HYDE PARK, London – Shawn Green was always known as a player for his relaxed, sunny demeanour, which made him a natural fit with the Dodgers, where he spent his peak seasons after a trade from the Blue Jays. On July 4, he wore the Los Angeles jersey again as MLB hosted its first-ever official event on British soil with Battlegrounds.
Green, now 44, has hardly aged since his retirement after the 2007 season and was immediately recognisable standing in front of Hyde Park’s Great Oak Stage. The lanky, soft-spoken star hit 328 home runs over a 15-year big league career, collecting more than 2,000 hits and 1,000 RBI. The smooth-swinging former outfielder teamed with a playful Cliff Floyd to lead the ‘Los Angeles’ team in Battlegrounds’ Home Run Derby.
MLB Battlegrounds was billed as an East Coast/West Coast-themed event that slotted into the British Summer Time Festival on a sun-drenched afternoon. Green was an ideal fit for the team wearing Dodgers uniforms, bringing a Californian vibe to a team that consisted of Floyd, Italian Federico Celli, Puerto Rico Softball’s Karla Claudio, and England cricketer Alex Hales.
Though it is Green’s first experience representing MLB abroad, it was not his first international event, as he suited up for Israel in the 2013 World Baseball Classic Qualifiers. Israel went into the tournament final undefeated but lost a heartbreaking 9-7 decision in 10 innings. Green, who committed to the team 18 months beforehand, was 3-for-9 in two games despite having retired five years prior. Four years later, Israel earned its revenge, as it breezed through the WBC Qualifiers last September and advanced all the way to the second round of the main draw.
We spoke with the former Blue Jays, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and Mets outfielder about all the above, moments before the Home Run Derby started. Below is our conversation, though audio is available for those who prefer.
Gabriel Fidler: I’m here with Shawn Green at MLB Battlegrounds where we’re about to have the Home Run Derby. How did you get involved with this, Shawn?
Shawn Green: MLB International approached me; they talked to the Dodgers, because with the Dodgers being one of the two teams they wanted to represent here they asked me if I would be willing to come do it, and it sounded like such a great opportunity. I’d always wanted to come to London—I’d never been—and I would love to do anything that promotes baseball.
GF: But this isn’t your first baseball on an international stage, of course, because in 2013 you played for Team Israel and nearly got through to the World Baseball Classic’s main draw. Can you reflect over that and how it has changed for a player to represent his country and for MLB on the bigger stage as well?
SG: It’s much different. There’s so much pride, not only for the players, but for the coaches, the fans, everyone watching, and even people that aren’t baseball fans. When I was playing for Team Israel, a lot of people from Israel who weren’t baseball fans were getting excited about the team. And especially this year, they did so well, it creates a buzz in those countries. And that’s really the goal of the WBC, is to create a buzz in countries where there isn’t that baseball history and the more that happens, the more things like this that MLB International can do, the more chance that baseball will grow. We don’t [just] want baseball to grow to attract new fans, but we also want to attract new players.
GF: I imagine you keep in touch with at least a few of the guys from that 2013 Israel team—there were quite a few repeats on this year’s team—what kind of things did you talk about during their amazing run through the Classic this time around?
SG: I was really proud of some of the younger guys, particularly some of the minor league guys who got a chance, like Cody Decker, who is a really good guy—he’s kind of like the class clown, everyone loves his antics—but guys like him who barely had a chance in the big leagues or who’s been a career minor league player, I was really excited for [them] to get to experience some of the thrills you can experience as a professional baseball player. I knew how much they appreciated it, but also how proud they were to create this unified bond and beat some really good teams and go on to the third round of the WBC.
GF: I was in Brooklyn in September along with some of the GB Baseball and got to see them first-hand. On the other hand, how much did you know about baseball in Britain before this trip?
SG: I didn’t know much. I knew a little bit just from the WBC. I knew that it was something that small pockets were excited about followed, that there’s close to a million Americans who live here now, and so I’m sure the love of baseball has come here. It’s something that I really believe that baseball will get to a point where it becomes a popular sport here—because of a love for cricket, because of a mutual love of sport—the EPL is such a popular sport in the US and some of the other sports are growing in popularity here and I think baseball is in that same hat.
GF: Final question: How good does it feel to put that Dodger jersey on again?
SG: It’s great! The Dodgers were a huge part of my life and a huge part of my career, and I still go to Spring Training a few days a year most years and be a little part of the team for a few days.
GF: Well, I hope you have fun tonight. Relax out there and just enjoy what is a pretty perfect British summer day and, like you were saying a few minutes ago off the microphone, hopefully next time we’ll see you with your family! Thanks very much.
SG: Thank you.
Other interviews in our MLB Battlegrounds series:
Carlos Peña (link)
MLB’s Charlie Hill (link)
GB Baseball U18 Head Coach Will Lintern (link)
Cliff Floyd (forthcoming)
GB Baseball’s Gary Davison (link)