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By Peter Della Penna
A rainy day couldn’t dampen the spirits of sports enthusiasts making the pilgrimage to upstate New York on Sunday for the opening of Swinging Away: How Cricket and Baseball Connect at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. The exhibit ran from May through December 2010 at the MCC Museum at Lord’s before being shifted to Cooperstown where it debuted over the weekend and will run until February 2012.
National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum President Jeff Idelson, Senior Director of Exhibits and Collections Erik Strohl, and Senior Curator Tom Shieber had the honor of cutting the ribbon to open up the exhibit. Schieber played a major role in organizing the exhibit to come to Cooperstown and says it was the desire to learn more about the history of baseball that turned him into a cricket aficionado many years ago.
“I’ve always been interested in baseball history,” said Shieber. “I got to researching 19th century baseball and in so doing, I kept on bumping into references to cricket in the mid 19th century in America. I finally figured out I’m gonna have to learn this sport if I’m gonna really understand baseball.”
Image - (From left to right) Tom Shieber, Jeff Idelson and Erik Strohl cut the ribbon to officially open the exhibit. [Courtesy: Peter Della Penna/DreamCricket]
“Not only did I learn cricket and really love the sport because it’s a great sport, but also then it allowed me to better understand cricket in the 19th century. Quite frankly if anyone wants to understand the beginnings of baseball and how baseball evolved during the 19th century to the sport that it is today, you’ve got to really understand cricket and specifically 19th century cricket. That was really critical to my understanding of baseball, was my understanding of cricket.”
At the entrance to the exhibit on the third floor, museum visitors had the opportunity to enhance their understanding of cricket with a “Hands-On History Cart” which included bats, balls, and batting gloves from both baseball and cricket, as well as a baseball mitt and wicketkeeping gloves laid out for fans to pick up and try on.
Despite not knowing much about cricket previously, museum employee Emily Voss stepped up to be the person in charge of explaining all about the sport to the fans making their way to the cart and displayed the knowledge of a seasoned cricket veteran.
Image (left) - A young Yankees fan wields the willow in front of the hands on display cart. [Courtesy: Peter Della Penna/DreamCricket]
“I actually think it’s really fun and I thought it was really interesting to watch the video when we were going through the training,” said Voss. “I would actually like to watch a full game sometime in person and just see how it all plays out over the course of a full day or longer than that.” For anyone who came up to the cart, Voss was eager to answer any questions about the rules of cricket, but says she spent much of her time emphasizing the basic differences in strategy between the two sports based on the shape of the bats.
“The thing that they usually notice most is the difference between the bats,” said Voss. “Obviously very different bat shape, very different bat style, so the thing I’m really trying to drive home with them is that in baseball, the batter’s job is to be the offense and in cricket, the batter’s job is to really be more of a defender of the wicket. The style of the bat and the shape of the bat is dictated by the role in the game.”
The only NCAA varsity cricket team in America, Haverford College, was also part of the festivities. Sophomore Matt Smith of Doylestown, Pa., led a one-hour session in The Bullpen Theater about the history of cricket at Haverford, which included a Q & A between museum visitors and the rest of the team.
After the history lesson, the Haverford team went into the Hall of Fame Learning Center to put on cricket demonstrations. Museum visitors of all ages got to try their hand at batting while a few of the braver ones put on gloves to try their hand at wicketkeeping. Haverford captain Thomas Leonard, a sophomore originally from Kolkata, said it was a great honor for Haverford to take part in the day and hopes that the exhibit will foster more appreciation for the game.
Image (above) - Haverford College captain Thomas Leonard talks about cricket inside the Hall of Fame Learning Center with 17-year-old museum visitor Joel Prushan of Bryn Mawr, Pa. [Courtesy: Peter Della Penna/DreamCricket]
“I think it’s a great honor for Haverford to be invited here and I think it’s a great honor as well for the college to be recognized for its role in cricket,” said Leonard. “I think it’s great to have the combination of cricket and baseball in together. I think it will be a great benefit to different viewers in both the different sports to be able to appreciate them respectively.”
Shieber hopes that fans will get to learn a lot about baseball through cricket because of the exhibit. He also hopes that seeing the two sports side by side will help break down some of misconceptions about cricket and make the game easier to understand for baseball fans.
“The thing I’m really excited about is that it brings an understanding of these two sports, not one, not about cricket, it’s about baseball and cricket, and that understanding to an audience that is very baseball familiar and very not familiar with cricket,” said Shieber. “I really hope that by learning about the commonalities between the sports, their shared history, the people who are familiar with baseball, it’s like baseball is holding your hand as you learn about cricket, but also as you learn about what’s in common with the sports. Actually what’s really neat is after you learn what’s in common, you get to see these amazing contrasts you wouldn’t think of. I’m just excited about the possibilities of people learning something new and hopefully taking a little bit of the mystery off of cricket.”
For more information about Swinging Away and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, visit www.baseballhall.org.