As far as cultural adjustments go, it was the traffic jams in Bangalore that grabbed the attention of Boomer Collins. For Collins, born in the open spaces of Dallas, Bangalore took some getting used to: mini vans strapped with rucksacks on the roof; rickshaw operators walking their steel-framed bikes in between trucks; mopeds using the curbs of the sidewalk to maneuver around bottle necked intersections.
“It was a sensory overload,” said the 26-year-old. “How busy everything is. Everything is one huge traffic jam.”
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But Collins isn’t on a religious pilgrimage or some backpacking adventure. The former minor leaguer is in India to do the unthinkable: woo cricket scouts and win a contract to play T20. Collins, who had never heard of the game before this year, is giving cricket his best shot.
“I’m going all in with cricket,” said Collins, who was recently dropped from the Blue Jays’ affiliate AAA team in Lansing, Michigan, and has only been playing cricket for two weeks. “It’s not a game you can halfway in. Especially If I want to play at a higher level, I don’t think that I can go into it only give it 50% of my time and effort.”
Collins is in India with coach and mentor Julien Fountain, the founder of SwitchHit20, a project that would look at molding the skills of minor-league players into professional cricketers that could play in leagues around the world for sums up to $800,000. On his list are 150 potential cricketers from the minor leagues; Collins is the first to fully commit to the project and Fountain expects that more than 1,000 applicants will attend a combine once a date and venue has been set.
Ever since he can remember, Collins – who got his nickname Boomer after the 1989 tornado that ripped by the Texas hospital he was born in – dreamed about playing professional baseball. And he did. He played for the Dallas Baptist University Patriots, where the likes of Blue Jays shortstop Ryan Goins and newly signed Chicago Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist were drafted. In 2013, although he wasn’t drafted, Collins signed with the Toronto Blue Jays as an undrafted free agent. He labored for four years with four different teams – the Gulf League Coast Blue Jays, the Vancouver Canadiens, the Dunedin Jays and the Lansing Lugnuts – as a right-handed designated hitter and outfielder, but never got the call up he was looking for.
He describes his time in the minors as “fortunate” and has no regrets. He would have loved more opportunities but as he says “it wasn’t in the cards.” But never did he imagine a trip to India to begin a cricket career at 26.
In 2014, 32 former minor league players filed a federal lawsuit against Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig and 17 major league teams. The lawsuit called for minor leaguers to be paid a salary that meets minimum wage requirements. This past October, US district court in San Francisco ruled that the lawsuit was approved as a class action, meaning it can add 10,000 former and current minor leaguers. It’s understandable why these minor leaguers are seeking more pay: at $1,500, on average, per month, it’s well below the poverty line.
Plus it’s also feasible to think that minor leaguers would find cricket’s T20 format hugely appealing, with the vast hitting of sixes that go out of the stands and fours that crash into the fence that replacing the exhilarating home runs and paychecks starting at an estimated $80,000. The American perception of cricket though is this: why play a game that lasts for two weeks and still draw?
Collins said one thing he’s finding burdensome about his transition to cricket is the decision-making – and deciding which shot to play.
“With baseball you take your best swing whereas cricket you have to change your swing to the different balls that come in,” he said.
There are other intricacies Collins has noticed, too. In baseball, you never try to hit a ball that is aimed at your body or head, but it’s the opposite in cricket, where you use the bat to protect your body and wickets with a vertical approach. But as far as Collins is concerned, he’s spent all his life hitting a round ball with a round bat, so he should be able to transfer his skills to hit a round ball with a square bat.
The first time Collins met Fountain was 11 months ago. Fountain had reached out to him and other minor league baseball players offering an off-season idea to earn extra money. After looking at YouTube clips of cricket and a few emails later, Collins was soon texting Fountain at least once a day with questions about the sport. What he saw in T20 cricket was a game that had action; a game he could adapt to.
As far as resumés go, the 45-year-old Fountain comes well versed to take Collins to the next level, but says funding for this project is one obstacle that could curtail the whole thing.
“I am paying for Boomer’s training out of my own pocket. The project is currently being proposed to a few possible investors, but we will have to pitch it in person,” he wrote, adding he’s already spent more than $10,000 since he started the project in 2010. “Without sponsors, it will be down to me paying for everything, and I simply cannot afford to put down tens of thousands of dollars.”
It’s been a hectic six days in Bangalore, where Collins and Fountain have been busy with three workouts a day that include a two-hour one-on-one skills’ session, batting practice for three hours and at night, Collins assists Fountain with a fielding clinic at the Karnataka Institute of Cricket, some 54 minutes south of Bangalore’s Kempegowda International Airport.
Collins probably doesn’t know he’s working down the street from the world-famous M Chinnaswamy Stadium, which held a World Cup quarter-final in 1996 and three group matches in 2011. Yet even if Collins doesn’t get offered a contract before Christmas, he’s going to join a local league in Texas and continue to work with Fountain to hone his raw skills.
“If I turn this into a career, I turn it into a career. If I don’t, I’ll go get a job,” he said. “I’m not going into this as if it’s a hobby. With a little of practice and a little of time, I think I could make a career out of it.”