As the US celebrates its independence 241 years ago from the “British Empire,” that most quintessential of British sports, cricket, has gained a foothold here in the Napa Valley and is popular with a small but growing number of Americans.
Founded in 2012 by a group of cricket loving expatriates, from both north and south of the equator, the Napa Valley Cricket Club (NVCC) has, in a short period, established itself as one of the best-organized clubs of its kind in the country. The Napa Valley name allied with the warm hospitality that the club extends to visiting teams means that there is no shortage of team’s wanting to come and play the second most popular sport in the world against the NVCC. After 5 years based out of the Fairgrounds in Calistoga the NVCC will play their 2017 matches at both the Napa Valley Expo and McGrath Field at Napa State Hospital. In 2018 the club hopes to host all of their home matches at the Napa Valley Expo in downtown Napa. The move to Napa has seen an infusion of new members, with playing members in the mid 30’s while total membership is just under 100.
Amongst those members are a number of Americans who have discovered cricket through various means and make up an important element of the club’s diverse membership.
A member since the founding of the club back in the winter of 2011 / 2012 is club treasurer, Jared Thatcher who was born in Pontiac, MI. Thatcher who works for Hahn Family Wines as their Accounting Manager first experienced cricket while at Graceland University in Lamoni, IA, where he did his undergrad degree. “There was a strong South Asian community on campus while I was at Graceland” said Thatcher “and playing cricket was their thing. It was the first time I had seen the game live and I found it intriguing. I think that for Americans who’ve played baseball the comparisons between both bat & ball sports make explaining the game of cricket easier but the intricacies of cricket take a little bit of practice.”
Thatcher is typical of Americans who make excellent fielders in cricket with his “baseball arm” – the ability to return the ball quickly to the center of the field of play without the loopy throw too often see in non-baseball playing countries. Thatcher glows when he reminisces on his favorite playing memory while playing for the NVCC – a 42 run (not out) batting stand against the Marin Cricket Club Socials in 2016 at Piper Park in Larkspur.
With a Scottish father who coached cricket at the historic Philadelphia Cricket Club, it’s no surprise that Pete Cameron found his way to the NVCC in 2015. Born in Syracuse, NY and now a member of the wine making team at Cakebread Cellars, Cameron embodies that “baseball arm” philosophy as one the deadliest ground fielders in the club. Cameron has also shown significant improvement with the bat in his short time with the NVCC most notably notching up 24 runs just this May against local rivals, Marin Cricket Club Socials. “I love being part of such a diverse group who share a common love of cricket,” said Cameron “with that diversity encompassing age, nationality, religion, careers, and even cricketing skillset. The social aspect of the club is unlike most “clubs” here in America as I’ve formed friendships with many members of the club off the field too.” In what could be interpreted as a metaphor for life Cameron says “cricket is a game that rewards patience, focus, a good game plan, and a bit of bravery.”
24 years living in England were what got Jamie Johnson into cricket. Born in Dearborn, MI, Johnson lived and worked in the UK for many years until he returned to the east coast a number of years back. His love of the game continued there as a member of Merion CC where he was lucky enough to be involved in a number of annual cricket tours, one of which took him to Napa Valley in late 2015. “The reception from the guys at the NVCC was quite simply astounding,” said Johnson “they were so incredibly hospitable to our touring party – arranging visits to wineries, making dinner suggestions and reservations, and serving us the most incredible mid-innings lunch that I think I’ve ever had on tour. I’d been on tour to the Western Cape in South Africa and played on some of the most incredible grounds there but the crew at the NVCC literally bowled me over with their set-up and hospitality.”
Recently retired, Johnson re-located to the west coast in early 2016 and knew there was only one club that he’d play for after that move was complete. He is now a regular behind the stumps keeping wicket – think catcher in baseball – for the NVCC and like both Thatcher and Cameron is proving handy with the bat with a recent knock of 24 not out in the inaugural NVCC City v County Challenge Match at the Napa Valley Expo.
Besides playing members the NVCC boasts a sizable number of American “social” members who have joined the club mainly for the strong social program of events that club puts on. Local realtor Bill Wagner has been a member, and sponsor, for a number of years now and has even hosted the clubs famous season-opening Curry Night at his home. “It’s great to see something different, sporting wise, here in the Napa Valley” says Wagner “and it’s been great being part of the club and seeing it grow over its short life. Now that the club has relocated to Napa I’m looking forward to watching more matches and bringing along family and friends to introduce them to, and explain as best I can, the game of cricket.”
For those interested in learning more about the game of cricket the NVCC will host their annual Napa Valley World Series of Cricket pitting members from America & Australia against members from the Rest of the World. This match takes place at the Napa Valley Expo, 575 Third St., in downtown Napa from 10:30am on Sunday July 23. Admission is free. Kid activities will be provided. Food, beer, and wine will be on sale and club members will be happy to answer any questions on the intricacies and quirks of the game. NVCC are currently working on a practice schedule for those who would like to get more involved. Stay tuned to their calendar page – http://napacricket.com/calendar/ – for more details on that.
Next Match – Sunday 9th July, 2017 –NVCC host Bradshaw CC at McGrath Field on the grounds of Napa State Hospital from 10:30am.