MLB’s third set of English encounters were peppered with questions about this country’s preferred bat-and-ball sport, particularly after landing in London on the same day the United States secured an historic World Cup upset over Pakistan.

New York Mets’ Jeff McNeil has become a cricket fan (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)

McNeil said: “I watched a lot of cricket when I was here. It was on TV all the time. My wife got into it, I got into it. I think I’d be a heck of a cricket player.

“Everything bounces, you can put it in play anywhere, I think that would be a lot of fun. I know the World Cup of cricket is in the States right now out on Long Island.

“I think the United States play on Wednesday so I was going to try to see a match. I have no idea about the rules, I’d like to learn more, but it was pretty exciting to watch.”

For better or worse, MLB’s English experiment will always draw comparisons to baseball’s sporting cousin, which to the league’s benefit has allowed organisers to enlist influential figures like Jos Buttler and Harry Brook into its UK marketing plans.

On the flip side, debates about MLB’s ambitions for America’s national pastime to conquer new markets, especially London, have at times felt antagonistic to a degree the NFL’s first foray into the English market 17 years ago – which might have similarly riled up rugby supporters – did not.

Asked if there’s room for both baseball and cricket in England, however, McNeil replied: “Yes. Absolutely.”

The criticism is nothing new. In fact, this summer marks 150 years since the Boston Red Stockings and Philadelphia Athletics embarked on a tour of England and Ireland, organised by Sheffield-born Boston star Harry Wright, whose brother had to provide a cricketing crash course as their ship crossed the Atlantic.

That was because the Marylebone Cricket Club, who partnered on the tour, only agreed to host exhibition baseball games at English grounds if the tourists – who played on pitches like Old Trafford and Lord’s – also agreed to a couple of cricket matches too.

The Americans even secured a few victories, beating their opponents by an innings and 42 runs at Bramall Lane, according to a local newspaper.

Professional baseball toured England three more times, in 1889, 1914 and 1924, each time largely earning more scorn than praise from the local press.

The 1889 tour took the Chicago White Stockings and an ‘All-Americas’ team on a six-month journey across five continents, concluding their international adventure in England where an article in the Times conceded, “everybody is now asking his friend in a doubtful kind of way what he thinks of baseball.

“Londoners are, or ought to be, now in a position to give their verdict on this important question.”

The answer remains optimistically uncertain 135 years later, after this third London Series enticed more than 100,000 fans through its gates and more stood in a long queue for a home run derby on Friday night in Trafalgar Square.

While plans for a 2025 series in Paris have reportedly been scrapped, MLB is set to return to London in 2026, the same year the league’s current collective bargaining agreement with its players’ union expires.

Any future international plans will need to be enshrined in the subsequent CBA, though in McNeil the London Series seems to have recruited its newest ambassador.

He was particularly keen on an idea, floated by Phillies first baseman Bryce Harper earlier this weekend, to instead invite four teams and make the London Series a round-robin tournament.

McNeil added: “It’s tough just coming over here for two games and then flying back to the States.

“I think we can get more teams here and make it more of an event.”

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