June 3, 2011

Cricket comes to Cooperstown

June 4 and 5 is being billed as “Cricket Weekend” in Cooperstown at the Baseball Hall of Fame

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