02 OCT 2018: For years, my friends at Goway have gamely trotted out a collection of cricket players onto the baseball diamond to take on my motely crew of seasoned softball professionals, some of whom have played for over 30 years. G Adventures (or GAP as they were known at the time) and Insight Vacations have had teams in my league as well, but Goway was always the most interesting since many of them had never picked up a ball or bat before – at least of the softball kind.

We won, usually quite handily, but that never diminished the enthusiasm of the Aussies and Kiwis that helped make up the roster of the Goways. At the same time, it was acknowledged that things would be different if I were ever to enter their world, which was no idle challenge since Goway and Air New Zealand duke it out (or whatever they do in cricket) every year at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club for travel industry bragging rights and had invited me on many occasions to join in.

And while I was game to try and ready to risk having my softball-based superiority deflated, it had never quite worked out, though I had watched the fun many times.

But this year was different and thanks to the prodding of Goway’s Aubrey Schmidt (a fine softball player, I might add), I finally agreed to play in the game, which took place in front of a small industry gathering at the TCSCC on Sept. 18.

Having lived in the UK for a summer in the early ‘80s and being an anglophile thanks to the non-name giving side of my family hailing from somewhere near Sheffield, I was familiar with the game, though had never really watched it. A British friend once explained the general concept but gave up when it came to describing how to keep score, suggesting that it wasn’t really something that could be accomplished with the human mouth, and frankly, most cricket fans didn’t really understand it anyway.

I admit that my overall impression of the game was that it lasted for days, required lots of tea and cucumber sandwiches and generally resulted in players occasionally jumping up and down exclaiming “leg before wicket!”—whatever that means.

To be sure, my ignorance belies the fact that cricket is said to be the world’s second most popular sport, having been exported throughout the British empire since its beginnings in the late 16th century. The game has also, for better or worse, outgrown its reputation as a genteel sport for the upper class, having become fully professional and inspiring no shortage of front-page scandals (cheating, drugs, betting and sex; as recently as earlier this year, Australia’s captains were famously caught ball tampering in a match) and intense rivalries (India and Pakistan have sometimes gone years refusing to play each other and, at times, have had to play in neutral sites, such as Canada, to avoid expected crowd violence).

There is also no shortage of cricket superstars: Australia’s Don Bradman, considered the best player ever, has inspired songs; Sachin Tendulkar is a national hero in India; dozens of players have been knighted; and Imran Khan parlayed his cricket fame into being elected prime minister of Pakistan earlier this year.

But despite such passions, and Canada and the United States having played the first international cricket match in 1844 (Canada won!), the game never really caught on in North America, leaving me much to learn before making my debut.

My colleague Jen, a cricket player in her youth, she claims, encouraged my venture by suggesting I familiarize myself with the terms duck, maiden, googly, “and though it doesn’t actually pertain to the game – sticky wicket!”

The term’s general meanings included scoring zero runs and finding oneself in a difficult situation (thanks, Jen, I looked them up!) and didn’t bode well if her lack of confidence in my ability to adapt to the game was to be accepted.

But that was for later. My immediate concern was coming up with “cricket whites” to wear, as per club rules. After all, who owns white pants (and shoes and belt)?

Alas, I got my act together and made my way to the club, rocking some off-white khakis, mostly white golf shirt and cap, and tennis shoes, looking more like I belonged on a yacht (as a deckhand!) in the tropics than a cricket oval.

Fortunately, I learned as I took the field, that Goway had invited many “friends” to take part in the match and I wouldn’t be the only one to have no idea what was going on or make cricket’s worst dressed list.

After a little instruction and the politically incorrect umpire observing that baseball is a game for little girls running around the field wearing, gasp, gloves, it was game on.

My team – Goway – bat first, and, I must say, I did not embarrass myself, despite wielding the cricket bat like my more familiar baseball stick. I managed to stay up for about five minutes, which was better than some but about an hour and five minutes less than the real players.

However, it was in the field that I truly shone, at least for a moment. Having initially been sent out to the field where I channeled my inner Les Nessman from WKRP – “please don’t hit it to me, please don’t hit to me – I was summoned to bowl (pitch). Following the lead of the experienced bowlers before me, I took the small hard ball, trotted up to the wicket and flung it overhand towards the opposing wicket (being protected by the batter), and, low and behold, hit the stump and set the “bails” sitting on top flying. Never before in the history of cricket had such a thing been accomplished I was certain, and I basked in the applause from my team and adulation from the one person in the crowd who was paying attention to the game and not the free bar.

Nevertheless, the batter was outta there and I had a 100 percent record of success based on my one and only pitch. My inclination, of course, was to immediately retire, but, alas, I was forced to continue bowling, whereby some of my following efforts flew over or behind the batter or were hammered for multiple runs. But I will always have that first pitch.

In my mind at least that bowl was the TSN turning point of a game in which, some four hours later (where were the cucumber sandwiches I’m pretty sure that I was promised?) we beat the scoundrels from Air New Zealand, some of whom had even flown in from Los Angeles for the match – at least I think we did, since no one, including the umpire, seemed to be very sure.

Yes, I may be a dibbly dobbly, a pie chucker, and a bit of a hack, but I had lived up to my promise and finally confronted my softball adversaries at their own game. I had looked them squarely in the eye and did not entirely suck.

Only thing is, the guys and gals from Goway have gotten pretty good at softball – they won our league tournament this year (and last!) and even beating my team in the process. So, if I wish to regain my sporting supremacy over them, it seems that I may have to reprise my role as a cricket ringer and significantly raise the bar of my game. And that will be a sticky wicket indeed.

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Michael Baginski

Editor at Large, Mike Baginski is well known and well respected within the industry across Canada, the US, in the Caribbean, Mexico and numerous other destinations outside North America.

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