Tag Archives: Olympic Stadium

Beginners Guide to Baseball

“Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical.”

So said Yogi Berra, a 10-time World Series winner famous for his quirky nuggets of wisdom about the sport known ‘America’s National Pastime’.

Many British sports fans perceive baseball as a glorified version of that schooldays staple, rounders.

Others see the connections between its rich traditions and those of cricket, our own national summer sport, not least in its fervent devotion to team and individual statistics.

With the 2017 season just around the corner, here’s our beginners guide to understanding what those ‘boys of summer’ will be getting up to between now and the World Series in October-November.

2017 Season

The new season will officially begin on April 2nd, when the reigning World Series champions, the Chicago Cubs, take on the St Louis Cardinals.

Miami’s Marlins Park will host the 2017 All-Star Game

The regular season is scheduled to end on October 1, with the post-season or play-offs beginning two days later, and the best-of-seven-game World Series scheduled to start on October 24th.

Major League Baseball (MLB) explored the possibility of bringing some regular season games to the London Stadium, home of West Ham United, but the plans were dropped due to a lack of time for negotiations.

There are 30 MLB teams, split between the National and American Leagues, and split within those into regional divisions.

Each team plays a massive 162 games in the regular season in a schedule that includes contests against their divisional rivals as well as cross-divisional and cross-league encounters.

Team Positions

Teams consist of nine players and take turns fielding and batting, with the home team batting second.

An inning consists of batters from each team taking their turn at bat until three batters are out. A game lasts nine innings, but is extended into extra ones if the scores are level.

“Baseball is like church. Many attend, few understand” – New York baseball legend Leo Durocher

The fielding side consists of a pitcher, catcher, four infielders, and three outfielders.

Pitchers throws overhand, using a variety of deliveries from a raised mound to the home plate.

If the batter misses three legitimate pitches, or fails to swing at three judged hittable by the umpire, he is out on strikes.

But if the pitcher throws four pitches outside the strike zone, the batter gets a walk to first base.

A strike is also called when the batter swings at a pitch whether it is deemed to be in the strike zone or not.

If a ball is struck out of the field of play, also known as the ballpark, it’s called a home run.

A tactic within baseball is to load up first to third base, then get the designated hitter to hit a home run; the team batting gets four runs on the scoreboard due to all of the players on the bases.

Brief History of Baseball

The origins of baseball are the subject of much debate and dispute, but the first recorded game in America took place in 1838.

In 1871, the first professional baseball league was born. By the beginning of the 20th century, most large cities in the eastern United States had a professional teams.

The sport really came of age in the 1920s, when Babe Ruth (perhaps it’s most famous-ever player) led the New York Yankees to several World Series titles and became a national hero thanks to his unrivalled ability to hit home runs.

World Series

The first World Series was played in 1903 and has taken place every year since. The New York Yankees have appeared in 40, winning 27 times – no-one else even comes close to their feats.

And yet, the World Series seen as the greatest ever didn’t involve the Yankees, but featured the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves in 1991.

Clayton Kershaw, star pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Five games in this series were decided by a single run, four games were decided in the final at-bat, and three games went into extra innings.

Both Game Six and Game Seven went beyond the 9th inning, with Minnesota winning both at their Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome home.

Game Six was won in the 11th inning on a walk-off home run by Minnesota outfielder Kirby Puckett.

In Game Seven, Minnesota pitcher Jack Morris threw a 10-inning, complete game shutout, with Twins utility man Gene Larkin getting a series-winning RBI single in the bottom of the 10th. (AXS, 2015)

Baseball Statistics

Baseball statistics play an important role in evaluating a player or team’s progress.

Since the flow of a baseball game has natural breaks, and normally players act individually rather than performing in clusters, the sport lends itself to easy record keeping and statistics.

Statistics have been kept for professional baseball since the creation of the National and American Leagues, now part of Major League Baseball.

A lot of people agree that the statistical side of the game helps people to understand what is going on on the field.

However, not everyone likes the influx of statistical measurements that now go on in the MLB.

An interview between MLB Network’s Brian Kenny and Chicago White Sox TV play-by-play announcer Ken Harrelson shows this.

What started out as a pleasant conversation quickly devolved into Harrelson decrying the use of numbers in baseball and introducing the most interesting metric of the past 25 years, ‘The Will To Win’.

Give it a go

The statistical side of baseball can be very complicated but don’t let that put you off of potentially going to watch a game live or watching a game on ESPN which is part of the BT Sport package.

The atmosphere at baseball games is second to none, and nothing beats watching a home run soar into the stands.

Organising the Race Of Champions

Since 1988’s inaugural event in Paris, the Race Of Champions (ROC) has been travelling the globe, bringing some of the biggest names in motorsport together to compete for personal and national glory in equal equipment at various world-famous venues.

This year the ROC was held in London for the first time since the event took place at Wembley Stadium back in 2008. Tt this time, it was run at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Stadium situated in the Olympic Park in Stratford after ROC president Fredrik Johnsson, who had been openly keen about running there for a while, struck a deal.

Then came the process of organising it, and as usual, it was quite a task. It’s safe to say that in every facet the RCs has come along way since the first event, but that’s not made it any easier to put together. In fact, it requires more time and effort than ever.

Months before a horde of workers set foot in the stadium to build the circuit, there were all sorts of hurdles to jump for the event organisers. Every aspect has to be meticulously planned to ensure it’s an enjoyable time for both the drivers and fans.

All together now

One of the toughest parts of making the ROC happen is getting the drivers together, in one place, on one weekend; and with a seemingly ever-expanding/never-ending global motorsport calendar, finding the right weekend at the end of the season – when the ROC is traditionally held – has become quite a challenge.

Drivers, media, organisers, team members and fans alike complain each year about the sheer number of event clashes. Take a look at the weekend the World Endurance Championhsip is held at Silverstone as an example, as it has run parallel with the opening rounds of the British GT and Blancpain Endurance Series in recent years.

“If available, most drivers lap up the opportunity to compete”

For those at the top of the ROC, it’s even more of a headache, as for one weekend, they try to get drivers from every corner of the motorsport world to attend.

“Because we are very limited on what weekends we can run at each stadium, ROC usually takes place after the racing season has ended, during December. But this time round it was even more dictated by the stadium’s availability so we had to organise it before the end of the Formula One season,” explained operations director Dominic Olliff.

Then there’s selecting the drivers themselves. With a limited amount able to compete, and so many series to consider, creating an all-star-cast is no easy task. Thankfully, if available, most drivers lap up the opportunity to compete in what has become a United Nations-type selection.

Diverse line-up

Olliff said: “We try to avoid clashes, especially with the big series, but the stadium’s very limited availability meant we had little choice but to run it the weekend we did. That was great for F1 drivers but disappointing for the likes of WEC, GP2 [which added their Bahrain round after ROC’s event was announced] and F3.

“But I think we did a great job to still secure such a diverse line-up, and one of the best in recent memory actually. F1 is the most well known form of motorsport so it’s important to have those established, household names like Vettel and Button for casual fans.

“They all come along for the pleasure of doing it, because they get back to the essence of why they love racing”

“But ROC is also about bringing the best of the best together, and the likes of Tom Kristensen, Alex Buncombe and Andy Priaulx provide credibility from the wider spectrum of motorsport. That Priaulx and Jason Plato beat Vettel and Nico Hulkenberg in the Nations Cup final proves how important diversity is.

“When it comes down to securing drivers, it’s a combination of things, as they want to drive at the event and they want to know who else will be there too.

“The drivers this year were so relaxed,” he said. “As it’s not like a race weekend, there’s not much pressure or media – it doesn’t exist at ROC. They all come along for the pleasure of doing it, because they get back to the essence of why they love racing, and thet get to socialise and test themselves against key names in their field in equal machinery.

“They have a good time, it’s refreshing. There’s a real camaraderie at the event, guys like Vettel are a real advocate for that, as he claims he ‘get’s to know the driver under the helmet’. It’s old school.”

Vettel-ROC-2015-600x400
Vettel proved why he’s one of the World’s best, winning this year’s event

While the drivers love it, trying to keep a consistent roster right up until the day can be difficult, however. Olympic track cycling gold medalist Sir Chris Hoy this year, for example, was drafted in to compete in place of MotoGP’s Jorge Lorenzo, who was busy celebrating his title success.

More than just racing

Outside of the drivers, there’s other forms of entertainment to think about. Over the years those looking at the target demographic of the ROC have realised that not only is it best to cater for every type of motorsport fan, but also for more of a casual audience who enjoy just seeing a different kind of sporting event in such a rare setting like the Olympic Stadium.

Therefore, other forms of entertainment have become part of the programme at the ROC, and rightly so.

“Of course it’s a motorsport event,” Olliff stated. “But you have to attract casual fans too, which is why there’s celebrities, Terry Grant, FMX, all those things going on too. You have to come up with something that works for everybody, and everybody can be impressed by Terry Grant, it doesn’t matter how many times he does a donut around someone’s leg, it’s amazing!

“Not only is it best to cater for every type of motorsport fan, but also for more of a casual audience.”

“Then with the celebrities there’s always going to be people there at ROC who will get something out of it, it’s all entertainment in the end. A lot of people come in groups, half will love these things, half may not be interested, but overall, everyone leaves feeling like they’ve had their money’s worth.

“It’s important, especially in a place like London. It’s more than just an event for hardcore motor racing fans.”

Transformation

Before they know it, the set-up process then dawns on the team, which while quick, is by no means simple. An army of contractors comes in, sets it up and dismantles everything to suit both the stadium and ROC organisers’ needs.

The first time everyone from ROC got to take a look round the stadium was the end of June in the same year, which stresses how much of a challenge it is to get everything together so quickly at a place which they don’t have access to freely.

Later on in the year, two more recce’s happen as things come together, and before the big week arrives. This year in particular, a change had to be made to the Olympic Park circuit due to its size. Instead of a dual-lane layout, a single track, pursuit-style system had to be created.

It didn’t detract from the experience however.

“They were keen to try something different anyway,” Olliff revealed. “We didn’t have a great deal of time on our hands because of the Rugby World Cup finishing and England playing New Zealand in the Rugby League series. You can’t just build a track and hope it works, it has to be tested.

“The track itself was built in four days in the pursuit style, an awful lot goes into it. Michele Mouton, Audi’s Group B rally driver is still involved primarily and is responsible for the design and concept. When she’s happy with how it is after it’s in place it gets handed over to other departments.”

“An hour after the racing finished on Saturday night people were digging up the track.”

“The transition between the Olympic Stadium and what will become West Ham United’s stadium was still going on around us during planning, so we had to factor that in. It wasn’t until the Rugby World Cup that we could get a real feel for where everything was going to be. A lot of the areas like the media centre, mixed zone, press conference room, places like that were in action for us to see.

“We work with the stadium, but we take it over when the time comes, it’s our responsibility.

“We broke the record of de-rigging afterwards, the previous one was 40 hours and we did it in 27 this year! An hour after the racing finished on Saturday night people were digging up the track and everyone worked on their own areas. It’s difficult to get the stuff out, especially all the concrete metal work and tarmac from the track so we could hand the stadium back on time which was Monday morning this year.

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“It’s like a building site,” Olliff concluded. “But on fast forward.”

And once the final piece of track leaves the stadium, the focus immediately shifts to the next year, when behind the scenes, the same process starts all over again.