Our first apartment in Chicago was a small but tiny flat in the Logan Square neighborhood (we’re still there, just a slightly bigger place) and was across from a very nice park.
On those hot and humid Chicago days (we never experienced such heat and stickiness in Sheffield!) as our little second-hand window unit struggled to keep up, we’d head outside to the shade of the trees in the park, which was actually much cooler than our 3rd floor walk-up. We’d share ideas for songs, talk about getting used to America, etc.
One day in the park (could have been a Saturday in the park, being in Chicago after all), we overhead another couple of guys chatting to each other in very familiar accents. I could make out a conversation about bats and balls and runners and we were very excited to meet some fellow Englishmen to play a little cricket!
Heading over to investigate, we met Jason from Leeds and Mike from Bradford, two fine Yorkshire towns. They had a bat and a ball, but it certainly wasn’t for cricket.
“I know that’s a baseball bat,” Charlie said. “But that’s certainly not a baseball, right?”
They laughed and explained it was a softball.
“But I’ve seen softball in the Olympics, and that looks nothing like a softball,” I said.
“It’s a 16 inch softball,” Jason explained. “They call it a mush-pounder. It’s pretty much a Chicago exclusive.”
“We thought it was a bit odd when we moved here 10 years ago,” explained Mike. “But now we love it! It’s fun, easy-paced, and lends itself plenty of opportunities for meeting girls and drinking beer.”
That sounded good to us! We really wanted to fit in here in our new adopted city and make some friends, so we asked if they would teach us how to play.
“Sure,” said Mike. “We’re in a league that plays here on Monday nights. Come by then and you can meet the rest of the guys.”
The following Monday we headed over to the park to find a group of about a dozen, male and female, all ready to play.
“Hey, it’s Ryan and Charlie!” said Jason. “They’re from England, too. We invited ‘em to play.”
“Hi, Ryan and Charlie! I’m Melissa, and that’s my roommate Jennifer. That’s so cool you’re from England, too.”
This was already getting off to a great start.
The other players greeted us warmly, and said we’d easily learn the game as we went along.
We chose up sides, and played what I believe was a 5-inning game.
“The quicker the game, the quicker you get to the pub, eh?” I said.
“Now you’re getting it,” said Julie, one of our teammates.
Some pros and cons from our 16-inch softball experience:
Pros: Good people to be with, laid back atmosphere, everyone just plays for fun, great group to hang out with at the pub after the game, great to have some new friends in the city, especially Melissa and Jennifer.
Cons: You don’t wear a glove in 16-inch softball. The “mush pounder” certainly weighs more than a pound. Catching the ball is very difficult and, at least for us, quite dangerous: guitarists and drummers can’t play well with dislocated fingers.
We were out of commission for at least a week, fortunately we had no gigs to play yet and no plans to record.
The next week, we dropped by the park, just to hang out and watch the game, and afterwards at the pub (weren’t going to miss out on that!) invited everyone to the park the next Saturday to teach them how to play cricket!
Pros and cons of teaching Americans cricket in a medium-sized neighborhood park:
Pros: Having fun as they learn the game, laughing at some of the terms and admittedly silly customs, enjoying a little bit of the old country here in the U.S., having a great time at the pub afterwards, and successfully asking out Melissa and Jennifer.
Cons: A cricket ball, when struck with same force required to launch a 16-inch softball, flies much further. Some very nice cars are parked nearby. Car alarms are quite loud when cricket balls hit windows.
The next time we met up we were introduced to a game called “Wiffle Ball.” Exactly our speed. No injuries to fingers, car windows, and random passers-by.
We love it in Chicago.
Inspired by Melissa and Jennifer (sadly, it didn’t last, but we parted as friends), we wrote a song about a lovely Chicago girl, called “Sunshining.” It’s from our new album “Minor Blemishes” which you can check out here. I think you’ll dig it — even Logan Square hipsters might approve!