Friday, April 11, 2003
Cricket team makes a pitch to save the pitch
By ELAINE PORTERFIELD
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
TUKWILA -- It's a beautiful spring afternoon, and the field at
Fort Dent Park is filling with animated men strapping on heavy white
leg pads, padded gloves and sturdy helmets. Others are practicing
bowling hard red balls at speeds up to 75 miles an hour. The team
captain has driven all the way from Bellingham to join his teammates.
It's the weekly practice of one of the region's oldest cricket
teams, and the field is a mini-United Nations: Players originally
hail from India, Jamaica, Australia, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, England,
the West Indies and elsewhere.
Marysville resident Muslim Habib of the Seattle Cricket Club bats
during a match at Fort Dent Park in Tukwila. At left is wicketkeeper
But cricket play on the Fort Dent pitch, or field -- which its
supporters call the finest in the area -- will soon be suspended
as millions are spent on soccer and softball improvements to the
park. The players fear that when the improvements are done, they'll
be relegated to what is a small shadow of their now-glorious pitch.
The Fort Dent team is the only one in the Seattle area to play
in a competitive league with teams from British Columbia, according
to club president Vipul Shah. The team has played at Fort Dent for
more than 25 years and has spent tens of thousands of dollars developing
and maintaining the pitch, say Shah and team secretary Bunti Sarai.
There are several other pitches in the area, including one at Marymoor
Park near Redmond, but none of the same quality.
"Right now, we have the Mecca of cricket in Seattle,"
Sarai said. But he fears that won't be true once the park is redeveloped.
His team, he said, may well be relegated to a strip between two
artificial turf fields in the plan for the park.
"It's such a shame, because this is such a beautiful ground,"
he said. "Cricket is all about grass."
But the private, non-profit company spearheading park improvements
for the city of Tukwila says the players needn't worry. They are
attempting to accommodate the team, said Chris Slatt, president
and chief executive officer of Starfire Sports.
"We believe there is an area for a cricket field," Slatt
said. "I think there's roughly about the same amount of area.
We're waiting for some of the details."
Fort Dent is being redeveloped under a unique public-private partnership
between Tukwila and Starfire, which thus far has cultivated a very
low public profile.
The park had been a part of the King County system, which mothballed
it to help close a major budget deficit. The county then signed
it over to Tukwila, which had the backing of Starfire, says Bruce
Fletcher, the city's parks and recreation director.
Without Starfire's help, Tukwila couldn't pay the estimated $500,000
yearly it costs to maintain and operate the park, Fletcher said.
"We didn't have that kind of dough, like other cities,"
Fletcher said. "Then enters Starfire Sports, a non-profit group.
The only way we could make it happen was public-private partnerships.
Once we'd (identified) this willing group, the city then accepted
transfer of the property."
The company is planning a $6 million redevelopment of Fort Dent,
he said, adding five new synthetic fields that allow year-round
play, two indoor soccer arenas and improvements to the softball
The focus will be on making the park a premier regional training
ground and family soccer facility accessible to all community members,
regardless of ability to pay, Fletcher said.
"That's going to be wonderful," he said. "I'm just
jumping up and down a group like Starfire would invest in something
Slatt declined to discuss his company in detail. He is the co-founder
and former chairman and chief executive of WatchGuard Technologies
Inc., an Internet security firm. He left WatchGuard in October to
work with Starfire, which he founded "to foster athletic development
and educational opportunities for children," according to a
WatchGuard news release.
"We're a non-profit company that's committed to keeping Fort
Dent Park open," Slatt said. "It's a beautiful park ....
We just thought it was terrible this park was going to be closed."
He added that he is convinced that team sports are invaluable in
helping young people grow and develop.
The minutes of the Nov. 4 meeting of the Tukwila City Council say
construction and maintenance at the park are expected to be "funded
entirely by charitable contributions. Mr. Slatt and his partners
are very confident of their ability to secure all the funding required
to make this a first-class operation."
Meanwhile, the cricket team at Fort Dent must begin playing somewhere
else by the end of the month so work can begin on the park. The
team has reached an agreement with the city of Renton to play games
there. But it can't stay there long term -- the field it will use
is destined to become a baseball diamond, said team captain Bunti
Because the team won't be there for long, it can't invest the thousands
it would take to make it into a proper cricket pitch. Because of
that, it has had to cancel all home games with teams from British
"It would be nice to keep this ground," Sondhi said.
It's not that he doesn't love soccer -- nearly all the cricket
players are fond of the game -- but there should be room for some
sporting diversity, he said. The Seattle area now has nine clubs,
boasting 14 teams.
"A lot of teams play cricket here," he said. "It's
For cricket player Mike Sachar, the game is a great leveler for
the region, fostering cultural exchange and friendship between very
different groups of people.
He'd hate for the local community to lose that.
"Everybody just comes together," he said.
"It's not like we're black, white or green. All the nationalities
WHAT IS CRICKET?
- Cricket is one of the most popular sports on the planet, particularly
in former British colonies such as India and Australia. Other
nations with cricket fever include Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh,
South Africa, the West Indies, and, of course, England.
- The basic game involves two teams alternately using a small
ball to try to knock down sets of wickets (three tall stakes with
two sticks lying on top) at either end of a pitch, or field, while
the other team attempts to defend the wicket by batting the ball
and scoring runs in the process.
- Many modern cricket matches are played in a day, but international,
or "test," matches last five days.
- The earliest known game of cricket on land that became the United
States took place on a Virginia tobacco plantation in 1709, according
to Amar Singh, secretary of the C.C. Morris Cricket Library at
Haverford University outside Philadelphia.
- One of George Washington's soldiers wrote in his diary of playing
a game of "wickets" in 1778 at Valley Forge.
- Cricket is the second-oldest intercollegiate sport in this country.
(The first was a crew race between Harvard and Yale.)
P-I reporter Elaine Porterfield can be reached at 206-870-7851 or