A Worldly Pitch

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

A mid-March U2 concert would guarantee that many butts in seats, but no one really knows yet how many cricket fans will show for matches.

"If XFL couldn't make it in the U.S. and even the Marlins have to struggle for some time and you go to a Heat game and you think it's a practice session, it would interest me to see how cricket is going to be financially viable in Broward," says Jerry Kolo, a Florida Atlantic University urban planning professor who grew up watching cricket in Nigeria. "If you don't have people buying tickets, if you don't have people marching to the field, then you need to rethink the fiscal viability of your sport."

The county is exploring sponsorship deals to defray costs. A couple of years ago, Global Cricket Corp., a jewel in Rupert Murdoch's media chandelier, paid $550 million for the right to broadcast cricket through the World Cup. The trick will be commercializing cricket for crackers.

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.

Fans' long-term hope is that the World Cup will nudge cricket toward becoming the next soccer, a sport that 40 years ago was as foreign to Yanks as the metric system or universal health care. If their cricket-on-the-brain predictions come true, this place may explode with cricketmania, man, crickehtmehnia.

By 1 p.m. in Opa-locka, the Leeward Islands team could use a stop, what with Barbados conking long balls over fences, into yards, and into the shade tree. In the 35th over, Jeffers makes a fine catch, springing to snag a chip shot with a quickness his paunch should prevent. Another ball nearly reaches the cones, but Bascus runs underneath it, dives, rolls, catches, and bounces up with the ball. He throws it in the air and pounds his chest with his right hand. Minutes later, a Barbados batter golfs one to the sand around the playset. On the final ball Bascus bowls, he serves up another four-run shot.

He wipes his face with a cloth as he walks off the field. Barbados would have liked to score 250 runs. But its 245 ain't bad.

On the field, Leeward captain Hamish Anthony gathers his sweat-soaked teammates. "They did it," says the former West Indies test match player, "so we can do it. I know you're tired, but every bat counts."

Back at the perimeter, Miller sits in the back of Virgil's van. He's ankle-deep in green coconut shells, which are piled like skulls outside a dragon's lair. Each has a quarter-sized hole where someone has hacked off the top and guzzled the semi-sweet water inside. Out of an enormous black pot and onto paper plates, Miller scoops homemade seasoned rice, a mélange clogged with chicken, thyme, beans, and spinach.

"If you were to eat this three times in a week, then go to the bathroom, you would be very pleased with yourself," he says. (Note: One dose provides this result.) Five bucks gets a spectator a heaping plate of the stuff. Leeward's players partake while their first three batters score all of five runs in the first four overs. Jarvis sets down his coconut and digs into a cooler for a bottle of Hennessy.

Bascus walks over to the table to assess the damage. "What's the score?" he asks.

Forty-nine measly runs. In the 15th over.

"Good God," he says. A couple of vultures glide over the field.

Bascus enters the game in the 18th over and, after the 20th, returns to check the score. "Sixty-nine?" he says. "Gol-ly, we need some things going on here, boy."

Mercifully, the actual match is almost secondary to a Sunday at the field. You may find a row of Guyanese Muslims silently bowing eastward in prayer. Or you may have men scream at each other, rattling sabers over whether the current West Indies cricket team could possibly be worse than those in Kenya or Bangladesh. Or they might bray about who-can-tell-what, pointing and shouting in accents that thicken until subtitles are needed.

"This looks like a fight, right?" Jarvis says, pointing to one such spittle battle. "Never happen. This is what we do in the islands when there's nothing else."

Or you may see an entrepreneur like Leeward's Trevor Garvey, age 37, of Miramar by way of St. Kitts, as he hawks bootlegged tapes of god-like West Indies batsman Brian Lara of Trinidad and Tobago scoring a record 375 runs in a test match a few years ago.

"This tape sells for $59.99," he shouts to his friends as he waves a stack of Maxell cassettes with "LARA" scribbled on their labels. "I'm selling it for $9.99. Don't regret not taking this offer! The last time Christ came here and spoke, you ignored him! Now he's here again to save cricket!"

Bascus keeps a few cricket tapes on hand at his tidy Margate apartment like a stash of sports porn. A favorite is his highlight reel of legendary Antiguan batter Viv Richards. "Almost every Antiguan has one in the house," he says. "This is a guy who drinks his rum and smokes his weed, and he's not afraid to tell you that in an interview.

"He put Antigua on the map," Bascus adds. The son of an Antiguan senator, Bascus learned the sport on that 108-square-mile island and was quite good by 1980, when he moved, at age 17, to New York City. There, he rarely got to play cricket and, he recalls, the more unpleasant locals would jeer him. "I talk with an accent," he says, "but I still talk English." He studied business and computers and worked odd jobs until 1991, when a plumber friend in the Virgin Islands called. Hurricane Hugo had recently made kindling out of the Caribbean. New Virgin Islands homes needed pipes. And like that, Bascus became a plumber.

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