VIENNA – Two Americans walk into a bar in Vienna.
It sounds like the start of a real knee-slapper in the European Union, but that’s exactly what I was a part of Saturday night. And things got pretty interesting from there. The goal was to find a spot to watch the Yankees and Red Sox playing in London. Once situated, we got a great study in how some Europeans see Major League Baseball and whether they think it can catch on here.
When we inquired about where the game would be on television, the consensus answer in these parts was the sports bar on the first floor of the Vienna Marriott. Turns out, it’s undergoing a two-month renovation. A front desk agent there, however, suggested Billabong Bar two blocks down the street. It’s an Aussie joint where people gather there to watch American Football on fall Sundays.
What we found on was auto racing, but when we asked bartender Andrew Yardley – a Scot studying for his masters degree in Ecological Economics in Austria – he said “no problem.” Moments later it was on the main screen in the bar. And more than a handful of people started watching.
For some, it was familiarity with our pastime. For others, it was a sort of fascination with something they’d not watched before.
“I’d never seen it, but it was fun to watch,” said Lucas Popp, who works as a notary. “It was big when American football came here, so to see another sport from the States is interesting. It was certainly more interesting than any of the [soccer] on television tonight.”
“I’ve seen it a bit on their channel [MLB Network] and when I noticed, I wanted to watch,” said Andreas Pfingstl, a Vienna store manager. “But I’m not sure it’s the right fit for Europe. There’s a lot of detail in baseball. So much of it is a two-man game between the [pitcher] and [batter]. The outfield plays are really exciting when they happen. It could be hard for Europeans, who are into soccer and used to more constant movement.”
Sebastian Smodics, a court worker, learned about baseball over a year as a high school exchange student in Minnesota. Asked what he knew about baseball, he started the conversation with “the Twins are the best – no question.”
“I watched at home on television with my host family and went to a Twins game once,” he said. “I get the game, but I don’t think it will get big [in Europe]. We have rugby and the interest in American football is a natural. Cricket is the sport you’d compare baseball to and, while it’s big in some places, it’s not all over.”
Yardley explained that Billabong Bar draws many NFL watchers and that requests to put NBA games on the televisions are growing. But no one had asked him about watching baseball’s greatest rivalry Saturday night.
“You were the first ones ever to come in and ask to watch a baseball game,” he said.
With the final score of 17-13, perhaps a few more Austrians will watch Sunday’s game.