Field of Drools

Local cricketers can only dream of playing in the county's new high-end cricket stadium

"The teams that played gave the field rave reviews," says Nino DiLoreto, spokesman for the Cricket Council. "We got a taste of what the combination of cricket and entertainment can do for Broward County."

The Cricket Council also got an idea of the price tag for such an event. DiLoreto says that the tournament cost $1.5 million and that there was no profit to be had. DiLoreto blames the low turnout on weather, not disinterest. He adds, though, that the stadium's fees are "too expensive" and that there's a lot of bureaucracy to wade through to organize an event at the park.

"Not much is happening at that stadium," he gripes. Fortunately, the Cricket Council's sponsor, real estate and gas station magnate Mahammad "MAQ" Qureshi, has deep pockets. "We're going forward," DiLoreto says, "even though MAQ took a little beating. Just the fact that a cricket match was played there is historic."

The council plans another tournament at the stadium for the Fourth of July, with more music as well as a fireworks display courtesy of MAQ and the City of Lauderhill. The United States is the last frontier for cricket, the council thinks, and the stadium at Central Broward Regional Park is key to generating interest.

"Nationwide, nobody has built a cricket stadium in years," notes Jaime Plana, head of planning and design for Broward parks. "We had a series of public meetings and invited people from the surrounding communities to participate. We asked people to tell us what they wanted in a park, and they voted with Post-It Notes..."

The county Parks and Recreation Department refers to the stadium as a "multi-purpose field." But it's painted in the same festive color palette as the national cricket stadium in Grenada, which hosted games for the 2007 Cricket World Cup, and its aptness for cricket has gotten the most hype.

The "cricket stadium" moniker, though, bodes ill for the local cricket community each day the field sits empty. Skeptics argue that the tax dollars should have gone elsewhere.

"We need to ensure that the park is successful," says Dale Holness, a Lauderhill city commissioner who advocated a cricket-capable stadium in the park.

The park technically sits within the boundaries of Lauderhill, so the city lost a potential source of tax income when the county parks department bought the land in 2001. Still, Lauderhill officials and residents were stoked about the plan. The park, they reasoned, would serve the local community while also boosting revenue for nearby businesses such as restaurants. And struggling Lauderhill could use just that sort of economic boost.

The park itself is getting plenty of use. On weekends, families mob the small water park and rent pavilions for children's birthday parties. Throughout the week, local cricketers, soccer players, and Australian rules football players book all four of the park's basic fields for practices and matches.

On a recent Wednesday evening, the local Australian rules football team — the Fort Lauderdale Fighting Squids — was running drills on one of the park's soccer fields. Someday, they hope to play in the stadium as well.

"It just sits there, empty, teasing everyone," Cameron Pinnock, president of the Fighting Squids, says with a hint of an Aussie accent. "It's definitely something we couldn't afford as an amateur team... My theory is that it's better to have the fields used at a discount rate than empty. There are 3,500 to 4,000 Australians in the tricounty area — we could get a match going every month. I'm sure the Denver team would come."

Lauderhill is hopeful that county officials will lower the park's fees. In the meantime, it will continue to host events at its own city-run parks. At the Lauderhill Sports Complex, after Jamaica finally beat Pakistan on that Saturday evening to win the South Florida Cricket Alliance championship, Jeff Miller climbed onto a Lauderhill-owned portable stage, grabbed a city-owned microphone, and piped a congratulatory message out to the team. Lauderhill's mayor, Richard Kaplan, and Commissioner Holness joined him on the platform.

"Lauderhill has probably done more for cricket than any other city in the U.S.," Kaplan bragged.

Holness proclaimed Lauderhill "the cricket capital of America."

Then a tiny audience of tired cricketers and fans trudged toward home.

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