ERIE, Pa. (AP) - The crack of a bat broke the silence one afternoon last week at Roman Blaszczyk Field, a softball diamond on Erie’s east side.
The hitter, 20-year-old Dipak Gurung, sprinted across the grass as fielders chased the ball into the outfield.
But this was not your usual ballgame.
Gurung and about a dozen others, most of them Bhutanese refugees who moved here from Nepal, had met to practice cricket, the most popular sport in their homeland.
“Here a lot of people weren’t sure what we were doing when we started,” Gurung said. “But everybody knows about cricket in Nepal.”
A few minutes earlier, Gurung and his brother, Dhan, 21, had unloaded a box from their car containing new jerseys for their year-old cricket team, BCC-Erie Royal.
As other players arrived at the field one and two at a time, the Gurungs handed out the green-and-white jerseys, wrapped in clear plastic bags, and their teammates excitedly pulled them on.
The Gurungs, five cricket-playing brothers in all (a sixth doesn’t play), helped form the team in 2013. The eldest of the five, Deo, 28, serves as coach. Last summer, BCC-Erie Royal capped its first season by winning a tournament in Pittsburgh, beating an opponent from Kentucky in the championship game.
Before the team was formed, players from Erie’s growing Bhutanese community, most of them young men between the ages of 16 and 25, met for pickup games at fields like Roman Blaszczyk at 13th and Wayne streets or other public parks.
It was part of the process of keeping alive some of the traditions from their home about 7,700 miles away in their adopted city, said Dhan Gurung, whose family is among an estimated 3,500 Bhutanese living in Erie. Most were uprooted during ethnic cleansing in Bhutan during the 1990s. They found a temporary home in Nepal while awaiting resettlement overseas.
“When we first got here, we didn’t really play for almost a year,” said Gurung, who arrived in Erie with his parents and six brothers and sisters from Jhapa, Nepal, in 2009. “Then we would get maybe four or five people and we could play a little bit. And (gradually) other people found out and we could make a team.”
Dhan and Dipak Gurung are students at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. Other team members attend Erie high schools or graduated and are working or looking for jobs.
Bharat Timsina, 19, is a senior at Strong Vincent High School whose family relocated to the United States from Nepal three years ago. Few of his classmates are familiar with cricket, which originated in the British Isles more than 500 years ago. But Timsina’s science teacher is British, so the two found a common interest in the game.
“The atmosphere is great while you’re playing the game,” Timsina said. “It’s the most exciting sport I’ve ever seen.”
Cricket is played professionally in Nepal, predominantly in the six-team Nepal Premier League. Countless school and club teams also play, and the sport received a boost in the Himalayan nation of 29 million people when Nepal’s fledgling national team won this year’s Twenty20 World Cup in Bangladesh.
Cricket’s rules bear some resemblance to baseball, with games consisting of innings with outs and runs. But rather than rounding bases after hitting the ball with a paddle-like bat, players run back and forth between wooden wickets on a 22-yard-long pitch.
“It is, I would say, about 25 percent like baseball,” said Dhan Gurung, who hopes to see the sport continue to grow in this area.
He estimates there are at least 50 players in Erie’s Bhutanese community playing, though work prevents many from practicing regularly or competing in tournaments.
BCC-Erie Royal, which is predominantly made up of players from Bhutan and Nepal but had one player from Jamaica in 2013, plans to host a tournament here in 2015 and would like to enter two or three local teams. They are also hoping to eventually find a permanent home. They practice and play pickup matches on neighborhood softball and baseball diamonds but are forced to work around leagues and practices for those sports.
Dhan Gurung said he hopes to get permission to build a cricket pitch at a local park or green space where the team can practice every day.
Though they’ve embraced an American lifestyle in many ways, members of Erie’s Nepali and Bhutanese communities say it’s important for them to continue playing cricket.
“It’s a good sport because it’s different from any other sport,” said Tshring Tamang, 19, a junior at East who arrived here two years ago. “I really like to play.”
Information from: Erie Times-News, https://www.goerie.com
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