LONDON -- Major League Baseball is heading to Europe for the first time, and to mark the historic occasion, it is sending two of its most storied franchises.
The Yankees and Red Sox -- who can lay claim to one of the most heated rivalries in professional sports -- will square off at London Stadium, the home of the 2012 Olympic Games, on June 29-30, 2019. The MLB London Series will be the first time the two clubs have met during the regular season in a city that was not New York or Boston, though the Red Sox will serve as the "home" team for both contests.
The announcement was made on Tuesday at a joint press conference featuring Commissioner Rob Manfred, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Tim Slavin, chief of business affairs and senior counsel, business for the MLB Players Association, Red Sox owner John Henry and Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner and general partner Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal. The series next June is part of a two-year commitment to play in London, with the teams for the 2020 games still to be determined.
Khan stated it was his intention to have Major League Baseball in London on a regular basis and insisted that the English capital was the ideal place to help MLB gain a foothold in Europe.
"I'm delighted that London has this opportunity to welcome Major League Baseball to London," he said. "I've been working to get Major League Baseball to come to London since I became mayor, and I'm delighted that we have these two great teams coming to our city.
He added, "It's going to be a fantastic two days next year, but the fun begins now."
A key criteria to getting a deal agreed upon was finding a suitable venue that could accommodate baseball, and the 55,000-capacity London Stadium -- which currently serves as the primary home for West Ham United Football Club -- is seen as the ideal location.
Both the NBA and NFL regularly host games in London and Manfred said he was delighted to finally have an opportunity to show America's pastime to the British public. And with two of baseball's biggest teams coming to England, he expressed confidence that it will be one of the great sporting occasions.
"We've been looking for the right opportunity to come to Europe," he said. "We think that London is the perfect place, and we're excited about bringing over one of the great rivalries in the Red Sox and Yankees."
"We have had so much interest in these games already, and I am confident both games will be sold out." With this being the first regular-season MLB games to be played in Europe, demand for tickets is expected to be high, given the huge international following that both the Yankees and Red Sox enjoy. Their intense and historic rivalry will no doubt ensure that fans in London can expect two hard-fought games next summer.
"This rivalry is well over a century in the making, 119 years if my math is correct, and over 2,000 games," said Steinbrenner. "It is a contentious rivalry, sometimes downright bitter, but that is due to the passion of our fans."
He added, "That is why this rivalry has continued for well over a century."
The agreement to bring the Red Sox and Yankees was years in the making, with Henry and Steinbrenner discussing the idea frequently.
"As you know, I am a big fan of international baseball," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "Last year, I had a blast being GM of [Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic], and whenever you can play overseas and expand the game, it's always fun. It's going to be a different crowd. Hopefully it's kind of like the same crowd as in Liverpool right now. Everyone is excited about going to the finals of the champions league -- I follow it. It should be fun.
"The family is going to go and we're going to have a blast. The players, they are going to experience something different. We did it in Japan in '08 [to open the season vs. the Athletics] and it was great. For us to go over there and play the Yankees, everyone knows about the rivalry and how much it means over here, so they are going to have a taste of the rivalry over there in London."
Yankees manager Aaron Boone is excited about making the trip.
"I've never been to London, so I think it's pretty cool we're going across the pond," said Boone. "I like that. It's a chance to spread our game, and I think that's awesome. To have this rivalry, Red Sox-Yankees, going over there to promote our games. The amount of young star players on both clubs hopefully is something that our guys will always take with them, something that'll be memorable for them. Also, in a larger picture, hopefully something that will continue to grow our game -- the game that we love."
Both the Red Sox and Yankees have played games on international soil in the past several years, visiting the Tokyo Dome for season openers. The Yankees opened the 2004 season with a two-game series against the Rays (then the Devil Rays) and the Red Sox opened '08 with two games against the Athletics.
"There were significant challenges that had to be overcome," Henry said. "We could not be happier that Commissioner Manfred has been able to make this a reality. This series will surely be the most significant international event to date for Major League Baseball. I can't wait to hear someone shout 'Play Ball' at London Stadium.
Technically, this won't be the first time the Red Sox have visited London. In 1993, they played the Mets in an exhibition game at the Oval Cricket Ground, both teams' rosters made up of Minor League players. A quarter of a century later, the Red Sox are coming back, although this time both they and the Yankees are bringing their best talent with them. On day of the announcement, the two clubs were opening a series in New York in a matchup of MLB's two best records.
"Bringing these storied teams together for British fans -- who have such a profound appreciation for sports at the highest level -- only adds to the unique allure of one of the world's greatest sporting rivalries," Steinbrenner said. "We expect an exciting and intense pair of games and appreciate the significance of representing our sport in such a meaningful way."
Fans can stay up to date on all news regarding the 2019 MLB London Series by following @MLBLondonSeries on Instagram and Facebook and can preregister for MLB London Series tickets at mlb.com/london-series.