From the sidelines: Finding simplicity of sport

Published 11:40 pm Friday, July 16, 2010

Sometimes it is hard to hide who you are. Me? I’m a sports guy. That truth has never been more apparent to me than when I was in Jamaica on a mission trip. After a week of walking up and down Jamaican hillsides, I found myself standing outside the church building we used as home base.

In a foreign country, with a three-hour flight and a five hours of drive time separating me from my chosen vocation, I was taking pictures of the locals playing a game of pick-up cricket. And just any photograph would not do. I wanted something good, something print quality. I wanted to capture the essence of this game.

And all at one time it hit me that sports, as divisive as they can be, are one of the great unifiers of mankind. It was a thought that gained validity as I watched Jamaicans teach their favorite game to American visitors.

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One player threw a rubber ball at a makeshift wicket while another used what looked an awful lot like a principal’s paddle to try to knock it into play. Then, if it were not caught, the batter would try to change places with his teammate at the opposing wicket as many times as possible before the defenders could get back in position.

It had elements strikingly similar to baseball and, yet, was quite clearly a game all unto itself. In a way, it was a lot like our visit to the country itself. There was a KFC and a Burger King. And Montego Bay even had a Harley Davidson. But, despite the similarities it bore to the United States, Jamaica was quite clearly a country unto itself.

And somewhere in between the differing accents and complexions, there was the commonality of man. Throwing. Swinging. Running. Laughing. It was a game. Moreover, it was a game in which the score did not matter. And no one really cared that the competitive balance of a team of men against a team of women was not quiet equal. It was for fun.

The yard was not big enough and the bats were barely usable. The ball was on its last legs and the wickets were formed of stray boards and metal frames. But it was about having fun and fellowship.

And as I stood there roughly 1,200 miles from Demopolis, there was the purity and the beauty of sport.

We so often complicate things in our society. The lure of scholarship opportunities and the one-in-a-million chance at a professional contract robs even the simplest games of purity.

But there on a foreign field, miles removed from concerns about upsides and debates regarding the benefits of local leagues and travel ball teams, was the basic, unadulterated beauty of a game both unfamiliar in its format and welcoming in its execution. And I was lucky enough to be there with a camera and some free time.