What am I (Evander) doing here? I am witness to an event unique in NYC-professional sports history. And I’m loving every minute of it. I even brought along my Canon portrait lens to capture the sights: the last days of the Pepsi Porch (to be replaced by the Ovaltine Overpriced Seats or maybe the LSD Lounge I joke), the giant images outside the stadium of Hodges and Seaver; and oh yes, guys inside the coliseum named Sachin Tendulkar, Muttiah Murallitheran, Ricky Ponting, Sir Curtly Ambrose, Shaun Pollock, and many more.
The way Ruth and Gehrig barnstormed the Far East in the 1930s, the way “the Pearl” attempted to interest largely indifferent Americans in soccer during the 1960s and 1970s, an all-star—make that an all-time all-star—so an amalgam of international cricket stars have descended from the firmament to entertain, to recapture their glory, to instruct on the mighty elegance of cricket.
Purists cluck: This is not cricket! (On the Houston leg of the tour, T20 was played…under a dome.) There is no real drama for one. I am in no position to disagree. Yet, I do. My only puzzled exposure to the noble game had been exactly forty summers ago in Cambridge, county-cricket spread over several evenings, played into 9:30 in the evening—UK-summer dusk. We talk about this in Right off the Bat. But this afternoon, thanks to Martin, to the work on the book, I had a pretty fair notion what I was watching. At the risk of gushing, let me say this: Cricket is majestic. Although I cannot exclaim I came, I saw, I conquered, I did experience the best even if at three-quarters’ speed.
Sadly, I had a mishap rewinding my spool of b&w. All the photos are lost I’m afraid. When shooting with a superior lens, occasionally a photographer sees a good one, long before the image is developed and printed. I had at least half-a-dozen good ones. Oh well.
The match was on 11/7. Our book had been published on a 7/11. It was 19 years and a little over since 9/21, that pristine first day of fall, Fan Appreciation Day, when I took Martin to his first baseball game. He caught on right away—aided no doubt by a familiarity with rounders. Thanks to Martin, I caught on last week, if not as keenly as he did during those far-off days ago. Above all, there is not a shred of doubt that this 11/7/15 was a new beginning. I now know for sure, firsthand, that there are World Series and there are world series.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata. Shantih shantih shantih
The history of cricket, like that of baseball, is marbled by the legacy of racism and national identity. The case of Kagiso Rabada, the young South African fast bowler, illustrates that the issue has not gone away, as this article from the Africa Is a Country website attests.
Evander and I (Martin) witnessed history on Saturday when we attended the first Cricket All-Stars T20 smackdown in Citi Field, home of the Mets baseball team, in Flushing, New York. The Cricket All-Stars featured a “who’s who” of the world’s best cricketers from the last three decades: from the venerable West Indian fast bowlers Courtney Walsh and Sir Curtley Ambrose (both aged 53) to comparative young uns, such as the Sri Lankan giants Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara (a mere 38), who only retired from the game this year. In fact, six of the eight leading run scorers and three of the top five wicket takers in cricket history were present.
The teams were led by the Albert Spalding of global cricket, Shane Warne (who doubles as the greatest leg-spinner the world has seen), and the most famous player in the world, Sachin Tendulkar—whose every utterance, move, and sighting on the big screen was greeted with rapturous cheers from a crowd of 30,000, the vast majority of whom were of Indian ancestry and for whom the chance to see him in the flesh was an opportunity they never thought would be theirs. It’s hard to convey the level and pitch of excitement that hummed around the ground at the fact that “The Little Master” was gracing us with his presence. Suffice to say, however, that when the crowd saw a sign that had a picture of Sachin with the legend “God Blessed the United States,” the sentiments were a mixture of admiration at the fan’s wit and an acknowledgment that perhaps, indeed, this was a darsana.
It was perhaps only natural that, given the age of the players, the game itself was more an echo of glories past than present cut-and-thrust. But it was a real game, and you could still see the skills at which these greats had excelled, and, in former Australian captain Ricky Ponting’s case, the competitive spirit that drove them to the top of their sport.
I’m not sure what the cricketers themselves made of the whole experience. But it’s possible that the titans were as awestruck by the lineup, the location, and the masses of cricket fans as we were of them. When South African all-rounder Shaun Pollock struck a delivery from the great South African fast bowler Allan Donald only to be caught on the boundary by Kallis, it was difficult not to be as amazed by that combination as the fact that the three of them had taken 1043 Test wickets combined. When Virendar Sehwag strolled out to open the batting with Sachin, you were observing a pair that had amassed 74 Test centuries and 26,699 one-day-international runs between them. That would have been a moment worth pondering whether you were on the field or not.
This was not the first international cricket game in the United States, nor even in New York City (that honor goes to a match up between the U.S. and Canada in 1844). But there was something momentous about the occasion that made it seem unique and, like many sightings of the divine, transformational. When Pakistan speedster Shoaib Akhtar steamed in from the “Apple End” and delivered a nasty rising delivery to the usually phlegmatic human Dreadnought Jacques Kallis, and then beamed a broad smile that proclaimed, “See! I’ve still got it!”), the crowd roared their approval. Nobody cared that the Rawalpindi Express now more often runs on the local track; it reminded them of former glories and of the many hours they’d spent watching these masters ply their trade when both fan and cricketer were young. It was nostalgia condensed to its elemental, nucleic simplicity—and no less explosive for it.
The Cricket All-Stars play in Houston tomorrow (November 11) and then go on to Los Angeles. It seems almost certain that they’ll be back—a little wiser, a lot richer, and with even more fanfare—to NYC, and Right Off the Bat recommends you book your tickets as soon as you can. We can guarantee some kind of revelation.
Last night, I (Parth) watched my first baseball game from start to finish. It was the ALCS game six between, and if I may use the term, “my” Toronto Blue Jays and the Kansas City Royals. I knew the basic rules of the game, but to watch it live became more than just an exercise in sports fandom. It became an academic exercise. And more than that, it became an exercise in accepting American sports—an essential part of North American life.
I moved to Toronto eleven years ago. And Toronto’s silverware cupboard has been rather bare in these times. I do not see Toronto as a great sports city because it does not host a team that has won anything substantial in the recent memory. Perhaps that’s why, I am not a sports fan of American and Canadian sports.
Last night’s game seemed different, however. People in this town have ebullient. Blue Jays insignia has been plenty to see. From little children to senior citizens. The city for the past two weeks was on a Jays buzz. A great many who were turned off with the sport became fervent supporters of Jose Bautista and Troy Tulowitzki.
For me, it was the first time, I worked out possible baseball strategies like a manager. That is perhaps an advantage of being a lover of cricket. You come to baseball with the expectation that you would be more than just a dumb watcher. You will analyze the game. You will analyze the mathematical genius of each play. You will appreciate the statistics side of the game. You are accustomed to the fact that the game is not played by the country’s best athletes. For that mindless nonsense, you have to turn to soccer or football. But cricket and baseball are played by players who love the mental aspect of the game as much or if not more than the physical aspect.
And I fell in love with baseball yesterday.
Even though Toronto lost, and just like any losing sports fan I blame the umpires, it was a thoroughly beautiful experience. I can see myself being an eager fan. On to the World Series for me!—which, I’m told, will be the first since 1903 inception with neither team going back to that year.
Let’s go “my” New York Metropolitans!
I (Evander) promised myself a few years ago to read more Russian literature. After all, the culture (technically Ukrainian and also probably Lithuanian) represents three-eighths of my heritage. And I remembered Hemingway saying that he fought Ivan Turgenev to a draw but that he wouldn’t get into the ring with Tolstoy. Wise thinking.
I knocked down a little Dostoevsky on family life and then some Pushkin on card-playing. But I still have not got into the reading ring with Fathers and Sons (original title page pictured, left).
Nonetheless, the Turgenev-book title was brought to mind when I recently read a wonderful excerpt by another writer I (unfortunately) had not encountered, Kevin Cook. The story is from The Dad Report: Fathers, Sons, and Baseball Families.
Many have written on the quasi-mystical and teary-eyed relationships between and with their fathers and baseball. He taught me the game. He took me to the game. We bonded over the game.
Cook’s take is tinctured a little differently. As he tells it, in 1969 he was “Warren Township’s preteen phenom.” His ERA was 0.20. In the fathers-sons game, against men in their thirties who had barely graduated the county softball beer league, Young Cool Cook was mowin’ ’em down!
But then, almost as an afterthought, up to bat came papa Cook, Art. Art had been a minor-league star in Canada. He was maybe ten years older than the other fathers, who regarded him as the grizzled old guy. He didn’t have a chance against The Kid: his kid. But Kid Kevin knew the history. Where others, older but not wiser, observed fat, Kevin saw Ruthian muscle and pigeon-toed grace in a five-foot-eight frame. Pop had spent most of his time on the bench this day, observing his stud son and these dads, biding his time.
No spoilers here. But you know what happens, as papa pointed his bat Ruth-style to the right-field bleachers, and then got a 65 mph meatball.
Fathers and sons….
They were all there, the ones still alive who faced or were touched by the 90-year-old Berra: Sandy Koufax (the greatest pitcher, about whom Yogi spoke after the 1963 Series drubbing of the New York Yankees by the Los Angeles Dodgers: “I can see why he won 25 games. What I can’t understand is how he lost 5.”); Mister October (tho the title could have easily belonged to Berra, who was on the winning side of ten), Reggie Jackson; Joe Torre, who has disproved any thought that there are no second acts in American lives; New York City Cardinal Timothy Dolan, having concluded several whirlwind days with Pope Francis.
(All of this helped baseball fans forget the ugly incident involving veteran Jonathan Papelbon’s choking one of the new young greats and teammate, Bryce Harper, right in the dugout.)
Quips of the cracker-barrel-philosopher sort are surely overdone. (When you come to a fork in the road, take it!) The stunted baseball career of son Dale—cocaine seemed to find him—had to be one of the deep wounds of Yogi’s long life. But maybe no one lives to 90 by wasting emotion.
This blog and Web site are devoted to sport, and on the field few at catcher or any position were greater. Witness 414 strikeouts against 358 home runs. (By comparison, Derek Jeter struck out 1,840 times with 260 home runs to show.) On a club that starred sluggers Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, it was Yogi Berra who led in runs-batted-in over seven consecutive years.
When Berra was a rookie in 1946, he was once in the on-deck circle swinging something like five bats to warm up his huge muscles. (Berra has been called an anthropologist’s dream.) DiMaggio gave his teammate that withering look: This was not the Yankees way. A little later, Casey Stengel would be Berra’s fifth and most influential Yankees manager. Like Berra, called a clown prior to winning five World Series in a row, Casey said he could never have done it without his Mini Me behind home plate. Or words to that effect.
Thank you, cricket and baseball fans all. This is our 575th blog on Right off the Bat! We’re also on Facebook.