A Worldly Pitch

A $60 million park may bring Broward into the bigs of the world's second most popular sport

Kids in those nations shave the broad, rigid leaves of palm trees with cutlasses to fashion bats. They create balls by wrapping a rock with strips of inner tube or rubber bands and paper, or burning the fuzz off a tennis ball with matches, or holding found plastic over a fire and squeezing it into a sphere, or scavenging sour oranges and unripe grapefruit. They play games in the frantic 15-minute breaks during school and dream of perhaps making it to the pro leagues in England or Australia. The players in South Florida remember as kids taking radios to bed to listen to cricket matches from around the world.

"I always say that cricket is like the religion in the Caribbean," says Jeff Miller, a player on the Barbados team that is competing in Opa-locka. "It doesn't matter what political philosophy you have: When our national team plays, we all rally behind the West Indies team."

Or, as Winston Miller explains, recounting the weeklong picnics that grow around the test matches: "Cricket is food, man, it's food."

The Leeward Islands players (above) display their cricket whites -- it is a gentleman's game, after all -- before Jarvis Francis and Boswell Jeffers, at right, chow down on seasoned rice.
Colby Katz
The Leeward Islands players (above) display their cricket whites -- it is a gentleman's game, after all -- before Jarvis Francis and Boswell Jeffers, at right, chow down on seasoned rice.

Far from bowlers and batters and sunny Sundays on schoolyards, Lauderhill Mayor Richard Kaplan walks into his cluttered Coral Springs law office, picks up a can of Diet Coke, and rattles it. It sloshes. "I live on cashews and preferably Diet Cherry Coke, but it's hard to get," he says as he sits. He has round glasses and a shock of graying hair.

In his shirt pocket, he still has the card of a London Sunday Telegraph sports reporter who the previous night attended a shrimp-and-Perrier reception for civic honchos and the cricket-adoring public at Lauderhill's City Hall. After the reception, legendary bowler Lance Gibbs, the chair of Lauderhill's World Cup host committee, presented to the city commissioners the official, encyclopedia-sized book of bid guidelines he had accepted from the International Cricket Council a few days earlier in Antigua. Gibbs told the commissioners, "I see the USA definitely getting games."

The city's bid for a slice of the third-biggest sporting event on the planet (after World Cup soccer and the Olympics) has made news on the BBC and in the New York Times, Time magazine, and Australian and Pakistani papers, among others. The subsequent Telegraph story on February 29 read, in part: "In a few months' time, that Lauderhill effort could well revolutionise the landscape of international cricket. Unlikely as it may seem, this unremarkable dormitory town, indistinguishable as a separate entity amid the urban sprawl that stretches from Fort Lauderdale in the east to the Everglades in the west, is bidding to host the 2007 Cricket World Cup."

As if anyone cares where London is either.

Lauderhill's World Cup dreams began in summer 2001, when Kaplan and five other Lauderhill officials visited Trinidad to explore a sister-city status with Chaguanas. At a test match there, the mayor recalls, he was asked whether the United States would submit a bid to host World Cup games. "Sure," he replied. "Why not?"

Upon his return, the Michigan-born mayor adapted his tennis and golf skills to become a passable cricketer and later started a winter cricket tournament in Lauderhill. He notes with some pride that the Lauderhill-Broward delegation is the only noncountry left in the running among Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts-Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago.

"Those guys," says Chandradath Singh, executive director of Lauderhill's World Cup host committee, "are the giants of cricket. We are the newcomers. We are the bastard child of cricket."

That sounds about right. The U.S. cricket team barely cracks the top 20, but South Florida, at least, has perhaps the nation's healthiest cricketing community outside of New York City, with dozens of formal and informal teams. According to the 2000 Census, more than 80,000 people from cricket-playing Caribbean countries live in Broward, including 70,000-plus Jamaicans, the largest foreign-born population in the county -- and far more than in Miami-Dade or Palm Beach. The county's infrastructure -- airports, roads, hotels, security -- is worthy of handling Super Bowls, one of which will swallow Pro Player Stadium on the Broward-Miami-Dade county line three months before the World Cup begins. County Commissioner Joseph Eggelletion Jr. has made the point that Broward itself has never before hosted a world championship event.

The only thing pending is the stadium. In 2000, Broward voters passed a $400 million parks referendum that among other things has allowed the county to buy 110 acres of earth in Lauderhill, bordered by State Road 441 and Sunrise Boulevard. The county so far has plunked down about $19 million for land and has budgeted $40 million more for construction, which would make it the region's most expensive park of the past ten years. If all goes smoothly, it should open around the end of 2006.

When the county held meetings to gather suggestions for the facility, the usual stuff came up -- exercise trails, basketball. One man asked for a grassy knoll. "I didn't know where this guy was coming from," county parks Director Bob Harbin says. "All I could think of was President Kennedy." Cricket, though, was the top request. On September 16, 2003, the county commissioners unanimously approved a rough plan for the park that will include -- among pools, a library, and a man-made lake with a boat dock -- a stadium with 5,000 permanent seats and room for perhaps 25,000 temporary seats.

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