Last Saturday at my favorite LA hookah lounge there was a scene at 3am. The men who usually sit around smoking and playing chess were huddled around the TV. They never do this. I had unknowingly entered to the final moments of a World Cup Cricket qualifier viewing between Afghanistan and Kenya. (The match was played a few months ago, we watched a ripped DVR). Afghanistan was going to win and when they did, this group of mostly stoic Afghan men and their friends got loud, congratulated each other, and settled back down to pairings of chess.
This was my first time watching a cricket match and I was struck by the similarities in the pitching (bowl) motion with certain baseball motions. Mechanically, it most closely resembled the long-toss warm-up big league pitchers do in the outfield. Also, the cricket ball is about 3/4" smaller and roughly .5 oz. heavier than a baseball. I began to dream of all the interesting ball-path physics when someone versed in cricket is trained in baseball. Could ballplayers be made from cricketers? This trajectory fits snugly in the dreaded "low risk high reward category", but the lower than low risk makes experimentation possible and the high reward makes future trips to Zimbabwe, Namibia, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan (when the bombings taper) viable.
This is not for now. Trips to many places I have listed above are obviously not safe. It's going to take years and this is a slow boil, long-term idea. But as the culture around baseball grows more global and the Orioles continually adapt to a frugal, home grown culture. I believe planning to develop a discourse in places where there is no baseball is essential. Cricket offers a starting point in this discourse in terms of physical mechanics, and baseball offers something that many kids and their families are looking for, a way out.
Signing athletes with a background in cricket has already been trailblazed by Pittsburgh. After placing first and second in J.B. Bernstein's Indian Reality Show, "Million Dollar Arm", Dinesh Patel and Rinku Singh were signed for a collective $8,000 bonus. With Singh climbing as high as single A West Virginia in 2012. Could the Orioles look more extensively in cricket-rich/ money-poor areas of the world for promising arms? These signings and the release of the "Million Dollar Arm" John Hamm vehicle this year will certainly make it more likely to do so.
In Zimbabwe, where there's a strong cricket culture, the national team has had to go on strike for non-payment, threatening to cancel a match with Afghanistan. Baltimore offered South Korean "non-prospect" Seong-Min Kim a contract with a signing bonus of $550,000, an amount that would fund team Zimbabwe for a year. How many developmental arms could the Orioles sign for that amount?
MLB clubs have a long history of signing teenagers. Just a couple of weeks ago the Orioles signed two, Carlos Diaz and Jomar Reyes. It's a given that these kids have lived their lives in a baseball womb. But even with their 200lb frames and power to all fields, the odds of them making the major leagues still rests anywhere between 3 and 10%, depending on who you ask and how you calculate. Initial contracts with developmental athletes would be far lower than the norm, but the money would go farther due to the present economic climate. For Instance, what would a $10,000 contract look like to a gifted Namibian athlete when the per capita yearly income there is roughly $6,000? Or in Zimbabwe, where the per capita is roughly $800?
Maybe this is a dumb idea that will never work. Maybe George Steinbrenner lived for a year in Sri Lanka with a harem of scouts in Arthur C. Clarke's villa in 1979, only to come up empty. But maybe the assumption of wealth and privilege that comes with our baseball infrastructure is diluting our talent pool. Maybe I'm tired of waiting on free agent hand me downs like A.J. Burnett and Bronson Arroyo and their one-year commitments. Maybe there's a talented cricketer in Afghanistan or Zimbabwe that is tired of the violence, non-payment, and starvation enough to reinvent themself enough to learn a big-league slider.