Cricket comes to Napa Valley
Calistoga could become the cricket capitol of California, thanks largely to players from all over the world who grew up with the game, settled in the Napa Valley and formed the Napa Valley Cricket Club three years ago.
They established a home field at the Napa County Fairgrounds, registered as a nonprofit organization with the State, formed a board of directors and have been meeting monthly.
The club is sponsored by local businesses, including several whose workers came to the valley from countries where cricket is popular.
That’s quite a few countries, since cricket is the second most popular sport in the world, behind soccer.
“If you’re raised with baseball, that’s what you know, but we were raised with cricket,” said Napa marketer Andrew “Heals” Healy, the NVCC vice president.
Healy, originally from Ireland, concedes the sport can be boring to anyone who doesn’t understand the rules. For example, most Americans can’t fathom how a game can run six days without either team winning.
However, what separates cricket from baseball, he said, is the “level of participation” among players when it comes to strategy.
“In cricket, you don’t just hit and run – there is a more tactical element. You can hit, then choose not to run. In cricket, the players are more empowered and the batsmen make strategic decisions. In baseball, the coach makes all the strategic decisions.”
Of course, he said, there are a great many similarities between the two games, since baseball was derived from cricket, first played in England in 1550. The first international match, in 1844, was played in New York between the United States and Canada.
Members of the one of the first American cricket clubs, the Philadelphia Cricket Club, formed in 1854, visited the Napa Valley Cricket Club last September. The Napa club has also hosted Beverly Hills Hollywood CC and Alvin Kallicharran, a former West Indian captain. Getting more cricket fans to visit Calistoga is part of the NVCC strategy to grow the sport locally.
“Bring a bottle, a chair and some shade,” Healy advises.
Although the Calistoga cricket field is not perfect, it’s good enough, said Healy. It only has to be perfect on two sides, not on all sides.
The NVCC is interested in getting a field approved by the International Cricket Council so that it could host the Northern California cricket championship.
If that were to happen, he said, Calistoga could become a destination for teams from larger leagues, and other states.
The club is hoping to get the attention of Calistoga city, school and fairgrounds officials working on a recreational master plan that could include a regulation-sized, 200-yard by 200-yard cricket field.
The NVCC has 31 players, mostly ex-pats who came here from other countries to work in the wine industry, and most of them over 30 years of age. The foreign countries represented by the NVCC include Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan, England and Ireland.
The club plays 14 games per year, mostly at home, from May to October. They opened the season with a match featuring Australians and Americans on one side and the rest of the world on the other. Some 200 spectators showed up.
The players often take turns explaining the rules of the game over a public-address system.
Phil “Bourkie” Bourke, the president, is with Treasury Wine Estates, and insurance agent Scott Kenwood serves as secretary.
Three are three American players, including Bret Weis, Jared “Weapon” Thatcher and Jack Evanko.
Thatcher, who works at Six Flags and serves as treasurer of the club, got into playing cricket with Indian roommates at Graceland University in South Central Iowa.
“Once you start participating it’s easy to get hooked,” said Thatcher. “There is a strategy and thought behind what you do, so that once you learn the game and how it works and how it is played, the same things happen that happen to baseball fans.”
Thatcher said a regulation-sized cricket ground would be able to host tournaments, exhibition matches with national teams or even international touring teams that come through the valley from time to time.
“Events like these would bring in more hotel and winery revenue,” he said. “When teams visit we make a big effort to get them to stay somewhere local and take them to visit wineries and other businesses where players work.”
Bourke, who came to the Napa Valley from Melbourne, Australia, oversees club operations and strategy, manages a five-member board and organizes several committees.
“We are an adult social club, and our mission is to play social cricket for adults and to promote it as a social pastime,” said Bourke.
At the same time, Bourke said, several players are offering to bring cricket to the Napa public school system.
“We are working with schools to promote cricket through elementary schools and middle schools, to get it into the schools, initially as a pilot program in the summer, and later, into the school year in the fall.”
Vichy Elementary School in Napa, for example, has four members of the NVCC who have offered to help produce a demonstration game with the help of the United States Youth Cricket Association. They are also offering to help provide equipment and materials for P.E. teachers.
“It is a very international game,” reminds Bourke. “If it gets into college, it’s possible for American kids to learn the game and get good at it around the world. It’s not as big as soccer, which is truly a world sport, but if you become good at it, you will have opportunities around the world.”