Cricket club hopes exhibition match will be a hit with W. Baltimore youth Team members set to inaugurate home in Leon Day Park

September 19, 1997|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,SUN STAFF

Expect heads to turn tomorrow as the Baltimore Cricket Club introduces the gentlemanly sport to West Baltimore youngsters who don't know a wicket from a wombat.

The group also is inaugurating a new home in Leon Day Park. In an exhibition match against Washington-area players, the club hopes to attract youths from nearby basketball courts and other hangouts to check out the sport.

"This is what we promised the city: Provide us the field and we will teach the sport to young people," said John Hay, a longtime club member. "This is just the beginning."

Cricket began centuries ago in England, then spread across the former empire, from the West Indies to Australia. Baseball traces its roots to cricket.

It's rather startling to come upon a cricket match, with players dressed distinctively in stark white pants and long-sleeved white shirts. Cricket is played by two teams of 11 members, each taking a turn at bat. The playing field has two wickets 22 yards apart where the batsmen face the bowlers. Batsmen score runs by hitting the ball far enough so they can run back and forth lTC between the wickets before the ball is recovered. The team scoring the most runs wins.

Hay, a native Jamaican, and his 24-member club are passionate about the sport that most of them learned as children in their native Caribbean countries. Though the Baltimore club is 20 years old, the sport has never really developed a following here.

The players say that's partly because they played on makeshift fields for years, in places not ideal for spectators.

For instance, the past several years at Reed Bird Island Park in Cherry Hill were at times trying, with the occasional car flying across the field during a match, usually fishermen in a hurry to get to a popular spot along the Patapsco River's southern bank.

This season, the city installed posts to prevent the cars from cutting through that field, but by then plans were in the works for the new field -- a verdant swath in a low-lying area surrounded by century-old trees and known as Bloomingdale Oval, just north of Edmondson Avenue on Franklintown Road.

A month ago, it was renamed in honor of Leon Day, the late Negro League and Hall of Fame pitcher.

The recently created cricket field is the first of many improvements to the long-neglected oval, which by next summer is to become a recreational showplace with renovated playing fields for softball, baseball, soccer and basketball, complete with bleachers and lights.

The Orioles donated $100,000 to the effort, matched by the Trust for Public Land, a private, nonprofit conservation group. The Parks & People Foundation will pay for the construction.

Chris Ryer, head of the Trust for Public Land's Baltimore office, calls the cricket field "the first step in the renaissance of Leakin and Gwynns Falls parks."

The trust is helping oversee the development of the nearby Gwynns Falls Trail, a 14-mile hiking and biking path connecting neighborhoods to the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River, the Inner Harbor and regional trails in surrounding counties.

It took weeks to prepare the cricket pitch, which is a mixture of clay, sand and rocks.

About five dump truckloads of clay were added to the mix to create a hard surface.

After the noon match, which is expected to end about 4 p.m., players will go over the finer points of the game with spectators, giving them a chance to hold a paddle-like cricket bat, which would never be mistaken for a Louisville Slugger.

Like baseball, cricket is a social event tied up in historic ritual.

Spectators will be invited to join a post-match feast of curried goat, grilled chicken and other Caribbean and American dishes.

"The meal after the game shows that you are a gentleman -- you're able to sit down and break bread with your adversary who may have just beaten you," said Noel Godfrey, president of the cricket club and a bowler. "It's a lot of fun."

"I'm going to take a bunch of youngsters down there," said Betty Hawkins, vice president of the Franklintown Road Community Association.

"I hope it opens up other horizons -- let them know there are other things to learn about."

Pub Date: 9/19/97

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