Over one weekend at the end of June 2019, 60,000 baseball fans descended upon the London Stadium to watch the New York Yankees beat Boston Red Sox 12-8 in the first ever Major League Baseball (MLB) match to be played in Europe.
This is the story of the unsung heroes who made this historic event possible…
Whilst baseball is undoubtedly one of the most popular sports in the United States, no MLB games had ever been held in Europe before, but with successful events in Australia, Japan, Mexico and Puerto Rico under their belt, the MLB knew it was time to make the trip across the Atlantic.
Where better to host an iconic event than at an iconic venue? The London Stadium first captured the nation’s hearts in London’s 2012 Olympics and was identified as the perfect venue to both bring in and accommodate large crowds for MLB’s inaugural European event on 29th June 2020.
With 27 of the 30 MLB teams playing on natural turf, and The London Stadium home to premiership football team West Ham United, it would be easy to assume that the series would be played on grass.
However, at the conclusion of the football season in May, the London Stadium pitch is covered over for a series of music concerts before the grass is regrown in July.
On reviewing options for the playing surface Murray Cook, MLB’s senior field coordinator and consultant, concluded:
“We looked really hard at doing a natural grass system.
Sod is extremely expensive, so we decided to look at going with synthetic turf built on top of the concert venue. It’s sustainable and we can roll it up after the second game and put it away for next year’s series.”
With the stadium committed to a summer programme of sporting and musical events time was limited to install the pitch and then to remove it in time for the Diamond League athletics event in July.
With only 21 days for construction and just 5 days for and removal MLB sought a partner who could meet challenging, fixed, deadlines and deliver a playing surface worthy of two of the world’s best sports teams.
Following an exhaustive selection process MLB entrusted the project to Hewitt Sportsturf and S&C Slatter. Long term S&C Slatter partners FieldTurf were contracted to produce the 15,000 square metres of FieldTurf Vertex carpet.
Before works commenced S&C Slatter began an intense programme of planning and communication. We liaised with contractors from media organisations, lighting suppliers, seating suppliers, advertising contractors and the MLB team to carefully plan logistics and site access.
Our in-house Health and Safety Officer was involved throughout this process and prepared a detailed Health and Safety schedule for the project.
On Saturday 1st June, ‘Muse’ rocked East London with a terrific concert and 20 minutes after their crew had loaded and shipped their last crate, we set to work…
Hewitt prepared an initial aggregate layer on top of the ArmourDeck surface. The S&C Slatter team then laser paved and compacted a final 30mm layer of additional aggregate to create a flat, level, playing surface ready to receive to receive the FieldTurf surface.
Satisfied the surface was perfectly level we installed the synthetic turf and laid the clay base path – the diamond that connects the bases. Working closely with the MLB grounds team to we acheived an exact level match between the clay, infield, and synthetic surface.
Next we constructed two bullpens, dedicated areas for relief pitchers to warm up prior to entering the game, along with two batting practice cages for batters.
With construction completed on time and without issue we supplied a round-the-clock maintenance team to provide instant response should any issues arise (they didn’t).
The revolutionary artificial turf offered FieldTurf’s patented three-layer infill system with two distinct types of fibres, resulting in a natural look, top quality performance system for world-class baseball. To complete the pitch, 345 tonnes of Pennsylvania dirt was used to construct the quintessential baseball Diamond.
Only the best for the MLB’s finest teams, as well as Royal visitors the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who met with both teams and enjoyed the first match of the series.
Twenty minutes after the last ball we began the deconstruction process removing the batting cages and bullpens before extracting the pitch itself. We had the entire pitch removed, and the stadium returned to its previous state, in just two days. The FieldTurf surface is in storage awaiting this year’s London Series when the St Louis Cardinals will play the Chicago Cubs.
A win for the Yankees, the MLB and London Tourism
The New York Yankees went on to win both games of the series, but they weren’t the only winners. With 59,659 baseball fans spectating, it was the highest attendance at any MLB game in over 15 years.
It was a big success for London too. With Mayor Sadiq Khan “determined to bring baseball to our city”, the series well and truly delivered, with over one third of attendees visiting from overseas, generating millions for London’s retail and tourism industries. The venue itself also benefited, selling over 80,000 pints of beer, 10,000 hotdogs and 2,600 bags of monkey nuts.
The MLB will return 13th-14th June 2020 with the promise of another famous rivalry, when the Chicago Cubs will face off against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Thanks to the use of cutting-edge artificial turf, that S&C Slatter removed and stored safely in London, the majority of the field, fixtures and fittings from 2019 will be reused for the 2020 event, contributing to sustainability across the series.
Watch this diamond shaped space!