The New York Stick Exchange

On this lovely June weekend, the Mets will be the home team in a baseball game against their NL East arch-rival Philadelphia Phillies that will be played in what is normally the home of the Premier League’s West Ham United.  Less than 24 hours later, at a hastily constructed temporary venue a few exits east of Citi Field on the Long Island Expressway, a crucial match in the ICC Twenty20 World Cup, the de facto global cricket championships, between even archer rivals India and Pakistan willl take place, with a 10:30 AM local time start to accommodate the countries’ fan bases that will be watching in prime time.  And yes, at tea time in London, where the sport and those teams have a lot more popularity.

But those historic differences in taste and relevance have eroded over time, and this weekend’s simultaneous events will further that progress.  Both the Mets-Phillies and India-Pakistan will play to sellout crowds.  It’s the third time that MLB has played games in London, with last year’s Cubs-Cardinals a much more normally played pair of games than the two the Yankees and Red Sox played pre-pandemic in London Stadium.  CBS SPORTS.com’s Mike Axisa recalls how and why Brits got hooked:

The 2019 London Series was arena baseball. The Red Sox and Yankees combined for 12 runs in the first inning of the first game, and five times in the two games, six-plus runs were scored in a half-inning. The two teams combined to hit .387/.453/.661 with 10 home runs in the two games. It was madness. The 2023 London Series was much more normal, for lack of a better term.

MLB and the London Stadium folks made changes to the playing surface in 2023, though the league said it was not in response to all the offense in 2019. The seating arrangement was changed and foul territory was reduced. It will be 330 feet down both lines, 387 feet in the gaps, and 392 feet to center field. The 16-foot center field wall slopes down to eight feet.

One can only salivate at the possibilities for the likes of Pete Alonso and Bryce Harper, among others, with no outfield marker in the 400s.  One can only feel for the likes of Mets reliever Adam Ottavino, who has been among the team’s least effective relievers in a recent spell where the Mets’ bullpen has lost six leads in the eighth inning or later.  Still, Axisa reminds that Ottavino does have a favorable history in England:

Ottavino, then with the Yankees, allowed two hits and a walk in 1/2 scoreless innings in two appearances in 2019. 

Considering the Sox scored a combined 21 runs in their two losses to New York during those games, that makes Ottavino arguable royalty.

But back on Long Island, the folks that might otherwise be venturing to Flushing will be flocking to Nassau County’s Eisenhower Park for an entirely different contest involving a ball and a “bat”.  And thanks to the events that unfolded earlier this week in the cricket hotbed of Dallas, they will be seeing a Pakistani squad with more than a little bit of face to save, courtesy of their host country.  Axisa’s colleague Austin Nivison expounded:

Team USA pulled off one of the greatest upsets in cricket history on Thursday. They defeated powerhouse Pakistan by five runs in the T20 World Cup, shocking the rest of the sport.

The match went to a super over, a tiebreaker in cricket, and Team USA recorded 18 runs. Pakistan needed 19 for the win but were held to just 13 runs.  The T20 World Cup features the 20 best teams in the world, and Team USA now leads Group A following its massive upset of Pakistan. The rest of that group consists of India, Canada, and Ireland.

The majority of the U.S. team holds down part-time jobs and exclusively plays international matches in tourneys such as T20, never with the degree of success they had seen before Thursday.  Comparisons to the Miracle on Ice acheived by the USA hockey team at the Lake Placid Winter Olympics against the Soviet Union in 1980, political ramifications aside, wouldn’t be unjust.

And if Sunday’s event isn’t significant enough, the U.S. will host India in a match to be held in that same makeshift venue on Wednesday morning.  As Nivison explained, India may have a bit more trepidation than usual based on their own recent experience:

(T)he temporary pitch has faced controversy for its “dangerous” unpredictable bounce, which caused an injury scare for Indian captain Rohit Sharma during his side’s first game against Ireland.  The International Cricket Council has since issued a statement saying its “world-class grounds team” is working to remedy the pitch before Sunday’s mega clash.

Nothing like using home field advantage to one’s benefit, right?

Incidentally, the Mets will be back in Queens by Wednesday night, with the putrid Marlins serving as their opponents for a night game that will give anyone at Eisenhower Park ample time even with LIE traffic to craft a unique doubleheader should they wish.  I’m betting the Venn diagram won’t be all that huge, and I’m willing to wager that the crowd and the score will be much larger for India-U.S.  Much the same way the scoreboard at West Ham will likely be a lot more active than it usually is for Mr. Met and the Philly Phanatic.

Call it cultural dissonance.

Courage…

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