It’s time for a showdown. Long days and nights of summer sporting affairs are opening up before us, and, until recently, I would have said that there was only one game worth courting: baseball.
But after spending the last two summers playing cricket in England, I can feel my mind’s eye, once so faithful to America’s favorite pastime, wandering. I feel it lusting after country fields and tea breaks at the very moment I eat my good ole hot dog on the third-base line. The question continually raging is this: Are these just phantom yearnings or does cricket really have something over baseball? Which is the greater game?
There are myriad factors to consider, some more superficial than others. Here, follow some of the categories (and their winners) that might best help lead us to an answer.
Position Names: Cricket. At any given time, 11 players from one cricket team are fielding while two batsmen from the other try to score. Should you refer to the position of one of those fielders on the so-called cricket pitch, you might reference any of the following: wicket keeper, gully, fine leg, square leg, third man, slip or silly mid-off. It’s a veritable linguistic circus, hardly to be rivaled by the achingly literal “pitcher” or “catcher.”
Length of game: Baseball. Baseball games might seem longer than those of other American sports, but they hardly hold a candle to the four days a cricket game often takes to complete. If baseball is a TV movie, cricket is an all-weekend Lifetime marathon. As engrossing and rewarding as it might be to invest that much time in one event, it’s a logistical nightmare to set aside that much time for anything week after week.
Outfits: Cricket. Cricket uniforms, which invariably consist of plain all-white pants, tops and shoes (with floppy white hat optional), are easy on the eyes. The players manage to actually look classy while playing competitive sports in their ribbed sweater-vests, and that accomplishment outweighs the monotony of their duds.
Baseball uniforms, while perhaps not so elegant, can be an extra source of pride for the team; players bear their loyalties on their chests in team colors of their own. However, some baseball players have recently (and ominously) donned distracting logos, too. If only for the World Baseball Classic, the Puerto Rican team sporting bright-yellow Best Buy tags the size of guinea pigs on their shoulders, I'm going to give this one to the cricketers.
Throwing: Baseball. The cricket equivalent of pitching is called bowling, and each requires its own nuanced skill set. Throwing the right type of ball at the right moment requires thoughtfulness and precision in both cases, but baseball takes this category for two reasons.
One is that the American game wins in terms of speed. Although this is due purely to throwing style, the fastest bowlers rarely make it into three digits, while pitchers regularly top 100 mph. The other reason is versatility. Although bowlers and pitchers might need to master similarly diverse throws, a bowler lacks the added dimension of picking off base-stealers. And everyone loves a nice, old-fashioned runner-pitcher face-off.
Catching: Cricket. The balls in baseball might be going slightly faster when they cross the plate, but baseball fielders have big leather gloves they can use to catch the subsequent hits. Cricket fielders stop those blazing shots sans glove (or any other protection for that matter). However much cricket players might look like sissies prancing around in their white outfits, there’s nothing as gutsy as their taking line drives with the palms of their hands.
Ambiance: Baseball. On a big-league basis, the games have much in common; thousands of fans gather en masse and pay outrageous prices for mass-produced food. On a smaller level, though, the atmosphere is palpably different. At local cricket games, people bring blankets and lounge on the sidelines, entertaining themselves during the hours of lulls that come between great moments of action in the game.
Although excitement might not be lacking overall, wild cheers are: There are instead polite claps and similarly demure sandwiches eaten halfway through the match. Baseball, while not as thrilling as, say, European soccer games (filled as they are with unified merry-making and spirited abuse), does supply a sense of community and continual tension that cricket doesn’t always provide.
And that ambiance (drum roll please) is what leans my scales toward baseball, despite my cricket itch. Well, that and my imagination tells me I would be tarred, feathered and made to mingle with the business end of a bat if I didn’t show some serious American loyalty during playoff season.
Katy Steinmetz is a columnist and reporter for the Missourian. She moved to Columbia after spending two years teaching in Winchester, England, and one year in Edinburgh, Scotland. She has freelanced for a variety of publications, including 417 Magazine in Springfield, Mo., and the Guardian in London. Katy plans to complete her MU master's degree in 2010.