LONDON — Mark Watts is a tutor in Manchester, England, a learned man imparting knowledge to the next generation.
He also happens to be wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap. But is he really a Yankee fan?
Do you know what a CC Sabathia is, Watts is asked.
“Is it a type of germ? he replies. “A virus?”
“It sounds religious,” he says, dissecting the Yankee pitcher’s name.
“Does it have anything to do with the Sabbath?”
Can you name a single Yankee player?
“Babe Ruth,” he says triumphantly before sheepishly admitting that he didn’t even know he was wearing a Yankees cap.
“Actually I thought this was a Knicks cap,” he says. “It was a present.”
The Yankees and Red Sox will meet for a two-game London series next Saturday and Sunday at London Stadium but already there are Yankee caps everywhere.
Terry Martin, an expat from Marshfield, says that seeing Yankee caps in London doesn’t mean that these are Yankee fans.
“I see Sox hats around town but many, many more NY hats. Yes, it is true that the Yankee logo is worn more as a fashion symbol reflecting the city rather than the team.”
The first dozen people questioned in London wearing the interlocking NY couldn’t name a single current Yankee player.
“I’m a football fan,” says Fiona Yan of Beijing. “I wear it for the fashion.”
“I just like the way it looks,” says Nikola Cikjacs of Holland. “Why not?”
Others have nothing to say.
“I don’t care about it,” says a surly Pedicab driver with a red Yankees cap. “You want a ride or not?”
Here, the famous Yankee logo is not what it appears to be. It is like the country’s once-famous red telephone booths. Some of them now house cellphone repair shops, miniature cafes, and even defibrillators to treat heart attacks.
Conversely, the pulse of Red Sox Nation beats strongly even across the pond.
On social media, the Red Sox UK have more followers (9,703) than any other American League team, while the Yankees only place sixth (810).
“I think a lot of people love the Red Sox because they hate the Yankees,” says Adam Perry, who started the Boston Red Sox Fans of the UK.
“They’re not baseball fans,” he says. “Whenever we see the 100th Yankee cap of the day we are cursing under our breath, and some a bit more vocally.”
People wearing Red Sox gear interact more, he says.
“When you see a Red Sox hat you kind of go ‘yay, Red Sox’ and you do get a response. Even a high five.”
He thinks the British public will love the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry.
“If you’re a supporter of any sport in this country — mainly soccer — part of your makeup is your hatred for your rivals.”
Last year, there was an organized gathering by MLB for baseball fans in London. Perry sought out the Yankee fans.
“I did put Red Sox stickers on all of their backs by the end of the night. You know how? Nice to meet you, give them a pat on the back as I go by.”
Perry watches around 50 Sox games a year, but the night games usually start after midnight in the UK.
“Yeah, it’s exhausting,” he says. “It’s just madness. It’s tough because you know I have to hide under my duvet so my wife doesn’t see the glare.”
His family understands. Their daughter’s middle name is Fenway.
The UK Red Sox fan club has written soccer-style songs for each Sox player when they come up to bat, Perry says.
Mookie Betts will be serenaded with “You are my Mookie,” to the tune of “You Are My Sunshine.”
Baseball in Britain is in the shadows of football (soccer), cricket, and rugby. But on weekends it takes center stage at Wormwood Scrubs.
London Sports sets up 14 pop-up ball fields for 400 kids of all ages. It’s a healthy mix of expats and British kids. All wear Major League Baseball gear.
The games are passionate, with coaches yelling, “Load and explode” at their 5-year-old tee-ball hitters.
In one tee-ball game between the Yankees and the Red Sox, coaches yell “George Harrison” while their team is on the field.
Something was up, but it wasn’t Beatlemania. Turns out they were just positioning second baseman George Gray and first baseman Harrison Sheckman, both 5.
During the game, one of the Yankee coaches lectures one of his young players. It wasn’t exactly Billy Martin vs. Reggie Jackson but the message was clear.
“If you’re not going to run,” he said, “you’re not going to play.”
The game ended in a tie.
Organizers say that for years they never scheduled Yankee teams to play Red Sox teams because of possible confrontations between parents.
When Billy Hogan, now the chief commercial officer for the Liverpool Football Club, volunteered to coach, he had no idea that London Sports would assign him and his two kids to the Yankees.
“It’s some kind of a sick joke. Clearly they did it on purpose,” says Hogan, who has four Red Sox World Series rings from working with the Fenway Sports Group.
“I said I can’t put the whole uniform on. I’ve got to keep some semblance of Red Sox fandom here.”
So he donned a Fenway Park cap with a Citgo logo.
“Everyone knows where my loyalties lie,” he says.
“It’s fun, but it’s a struggle every morning to get [the kids] to put the Yankee shirt on because they are Red Sox fans.”
After the last out, he calls his young Yankees into a huddle to celebrate.
“Bring it in,” he says as they smack one hand atop another. Then he smiles as he veers off script.
“Red Sox on three,” he yells.
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.