Richard Presser Park on Central Avenue in Hartsdale has become a bastion of hope for the local cricket community. Up until June, when the town of Greenburgh carved out a 22-yard pitch for residents to practice the sport they are passionate about, the only sound these players heard when they searched for a home was… crickets.
Though the space Greenburgh delegated for cricket is nowhere near what enthusiasts need to compete in a regulation match — they still have to travel far and wide within the tri-state area for that — it’s enough space to gather, practice and bond over what is the second most popular sport in the world.
“To have a regulation field — real regulation — is a really big piece of land, almost like an oval field and with the right type of ball you need a big field,” Greenburgh parks commissioner Gerry Byrne said. “We built a pitch that’s 22 yards long since it’s an open space not used for many programs. The first time we built it it wasn’t right, so we had to do it again, but so far it’s worked out very well.”
What started in January as a grassroots effort in front of the town board came to fruition July 6 with the first cricket event at Presser Park as over 100 gathered to watch or play. As a result, the diversity of Greenburgh’s athletic offerings better aligns with the diverse population of its residents.
“This is the beginning, not the end,” Edgemont resident Jeet Barmecha said.
No longer does the group have to roam the town from baseball field to baseball field — including at Edgemont High School — looking for a patch to play on early mornings before recreation and other community groups take over the fields for the day.
Barmecha called the landing spot “semi-ideal” in the most positive way possible. “We don’t have space behind the batsman or the person who catches the ball,” he said. “There isn’t that circular ground, but this is the best spot we could ever ask for.”
Presser Park has a softball field that is slated to get a makeover, a playground, a 9/11 memorial, a Rotarian mural, parking and bathrooms. Byrne called it “open real estate” with no trees impeding on the field space there.
“I think it’s been very well received by the cricket community so far,” Byrne said. “It’s not ideal, but I think it’s a start.”
Barmecha said there are six local teams of 15 to 20 players each, many from Edgemont, who travel on weekends to compete, many times in events that raise funds for important social causes.
Barmecha was born in India and grew up playing the sport, representing his boarding school and medical school. He came to the United States in 1996 to do his medical school residency. “Now I just play for fun just to stay fit,” he said. “It’s more about promoting it to the youngsters, to the children.”
Sunday, Aug. 25, will be a big day for the cricket community as a free youth clinic will be offered from 9 to 11 a.m. at Presser Park. Close to 50 youngsters have already registered at email@example.com, and some walk-ins are also expected. “I don’t think we can accomplish everything in two hours, but this is a good start,” Barmecha said.
The Cricket Committee learned on the job what would be involved in getting their needs met and provided the town exactly what was required to even consider moving ahead with the project.
“This is really remarkable,” Barmecha said. “In these kinds of initiatives you always need a good leader and [Town Supervisor] Paul [Feiner] and Gerry recognized there was a need, so they took the ball and just went with it… They showed us the path, the proper channels by participating in the Parks and Recreation Committee and we did what they asked for and we’re pleased they did such phenomenal work with us.”
Byrne was charged by the town board to look into real estate for cricket as other requests and options over the years went unfulfilled.
“I think there’s been more interest in the community to play as more people have moved into town that grew up playing the sport,” Byrne said. “They were looking for a place during the warm weather just to practice.”
The compromise came with the cricket players using a modified ball that could not be driven as far off the bat, so the lack of a full 200-meter circumference wouldn’t be as detrimental to the experience. They also can’t play the game in 360 degrees since there is no space behind the batsman. “What we call a foul ball in baseball, that’s a live ball,” Byrne said. “There’s all different ways to play it. It’s a whole different type of sport.”
In addition to working with Town Supervisor Paul Feiner, Byrne and the Parks and Rec Advisory Committee, which now features cricket representative John Sunkavali, Barmecha met with Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Westchester County Executive George Latimer to seek ways to grow the sport even more in Westchester in terms of offerings and field space. Barmecha was encouraged by the first meeting and expects a follow-up in the coming weeks. “They spent quite a bit of time talking about our needs,” he said.
Feiner said he has written letters to every municipality in the county asking them to follow Greenburgh’s lead and “consider retrofitting a field for cricket.” Feiner also asked Greenburgh schools to add cricket to their curriculum and a pitch to their facilities.
Worldwide, cricket is played in five-day, one-day or short format matches. The tournaments in the United States are the short format, which was created just over a decade ago to allow people to enjoy the sport after work in the evenings, much like major sports in the U.S.
“Long term I think this sport could grow in our community and Westchester,” Byrne said. “On our long-term list if land ever becomes available I would like to get a multipurpose field where you could play regulation lacrosse, soccer and cricket.”
Learn more at 22yardssport.com.