Today, our national sport is 100% baseball. It is undoubtedly America’s “National Pastime.” As American as apple pie. But did you know our National Pastime used to be cricket? A game that is sometimes so confusing and slow that comedian Robin Williams once called it “baseball on Valium.” One match in New Jersey was nearly the turning point of the entire sport. Follow along to read more about cricket history in New Jersey.
Cricket History In America
At the start of the 18th Century, the sport of cricket had garnered popularity in England. When British colonists descended on North America, they naturally brought the game over. Cricket was played in America when it was still referred to as The New World before officially becoming the United States. Advertisements for cricket players date back to a New York newspaper in 1739, and the first documented competition occurred in 1752 somewhere in Manhattan. There are even archived references that cricket was played here as early as 1709.
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Cricket was considered a bat and ball game and was a common sport played by troops during the American Revolution. Despite its decidedly English origin, early Americans took to the sport quickly. Benjamin Franklin brought a copy of the cricket rule book from England. George Washington is documented as having played at least one game of “wicket” at Valley Forge. The sport enjoyed popularity in the tri-state area between Philadelphia and New York, where it was reported that more than 5,000 people played in the region. Ivy League Universities developed collegiate cricket clubs, and the game became a massive hit in Philadelphia.
From 1783 onwards, all things British waned, but cricket held on in popularity well until the Civil War. This was when a legendary game on New Jersey soil almost made cricket America’s favorite pastime.
The Legendary Game At Hoboken’s Elysian Fields
In the years preceding the Civil War, Hoboken’s Elysian Fields was a famous sporting ground. It was routinely the site of great cricket matches and had many spectators.
On September 6, 1859, 12 of England’s best cricket players traveled to the George Hotel in Liverpool to prepare for their trip overseas. The following day they were headed to America, on the steamer the Nova Scotian, to play in the world’s first international cricket match. They were headed to Hoboken, New Jersey, to put cricket onto the global stage.
From October 3rd – 5th, 1859, extra ferries were commissioned to handle the crowds of viewers, estimated to be around 24,000 people. The sports fans were determined to cross the Hudson River and watch the American all-stars take on England’s best players. The British team’s tour of North America was one of the most heavily promoted sporting events before the Civil War, with the Elysian Fields as its first stop.
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England won heartily. The final score of the three-day match was 156 to 36, with the British having a decisive win. It was a legendary game in cricket’s history, lauded as a big event for the sport as a whole. But perhaps losing badly on the world stage made the US shift to another sport altogether.
Three years later, the American Civil War began, crushing the popularity of cricket for good. Baseball became the sport of the US, played in two hours while soldiers rested in camps. There was no time to play a game over consecutive days or stop for a spot of tea in the middle of a match. Baseball could be played fast, was seen as exhilarating, and quickly took over as a favorite pastime with teams and leagues popping up all over the fractured country.
With its lack of fuss and street popularity, baseball proved to be the winning sport in America, eclipsing cricket’s popularity in no time. Baseball was considered the “people’s game,” a rough and ready, fast game that represented the heart and soul of life in America. Cricket became ever known as a casual game for gentlemen. The rest is, obviously, history.