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2023 LONDON BB TRIP
In 2019, Major League Baseball announced they were scheduling two baseball games between the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals in 2020. Good friend and Binny’s Spirits Buyer, Brett Pontini immediately started organizing a trip to London to see this historic series. I gladly accepted his offer to go and got tickets to each game. Due to Covid, the games were rescheduled for June 2023. What resulted was a 5-day trip (June 22-27) to the games and so much more.
The London Crew
I owe a debt of gratitude to the 7 travel-savvy friends that congregated in London and provided support in so many ways to a London rookie in need of help. Brett made the travel arrangements to and from London. Jordan Halpern good friend and Yankee fan extraordinaire handled the lodging. Expat and former Clark Street Ale House manager Chris Riley and his wife Amy were the go-to resource for London logistics. Chef de Cuisine (Topolobampo’s) Meagan O’Connor and boyfriend Josh made dining arrangements. Good friend and International Sales Manager (Elixir Distillery) Chanel Liquori shined a bright light with her mere presence that kept the mood upbeat.
The Flight to London
On Thursday evening June 22, Brett, Jordan, and I made our way to O’Hare for an American Airlines nonstop flight to London. Soon upon arrival, we found out the flight was delayed 13 hours to Friday morning due to equipment problems. We decided to forego a hotel voucher and headed back home for more familiar accommodations. The next morning the 7-hour flight departed without further delay. With the 6-hour time difference we arrived in London around 10:00PM, not leaving much time on Friday to experience London. However, this group was used to evening dinner and late-night libation.
The Hoxton Hotel in East End of London
The Hoxton, a boutique hotel in the Shoreditch neighborhood in the East End, is the original of a 15-hotel group located in Europe and US. The chain caters to a young affluent client and prides itself in trendy gentrified locations near top-end retail, restaurants, and music entertainment. A good example is The Chicago Hoxton in the Fulton Market area. Upon entry into the hotel lobby, we encountered the multifunctional Hoxton Grill that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner during the day and transforms into a lively meeting place for late evening drinks, especially on weekends. Near the front desk, tables for computer use and couches for comfort are in abundance.
The hotel met my important standards: good water pressure, hot water, and close distance to the “ballpark”. After our late check-in, we met up with Chris and Amy for dinner. We went to a nearby Turkish sandwich shop, Best Mangel. I had a large wrap sandwich called a Chicken/Lamb Doner with a healthy amount of salad ingredients and hot sauce. The Doner refers to vertical rotisserie from which the meat is sliced. Just what I needed; nothing fancy; just good food. I peeled off the group and headed back to the hotel. The rest went to a pub for a night cap.
London Underground, Elizabeth Line and Heathrow Airport
Once we reached the hotel, travel to the ball games and other destinations was done primarily with public transportation. The London Underground (nicknamed the Tube) is the rapid transit system serving Greater London. The system has 11 lines serving 272 stations over 250 miles of track. One look at the Underground map (below) and any transit trip looks like mission impossible. By the end of my stay, I felt comfortable on the Tube for 2 reasons: excellent signage, and contactless bank card for fare payment. The closest Tube station to the hotel was a 5-minute walk away. I used this service to get to London Stadium for the games and to Greenwich for a Thames River Cruise.
To complement the Tube, an aboveground rail service opened in 2022 called the Elizabeth (Lizzie) Line. With 42 stations, the system serves Central London and points beyond including the Heathrow Airport. The closest Lizzie Line station to the hotel was a 15-minute walk away. In addition to the clear signs and bank card payment, this system had cars with plush seating and air-conditioning. I used this comfortable service to get to Heathrow airport.
Heathrow is the largest and busiest of 6 airports servicing London. The airport is 14 miles west of Central London and has over 60,000,000 passengers annually flying through 5 terminals. From train to gate, I found the airport easy to get around. I had an uneventful 6 ½ hour nonstop flight to O’Hare.
One of the challenges in playing a ML game in London is finding a venue that can handle the dimensions of a baseball field. Most large stadiums, including Wembley, are more rectangular in shape for playing soccer and rugby. Soccer Stadiums just don't fit because you've got a right-field or a left-field fence that's 240 feet down the line (The Polo Grounds effect). The exception is the multi-purpose outdoor park, London (formerly Olympic) Stadium. This stadium, used in the 2012 Olympics as a track and field venue, was the logical choice for the Major League Games. Even London Stadium fell short as the center field distance was only 392 feet.
The stadium is the home park of the English Premiere League West Ham United. The grass soccer field was removed and replaced with a turf field that had to be made level. With a game time temp of 87 degrees for the afternoon game, London Stadium proved to be uncomfortable, particularly for the outfielders. Turf and semi closed roof made the field temp approach 100 degrees.
Game 1 - Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals
London Stadium on June 25, 2023
Although London Stadium is only 3.5 miles from the Hoxton Hotel, the ride on the Tube to the game took 50 minutes. The route required a transfer and was not direct plus 15 minutes of the 50 was devoted to walking to and from stations. Walking to the park would have taken 65 minutes, but the maze of streets to the stadium surely would have resulted in getting lost more than once. The area around London Stadium has plenty of retail and restaurants built up for the 2012 Olympics.
The concessions in London Stadium are lacking compared to US ballparks. To accommodate the insatiable appetite of baseball fans for souvenirs, food, and beverages, additional concession areas were constructed. The stadium configuration and concrete décor reminded me of the multi-purpose US ballparks of the 60’s.
The Cubs scored 7 runs in the first 4 innings in a 9-1 romp over the Cardinals. Ian Happ and Dansby Swanson supplied enough offense with 2 hits and 2 RBI’s apiece. Cardinals pitching ace Adam Wainwright gave up 7 runs for the loss and Cubs lefty All-Star Justin Steele surrendered 6 hits and 1 run over 6 innings for the victory.
Game 2 - Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals
London Stadium on June 26, 2023
Before Game 2, we went to Dishoom, a Bombay India restaurant chain. I left it to the foodies in the group to order a variety of dishes that seemed to come almost immediately. The plates included the restaurant’s signature dish, Black Daal, a dark, decadently rich, deeply flavored lentil stew cooked over 24 hours. I took a small portion of this dish as one could easily wear the pungent aroma for days.
The Cardinals battled back from a 4-run deficit to overtake the Cubs 7-5. Ex-Cub Willson Contreras lead the Redbird offense with 4 hits and 2 runs. Cards reliever Jake Woodfood came to the rescue giving up just 1 hit and no runs over 2 1/3 innings to secure the win. Both games were well attended with capacity crowds of 55,000.
After the game we went to Smokestak, a barbeque restaurant featuring oak smoked brisket and ribs. The good food, rustic industrial décor and attentive staff made for a good ending to the day.
The Thames River Cruise
On the last day of my stay, I had an opportunity to do a non-baseball activity, a cruise on the water to see some of London’s top landmarks. By way of the Tube, I was able to get to Greenwich for departure in about 35 minutes. The roundtrip excursion goes to Westminster and takes about 2 ½ hours. The sites included the London Eye Ferris Wheel, the Shard (London’s tallest building), Globe Theatre, the Houses of Parliament, and the Tower Bridge.
The Griffin Pub
I would be remiss if I did not mention my sampling of English beer. Around the corner from the hotel was the venerable Griffin Pub built around 1870. The long Victorian bar remains along with the ceiling paneling. However, the most interested feature is the back bar with ornamental columns. The gentrification of the area has changed the clientele from older industry workers to a younger trendy crowd. The staff recommended Wanna Go to the Sun, an easy-drinking (4.6 ABV) peachy pale ale with a balanced blend of Citra, Ekuanot, and El Dorado hops. This was pleasant change of pace to the high-octane IPA’s in the US.
The tip of the glass to a rewarding time in London and a thirst for more.
2023 LONDON BB TRIP