Rediscovering Richmond's sports past
Brooks Smith has discovered that the first cricket games on record in America were in Richmond.
Farrar: Brooks Smith has been rediscovering Richmond's sports history. A few weeks ago, Brooks, we talked about the game of quoits, which we thought was the oldest sport, oldest game ever played in Richmond.
Smith: That's right. I thought we took it to the bottom of the trough, a sport that dates back to 1788 or so, and lo and behold, I find that there's an even older sport here in Richmond. Can you guess what it is?
Farrar: Hmm. I'm stumped. What is it?
Smith: Cricket, the English game of cricket that expanded with the British empire to some hundred nations, also expanded here to America, and we lay claim to two superlatives that I had no idea we could claim, until doing this research: the first recorded game of cricket in the New World and the oldest organized cricket club in America.
Farrar: No kidding. Well, how old is old?
Smith: Well, here in the first superlative category, we have to go the secret diaries of William Byrd II, who was the founder of Richmond. In his diaries, dating back all the way to May 6th, 1709, we have an entry about rising early at 6 a.m. and going out to play cricket with a few of his friends.
My favorite entry, though, is from about a year later, March 28th, 1710, he talks about rising at ten o'clock and going to play cricket, 'played three for a crown, won one, lost two, played billiards til dinner, ate boiled pork and then played more cricket until dark.' Here's a zinger, though, his journal entry ended as follows: 'This was my birthday, on which I am 36 years old, and I bless God for granting me so many years. I wish I had spent them better.'
Farrar: It sounded like he was playing a lot of cricket.
Smith: Exactly right. So in the category of the second superlative, the oldest team, or oldest evidence at least, comes from Rules and Articles of Incorporation of the Richmond Cricket Club, which dates back to 1795 and is housed at the Library of Virginia. I might add that there were some fastidious rules of the old club, denominated fourteen players, each had to pay a dollar to join the club, and if they missed four days of practice, they were each fined twenty-five cents.
Farrar: Well, do we have any famous cricket players that we know about?
Smith: Alas, no, you know in quoits we had that dear old story of Chief Justice John Marshall being the official judge of all competitions. In cricket, we have nothing like that other than William Byrd's love of the game. And I should say in America today, of course, cricket is fairly incongrous, but it is considered to be the second most popular game in the world, probably second only to world soccer, and as you and I were talking before starting the recording, some say that cricket was the origin of baseball, and I'm not sure if that's true or not, but it's certainly a bat-and-ball game and it's given rise to any number of fair-to-middling alternatives.
Farrar: There was also a game called roundball, which some say was closer to our modern game of baseball, but as you say, they're both bat-and-ball games, and certainly some similarities.
Smith: My favorite line from the league of one-liners involving cricket is ascribed to Lord Mancroft, and he said, apparently, 'cricket, a game which the English, not being spiritual people, have invented to give themselves some conception of eternity.'
Farrar: All right, well, any final notes? We have a few seconds.
Smith: Well, I understand that we do have some cricket teams alive and well here in Richmond today; they are part of a mid-Atlantic cricket circuit and these are amateur teams, of course, but I guess if you're out there listening and want to see a game of cricket, just google it and I imagine there's a game somewhere in a neighborhood near you.
Farrar: Thanks to Brooks Smith, rediscovering Richmond.