MLB: ‘Jump on the wagon,’ says Phillies star Bryce Harper as baseball fever hits UK – with a little help from Rob McElhenney

As the sun descended in east London, so did tens of thousands of baseball fans as America’s pastime once again made its way across the Atlantic Ocean to England’s capital.

The newish tradition has become a much-anticipated part of the Major League Baseball (MLB) calendar and this year’s matchup did not disappoint.

The Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Mets were the teams chosen to take part in the highly coveted series at Premier League soccer club West Ham United’s London Stadium – adding another chapter to an already storied baseball rivalry.

It was even honors across the weekend with both sets of teams and fans returning home with a win apiece. The Phillies won the opener 7-2 with the Mets winning the second game 6-5 in front of a celebrity-packed stadium watching the third edition of the London Series.

Bryce Harper looks to charm the UK

Phillies star Bryce Harper had called for a longer stay in London before the series started and proposed an idea for a round-robin style event so players could spend more time enjoying the city.

The seven-time All-Star’s Great British love-in continued throughout the weekend, and in the opening game of the series, Harper played the starring role.

Nicknamed The Showman, Harper performed to the occasion perfectly.

The Phillies first baseman walked up to the plate with “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls blasting through the PA system. The 31-year-old also had a custom bat with the Phillies mascot, the Philly Phanatic, dressed as a member of the King’s Guard emblazoned across it.

It was therefore only right that Harper was the man to really get the festivities started as he crushed the first home run of the weekend and celebrated with a soccer celebration – particularly fitting given where the London Series was being played.

If these international events are put on to attract new fans, Harper was certainly doing his best to persuade them to follow baseball.

“Jump on the wagon. C’mon! We’ll take everybody. I don’t care where you’re from, who you are, what you do, I’ll take anybody you got! You wanna wear Phillies stuff, you’re part of our family, part of Philadelphia. Just make sure you show up,” Harper told reporters after game one.

London’s latest rivalry

The British capital is used to seeing its fair share of rivalries in soccer. Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and West Ham – among others – all play heated games across the course of a Premier League season, but London has now become accustomed to these baseball clashes.

The inaugural London Series games were held between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox in 2019 and last year saw the St. Louis Cardinals take on the Chicago Cubs.

For the third London Series running, a fabled rivalry had been imported straight from America and placed in a soccer stadium in east London with, mostly, lighthearted hostility between the sets of fans also making the transatlantic trip.

Playful jeers, cheers and boos greeted rival fans crossing one another in and around the stadium with fans making it crystal clear where their allegiances lay.

It was also not just Mets and Phillies fans in attendance, however, as baseball fans from all conferences and divisions were seen sporting their team’s jersey – adding to the melting pot of baseball culture that was found in London across the weekend.

Baseball meets Britain

Throughout the weekend, icons of British music had their songs played during breaks in play, topped off by a singalong of Queen’s iconic anthem “Bohemian Rhapsody,” sung by the 53,882 in attendance on the Saturday and led by a giant Freddie Mercury mascot.

This wasn’t Mercury’s only appearance throughout the weekend as he was also spotted in a mascot race against Winston Churchill, King Henry VIII and a member of the King’s Guard.

Meanwhile, food vendors dotted around the stadium were inspired by New York and Philadelphia cuisine with pastrami sandwiches and cheesesteaks among the fan favorites.

“The Boomtown,” a two-foot-long hotdog, was on offer and also made an appearance during a break in the game. Two fans raced against each other on the big screens to see who could devour most of the hotdog with fans loving the messy minute-long race.

The crowd also brought the noise when actor Rob McElhenney stepped out to throw the first pitch of game two.

McElhenney, a Philadelphia native, has become just as popular in the UK as in the US – thanks largely in part to co-owning Wrexham AFC.

The actor walked out with wife and actress Kaitlin Olson and rather than throwing a first pitch, the “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” stars made a double play with Phillies legend Chase Utley and Harper helping out.

After the double play, McElhenney and Olson, joined by Phillies icons, also helped sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch.

As often with events like this, the experience is about what happens off the field as much as what happens on it.

The wait is now on to see which two teams will do battle in the next edition of the London Series.