A breath of fresh air
It’s not often that cricketers in the USA get to experience an event that is properly organised. A case in point was the USACA Twenty20 Nationals two weekends ago in New Jersey. Making arrangements for things like obtaining ground permits anything earlier than two days before the tournament is a futuristic concept. The first match of the day never started on time. The grounds used were appalling, the grass in the outfields ranged from six to twelve inches high. Hardly any signage or promotional work was done to let locals know that there was a national championship taking place right in their backyard.
So it’s safe to say I was pleasantly surprised upon arriving for the New York City Public Schools Athletic League High School All-Star Games as part of the NYC Mayor’s Cup festivities last Saturday afternoon. To be accurate, I was first surprised when I received an email three days prior to the event from the organizers, NYC & Company, inviting any area sports reporters and photographers to the event. I replied saying that I would be attending and then sent a subsequent email overnight requesting roster information for the four teams involved. By 12:30 p.m., I received a file which included each player’s name, high school and current year.
While approaching Gateway Park in Brooklyn, I could see banners hanging just outside the boundary. When I parked and walked up to the ground, American flags were flying proudly at the entrance. An information table was set up in a medium sized tent, with trophies on display and free event t-shirts for all players and anyone else who wanted one.
A staffer introduced himself to me and upon realizing that I was a member of the media, immediately produced a hard copy of the four team rosters just in case I hadn’t printed one out myself. He then told me where to go to get scorecards from the semi-final matches and the best person to talk to in order to get quotes about The Mayor’s Cup and what the citywide competition is all about. Enter Mike Hopper, Vice President of Sports Marketing at NYC & Company.
"We work really closely with all the high school leagues in New York City so public schools, Catholic schools and independent schools,” Hopper said. “Hopefully cricket in the future will have some Catholic and independent schools playing that can participate in the event. This one is specifically for public schools. We’ve got All-Stars from Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx and Manhattan.”
The Mayor’s Cup originally began in 1946 as an exhibition series between the New York Yankees and the New York Giants, and later the Brooklyn Dodgers, but ended when the Giants and Dodgers moved to the west coast in 1957. According to Baseball-Reference.com, the games acted as fundraisers to benefit sandlot baseball in New York City. The series restarted when the expansion Mets arrived in 1963 until it was discontinued in 1983. Hopper says the concept was revived a few years ago to highlight the best young talent from high schools across the city. This year, 13,000 athletes comprising the “Best in the City” across the five boroughs competed in 13 different sports including baseball, basketball, lacrosse, track and field, wrestling, soccer and now cricket.
“I had zero experience with cricket. I’ve watched a few matches on TV but a friend of mine that actually works down at City Hall, he’s a deputy mayor, came to me and said, ‘Listen, cricket is the fastest growing sport in New York City so you guys got to add this to your series’ and that’s how we got here today,” Hopper said. “We’ve actually seen the most traffic on our Facebook page based around cricket. The community is really interested in it and hopefully this continues to grow.”
Hopper says that his crew arrived at the ground at 8 a.m., two hours before play started, in order to set everything up so that the first of two semi-final Twenty20 matches got underway on time. Before the championship Twenty20 match between Brooklyn and Queens began, starting line-ups were announced over a PA system and each player trotted out to the field to be recognized. The organisers also brought along a photographer as well as a video crew to capture the day’s events.
Even though there was so much to be excited about, not everything was perfect on the day. It only took until the third over of the championship before an umpire had called a seven-ball over, the first of several in the match. While the players were eager to be there, most parents were missing in action. The chase was cut short due to bad light, bringing about a premature end to a game that could have gone either way in the last few overs. Brooklyn was awarded the match having scored their runs at a faster rate per over.
The organisers started to set up for the trophy presentation by bringing a marquee on the field with “The Mayor’s Cup 2011/Best in the City” logo plastered all over it, continuing the ongoing theme of the day: professionalism. Each player received a medal while the top performers were recognized with shiny plaques. On the opposite end of the spectrum, one very memorable closing ceremony at a national tournament in 2009 was marked by a wooden table on which trophies shared the same space as red plastic cups filled with rum and coke.
I left Gateway Park on Saturday night pondering how a group of people from NYC & Company that had no understanding of cricket prior to showing up that day could execute a cricket event so well while America’s highest-ranking cricket administrators, who claim to have a vast knowledge of the game, embarrass themselves on a regular basis when it comes to planning an event properly. The Mayor’s Cup showed that there is hope for cricket in this country… if the game is placed in the right hands. Then again, Morgan Freeman’s character in “The Shawshank Redemption” warned us all, “Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”
Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey