January 17, 2007

A Ball And A Stick: Your Game Or Mine?

Last April my son began his second season with his Little League team. As a father, I was proud to see my son as he eagerly took the field and applied the skills I helped teach him. I enjoy watching him play more than I do watching professional baseball. One of the side benefits to going to his games is that I get to meet and talk baseball with other serious minded and knowledgeable baseball fans.

On my son's team last year was a young boy from India. His father stood along side me during the first days of practice watching in wonderment as his son took to the sport as if he had been playing for years. The father was confused by the game, its rules, and the overall objectives. "Isn't this just like cricket?" he would ask me. I joked that I know little or nothing about cricket except that no one gets signed to play the game for millions of dollars per season. At least not in the United States they don't.

The dad, an affable gentleman who was also in the Information Technology field like me, and who couldn't care less about talking shop with a colleague. He wanted to know more about this game which his son was so mysteriously drawn to. At each practice, and at every game, the dad would eventually single me out and ask me a question about what the kids were doing on the field.

"Right now" I would tell him, "these kids are just learning. The coaches aren't counting balls and strikes, half of them are milling around the field looking for insects or for rocks to toss at their friends, and the final score could end up being 59 to 58." He didn't get it. Immediately he started ranting about what a great game cricket is compared to baseball. It was then that I sensed that he was a "cricket snob" as he would sneer and shake his head when I'd tell him about base running strategy, or different ways pitchers pitch to right-handed or left-handed batters, or whatever. His response would always be something along the lines of "In cricket, you don't have to..." and that's where I'd tune him out. The guy was a bore who wouldn't listen, and I'm too dignified to get into an argument about which game was "better".

He didn't know this, but when I was a police officer, I would sit in my patrol car and watch organized cricket games played on the field behind the Edgemere Houses in Far Rockaway. These guys were really good, and I had fun being a spectator to this interesting game played with a ball and a stick much like the game of baseball. These players, recent immigrants, I learned, were proud to show off their skills to "newbies" like me. They had crisp, white uniforms; they they tended to the lawns, and had traveling teams. I still don't know much about the game, but I know it is a serious sport which means an awful lot to many different people. That is why I resented it when this father would make comments about how superior cricket was to baseball without knowing anything about the sport. If I sat nearby the field in Edgemere spouting ignorant comments about cricket to the passionate fans who cheered their teams, what would that make me? This man, to me, was doing the equivalent of that.

At the final game of the little league "season" for my seven year old son's team, the "Cricket Dad" as I would call him sauntered up to me with his hands behind his back in an attempt to goad me into another baseball-cricket confrontation. Maybe he enjoyed this sort of banter, I thought. Perhaps his anti-baseball repertoire and his love for cricket afforded him the same pleasure that's often found between Mets/Yankees, or Red Sox/Yankees fans. I decided to give him a second chance. It was then he told me that during the week he managed to watch both a Yankee game and a Mets game on TV. He was pleased that the announcers helped to explain the game and I told him that the networks employ former players as analysts. Once again, he began to pepper me with questions about the game, but his attitude changed. Gone was his distaste for baseball. It didn’t hurt that his son had a natural talent for playing and he had several key hits in recent games. The coaches often told the father that his son “could play.” Possibly that was the catalyst he needed to appreciate baseball. In much the same way I am uninformed about cricket, I wouldn’t begrudge anyone loving their sport. The man was becoming more likable in my eyes because of his sudden objective curiosity.

At that point, I was more eager to talk baseball with him even if he only had a rudimentary understanding of the game because his heart was in it. He wanted to know what the announcer of one particular game meant when he said that “There are no secrets in baseball.” After giving details to him about advanced scouting, the use of video, and pitchers having to make adjustments to pitch to a batter as the batter makes adjustments to the pitcher he’s facing, and teams play the field to the way a batter hits, etc. He sighed in frustration and asked “If everyone knows how the other person plays, then how can one team lose to the other? It doesn’t make sense." I smiled, and I felt a bit of ashamed of myself for answering him the way I did because I disliked his cricket snobbery. Looking him in the eye, I said, “That’s what makes baseball so great. On any day, any team can beat any team.”

The dad shook his head, but I could tell he was hooked. He looked like he had another question, but it had to wait because just then, my son hit a double.

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