Blackburn Park in Brookhaven, on a recent Saturday morning: On a couple of fields, parents cheer their kids as they play soccer. On one baseball field, a group of guys play touch football. On the adjacent baseball field, a smaller group of guys, most wearing bright yellow shirts, practice catching a red ball lofted by a wide, flat-faced bat.
The guys in yellow shirts call themselves the Dunwoody Hitters, but they are playing the game of a different place. They’re playing cricket.
It reminds some of them of home.
“It’s getting back to the roots in a foreign land,” Jai Varadarajan said.
Most of the Hitters come from India. They’re from all over that country, from the south and north. They live in Dunwoody now, mostly in two apartment complexes with a lot of other Indian residents. They work with computers and came to the United States for jobs. They love playing cricket, a game not a lot of Americans follow or understand. The yellow jerseys they wear to practice bear the team colors of their favorite professional team, the Chennai Super Kings.
“In India, we love cricket,” said Ilaiyaraja Rajamohan, who’s been in the U.S. only five months. He used to play on his school’s cricket team, he said. “Everyone plays cricket.”
“It’s in the genes,” said Pravinkumar Nallamaruthamuthu, who’s 40, and says he started playing cricket at age 5. He’s one of the founders of the Hitters. “At my age, however much I can, I will play.”
There’s another cricket team based in Dunwoody that’s composed of Indian players, Nallamaruthamuthu said. The Dunwoody Devils, he said, have been around a little longer. Nallamaruthamuthu and Varadarajan started the Hitters about a year ago. The two have each lived in the U.S. 11 years. They met at their gym. They started talking about their favorite sport and decided to pull together their own team. Nallamaruthamuthu said the Hitters started “with my apartment friends. Now we’re kind of scattered.”
The team has a total of 15 members. They grab unused baseball fields for practices on weekends. On some Sundays, they play matches with other teams that have organized around metro Atlanta, in towns such as Marietta.
They usually don’t draw a crowd. But passersby sometimes stop to gawk and try to figure out what they’re doing. “We have some spectators come and take pictures,” Varadarajan said.
All but one of the members of the team is Indian. The exception is Derek Kuipers, who’s 47, and works in corporate finance. He only half jokes that when other teams see him show up with the Hitters, they assume he must be Australian or English or South African or an immigrant from some other former British Empire country where cricket is played.
Kuipers came to cricket in a roundabout way. He played American sports such as softball and baseball – he’s a center fielder – but knew little of cricket until he started sending money to a charity that helps care for poor children in foreign countries. He was paired with a boy in India. They corresponded often, and the boy wrote regularly about his favorite cricket team and players. Kuipers started following the game on the Internet so he’d have something to write about.
A few months ago, he was walking his dog through Dunwoody Park, he said, when he saw the Hitters practicing. He started talking to them about their game and soon joined in. “The first time I played, they put me in the equivalent of right field,” he said. Now he’s one of their best fielders, his teammates say. “Now I play the equivalent of shortstop,” he said.
He says the game has given him an introduction to Dunwoody’s Indian community. “I’m just fascinated by the Indian population in Dunwoody. There are places in Dunwoody where that’s all you’ll see, and there are people in Dunwoody who don’t know they’re there.”
They are. So is their game.