Out To The Ball Game

We headed to Cambridge on Saturday to have lunch with my nephew:

[Photo by me, 2018]

England – and western Europe – are currently enduring a heatwave; over the weekend, it exceeded 30C both days. There has been no appreciable rain for over two weeks. In fact, I can’t recall the last time it rained…

…which is quite a statement for Britain.

[Photo by me, 2018.]

We headed to The Ivy Cambridge Brasserie, where we cooled off before we ate:

[Peach Bellini. Photo by me, 2018]

It has a “smart casual” dress code, and the food was not pretentious or overly “artistic.” We enjoyed it. I’d certainly go there again.

It was then around noon and England was only hours away from playing Sweden in the Football (Soccer) World Cup. During our meal, we realized that the overwhelming majority of diners were women – in twos or in groups. We were unsure what that may have meant, but we could only chuckle that perhaps they were avoiding their men and the coming “big game.”

Yesterday (Sunday), another sport was on television here: an England v. India T20 cricket match. If you are an Indian or an English reader, or a cricket aficionado, please bear with me. This next bit is mostly for readers unfamiliar with the game.

[Photo by me, 2018]

Cricket has three major “codes”: “Five day,” “One Day,” and “T20.” The most “historical” is the “Five Day” format. Purists consider “Five Day” true cricket. (The other two are, old boy, oh, simply giving into the beast of television and our rushed culture of immediate gratification.)

“One Day” is just what it sounds like. It’s a shortened form of the game. That is the format of the ICC (Cricket) World Cup.

“T20” is the newest format. It’s about two-three hours long. That’s a good length for an afternoon out; and it’s exciting as the code requires a side try to get as many runs as possible as quickly as they can.

[Photo by me, 2018]

My wife has read that the New York Yankees baseball team is playing a game (or perhaps several) here in England v. another MLB team (I forget which one she said it was) in 2019. Apparently Major League Baseball (MLB) is trying what the American NFL has attempted. Baseball wants to attract some of the UK sports market.

There are big problems with that, though. First, unlike the NFL, aside from baseball cap sales MLB baseball has little daily visibility here. MLB games are shown only on pay TV that most British probably don’t watch. I’d bet most viewers are Americans living here; or they are British or other Europeans who’ve been to America and watch it as an “American novelty.” I can understand that latter: in August, when we visit America, we are taking a friend who has never been to America, and who wants to see a MLB game when there, to a Washington Nationals game when we are in DC a few days.

Second: the British have their own bat and ball game. And more importantly, its centuries’ old heritage. It’s called cricket, of course:

[Photo by me, 2018]

This is actually fascinating if we think about this. Baseball is in many ways “the bat and ball game” where the US has had an outsized cultural reach (since baseball began to appear in the US in the 1840s) just around its official national frontiers: in Canada, Mexico, Central America to upper South America, and Spanish speaking islands in the Caribbean (including Cuba, where it took hold pre-Castro). The Japanese had begun to adopt it as their then rulers deliberately attempted to “Westernize/Americanize” before WWII, but it became especially big with the US post-WWII occupation of Japan (and Japanese now play it so well their league is considered the “second best” in the world after US MLB). Interestingly, and possibly much as with Japan, it is big in Taiwan, which had for decades, and still has, a close (if awkward, due to its political situation with the People’s Republic of China) relationship with the US.

Cricket has pretty much followed the contours of the British Empire and now the Commonwealth post-US independence: to India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and West Indian islands once ruled by Britain. (Likely reflecting the United States’s “800 lb.” gorilla status in North America, a major exception is Commonwealth country Canada prefers baseball over cricket. Perhaps the sporting tastes of Quebec’s large France-descended population had an impact too. Indeed I’d once read an English observer having noted that if French aristocracy had passed their time playing cricket with commoners instead of all of the other nonsense they were involved in, there would probably have been no French Revolution.)

Cricket and baseball may have evolved from the same source(s), but they are now clearly distinctive games and are in fact national cultural emblems of sorts. I enjoy watching cricket. I also enjoy baseball: I was raised with it not only as an American; my (maternal) grandfather played for a Boston Red Sox minor league club in the mid-1930s, until an elbow injury ended his major league hopes, so baseball was extra-important in my family.

[Photo by me, 2018.]

Oh, and while we’re speaking of baseball…

  • Frances: “A rough lumber man from the Northwest?”
  • John: “I must remember to yell ‘Timber!’ occasionally.”
  • Frances: “Here comes the clever part. You’re just not convincing, John. You’re like an American in an English movie. You don’t talk like an American tourist.”
  • John: “The guidebooks say, ‘Don’t behave like a tourist.'”
  • Frances: “You never mention business or baseball or television or wage freezes or Senate probes.”
  • John: “The things I left America to forget.”

…after India defeated England, we decided to watch a classic Hollywood film: 1955’s To Catch A Thief, starring Cary Grant’s American long resident in France (“John”) and Grace Kelly’s American new money heiress visiting France (“Frances”) romping around in Cannes:

[Photo by me, 2018.]

“1955.” That’s now nearly seventy years ago. Because of baseball it is highly unlikely cricket will make a major impact anytime soon in the United States, just as baseball is not going to make major inroads here in the UK because of cricket.

Have a good Monday, whether you prefer baseball, or cricket, or… 😊