June 3, 2011

Cricket comes to Cooperstown

Peter Della Penna
National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, USA
Such fans were few and far between  © Peter Della Penna
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It was a cold, damp Sunday morning in April when I got in my car for the start of a three-hour drive toward cow country in upstate New York. I had been to this territory once as a teenager and never thought I’d have a reason to go back. I was on my way to Cooperstown, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

The first two hours driving north on the New York State Thruway go quickly, but after exiting onto Route 145 the last hour becomes a bit eerie. The local roads approaching Cooperstown are mostly empty. The tourists probably outnumber the residents on most days in this small town situated at the foot of Otsego Lake. I’m sure the cows in the surrounding pastures outnumber them too.

“People don’t walk into this place by accident,” one of the museum workers said, after I made my way inside the three-story brick building. The entire town probably wouldn’t exist without the Baseball Hall of Fame propping it up.

I came here specifically to see the opening of Swinging Away: How Cricket and Baseball Connect. I had been to the exhibit at the MCC Museum at Lord’s in December, but was curious to see how the people in charge of promoting baseball’s history were going to accommodate cricket.

For all the visitors who made it up to the display on the third floor, the museum staff seemed to be making a concerted effort to educate them about the world of cricket. There was a hands-on display with bats, balls and other equipment from each sport. Videos were on a loop showing highlights from games that last one, two and nine innings. Baseball fans were quite keen to soak up all the information that could be gleaned from the different parts of the exhibit, particularly anything interactive.

Things were definitely presented a lot better than they had been at the MCC Museum when I had seen the exhibition there in December. However, that was more to do with the fact that the MCC Museum is quite a tiny facility compared to the cavernous confines of Cooperstown’s crown jewel. As a result, there was more space for everything to breathe at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Much of the display items borrowed from the C.C. Morris Cricket Library in Haverford, Pa., are great treasures from the early days of cricket in America and the curators at both museums have done a great job to give people an opportunity to witness them up close.

There were only two things missing on the opening day of the exhibit in Cooperstown: cricket fans and representatives from the USA Cricket Association. An appearance by players from the Haverford College cricket team, the only NCAA varsity cricket team in the country, was small consolation. Many of the Haverford players had fascinating stories to tell, but there weren’t a lot of cricket supporters there to hear them and appreciate them. It’s not often that cricket gets an opportunity to be put into the mainstream sports spotlight in America and this was a missed opportunity for fans and administrators to step up and demonstrate why they love the game.

Quite often I am told that there are millions of people all across America who are very passionate about cricket. If they are indeed passionate, they sure have a funny way of showing it. I’ve never been to a club match that started on time. People are not champing at the bit to get to the ground. They can’t convince, coerce or cajole their families into supporting them by coming to the ground to cheer them on, let alone volunteer to keep score or make lunches. It’s every man for himself. There’s no such thing as community spirit at the cricket.

June 4 and 5 is being billed as “Cricket Weekend” in Cooperstown at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Several activities are scheduled, but USACA is not represented in any of them. Hopefully, cricket fans will pick up the slack this weekend, and during the rest of 2011, by making a pilgrimage to Cooperstown to see Swinging Away and give the exhibit the respect it deserves.

Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey

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Posted by timmyj on (June 13, 2011, 14:49 GMT)

From what I've heard this "Cricket Weekend" was sort of a bust. The panel discussion on Saturday had Kirsh, a guy from Philly, and this Jodah guy from collegiate cricket. Kirsh hasn't written anything on USA cricket for over twenty years and only has a passing interest in the game. This Jodah guy knows nothing about the game's USA history and probably less about baseball. Yet he talked his way onto this panel! On Sunday some college players just set up some stumps and had visitors do a little batting and bowling. That's it. No opportunity to play a full game. Don't know why in the world Tom Melville wasn't invited to this event. He's by far the leading authority on the history of American cricket, has written an award winning history of baseball, and has worked with more Americans at cricket more than anyone else. This should have been an ideal opportunity to make mainstream America aware of cricket but the Hall of Fame people dropped the ball.

Posted by Noman Yousuf on (June 9, 2011, 7:20 GMT)

hmmm... Interesting. I would have loved to attend that exhibition; just that i live like thousand of miles away, so couldn't make it. Anyways cricket fans should have shown up for this event, and administrators of cricket in the USA should have contributed to it as well. Though may be it was a demographics issue; I don't know much about cricket's popularity in different parts of the US, but it could be that it's not very popular in the East and its popular centers are situated more in the southern states. Anyways a good read, I hope those yankees who did visit were able to appreciate our great game.

Posted by Vinay patil on (June 8, 2011, 22:53 GMT)

I am one of the millions of cricket fans in US and I live just 40 miles from Cooperstown. I would have loved to attend this event but I h ave no idea where this information was posted.

Posted by Americans on (June 8, 2011, 12:58 GMT)

Why would Americans embrace a Sport that doesn't even allow them to play against the Best?? A Sport that promotes Sports Segregation, a Sport where the 1st to play get a Free Pass to do whatever they want without any fair structure in place for smaller teams to succeed. That is why Cricket will NEVER grow in America.

Posted by Michael Banks on (June 5, 2011, 23:50 GMT)

I'm an ex-pat Brit who plays for Marin CC in San Francisco. We have two league teams and a good social team. Our first eleven features several ex-USA national players, one ex test bowler and one of the top younsters in the USA Under 19 team. And Peter, we do have a tremendous 'community spirit at the cricket'. But that's not why I'm writing this. I'm shocked and angered to hear about ZERO representatives from the USA Cricket Association at Cooperstown. It could be because the USACA still has not filled the vacant CEO position (although I might be wrong on that). But even then, the executive team should be ashamed of itself. I often hear stories about the overly political and poorly managed USACA. If cricket is going to flourish in the USA, which I believe is possible, there needs to be a commitment of money to pay senior administrators who know what they are doing and have 100% passion and commitment to the cause. God dammit give that job to me! And bring on the feedback to this post!

Posted by Deb K Das on (June 5, 2011, 13:28 GMT)

In my nearly forty years of covering North American cricket as Executive Editor of the "Cricket in North America" Web site, I am not surprised at the absence of the USACA from the proceedings at Cooperstown. The USA Cricket Association is totally embroiled in internal disputes; and the latest developments in Canada mean that the management of all North American Cricket is now in shambles.

In fact, real North American cricket has been inexorably moving south, and west. Look to Michigan, where corporate participation has produced an innovative, self-supporting cricket program; or California, where a national "junior cricket" program is in place, along with a "Junior Hall of Fame". Or try Miami, where Cricket Council USA has been running well-attended tournaments for the past few years; or Houston, where the near-defunct Astrodome is being re-furbished as a possible future home for cricket; or even Vancouver BC, home to the largest cricket program in North America

Posted by David K on (June 5, 2011, 7:21 GMT)

"June 4 and 5 is being billed as “Cricket Weekend” in Cooperstown at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Several activities are scheduled, but USACA is not represented in any of them."

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Not surprising really and probably for the best. If cricket ever succeeds in the USA in any real sense, it will be in spite of the USACA and not because of it. Just saw the BBC's cricket in America, which - despite being only a year or two old - is laughingly over-optimistic. Nearly every "gain" listed in that documentary has been lost in just 2 years. The only man at the USACA who had any vision at all was fired. The USACA is a horribly unfunny joke, and I repeat, if cricket takes off here it will be in spite of the USACA.

Posted by ROGER PERSAUD on (June 3, 2011, 16:03 GMT)

There are serious cricket fans in the US,I am one of them. As a player for two decades we experienced frustration dealing with USACA the leadership leads a lot to be desired. My team and conference did host the US Cricket trials in 1987 in Tulsa OK all matches started on time and were played at Southern Hills Country club we also advertised on TV and had numerous non paying spectators. Prior to that we hosted the Tamil Nadu Colts and five Indian atar players Sunil Gavaskar Gundappa Vishwanauth Maninder Singh Anjuman Gaekwad and Kapil Dev, at the events I participated in, in both Tulsa and Dallas we had numerous spectators. I did not know about "Cricket weekend" at cooperstown but I am trying to fky to NY tomorrow from TAMPA to check it out.

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