To live and cover-drive in LA

Are the bad boys of Los Angeles the latest, brightest hope for world cricket? A game for English gentlemen is the mean streets' latest craze.

Three years ago, Sergio Pinales had never heard of cricket. He really had no reason to. He was your typical gangland chulo, a bad-ass Latino teenager straight out of Compton, with bad-ass short-cropped hair, a bad-ass earring in his left ear, disconcertingly well-developed biceps and a hardened stare that took no prisoners.

But something odd was going on in his neighbourhood, and he decided to check it out. On an uneven, unwatered sports field behind one of Compton's typically destitute middle schools, a raggedy band of bums scooped up off the streets of downtown Los Angeles and a handful of teenage homeboys from the city's blasted hinterland were smashing at a hard red ball with long wooden bats. Nobody in the 'hood had much idea what they were doing there, much less what this strange sport of theirs might be.

Sergio approached, wearing the trademark baggy pants of Latino gang members and dragging a bulldog on a thick chain behind him. He looked mean as hell.

"Hey, what is this?" he asked. "Some kind of baseball game?"

"No, man. This is cricket," was the answer. "Baseball's a sissy game."

Sergio watched for a few minutes. Using a rusted baseball cage as a makeshift net, kids very like himself were hooking, driving and smashing the ball across the field in all directions. He picked up the ball, staring at the seam and bouncing it lightly in his hand to appreciate its weight and firmness.

"Where's your gloves?" he asked.

"Ain't no gloves, homey. Gloves is for sissies."

And so Sergio became hooked, utterly convinced that this genteel sport for upper-class Englishmen was in fact tailor-made for tough American street kids like him. And what started out as an unorthodox sporting interest - he is now a useful opening bat with a sideline in medium-pace bowling - has turned into something ever stranger.

His team, which has gone through several names but is currently known as the Homeys and the Pops, has attracted more than local attention. Two years ago they went on a swing through England that included stop-offs at Lord's and Hambledon as well as an appointment for tea with Prince Edward at Buckingham Palace.

And now they are preparing for a follow-up tour, a 19-day trip starting on Wednesday that will not only include games against the Lord's Taverners and the British Army, but will also feature a four-day foray into Northern Ireland for a mixture of sports and goodwill politics.

Thanks to sponsorship from Felix Dennis, the magazine magnate, the team will play cricket with the Irish Civil Service and try their hand at hurling against a local nationalist team. But most of all they will be there to cheer on the peace process. They hope to meet Gerry Adams, John Hume and Mo Mowlam, and impress them with what their founder and chief inspiration, Ted Hayes, calls "cricket diplomacy".

"Americans teaching Irish Catholics to play cricket - that's irony," Hayes remarks. "We're gonna present Gerry Adams with a cricket ball and bat. We hope it will break some of the tension."

The story of this eccentric team is so odd in so many particulars that it beggars belief. Then again, the man behind it all is no conventional Joe himself. Ted Hayes has gone through many bizarre transformations in his 48 years, from religious preacher to in-line skating ballet champion to homeless activist. He spent 10 years living on the streets, ran for mayor of Los Angeles in 1993, and came to international prominence by building the Dome Village, a community for the homeless made of cheap, energy-efficient fibreglass domes that sit on a piece of wasteland on the edge of downtown LA.

The first time he came in contact with cricket was in 1995, shortly after the establishment of his Dome Village. The Beverly Hills cricket club, one of a select few amateur teams that keep the cricket flame burning in southern California, was scratching around for an 11th player and put in a call to Katy Haber, managing director of the LA branch of Bafta, to ask if she knew anyone to fill in.

Haber just happened to be a volunteer at Dome Village, and turned to Hayes to ask if he were interested. He thought it might be a laugh, and said yes. "You should have seen their reaction as I turned up with my dreadlocks and a pit helmet," he recalls. "They obviously thought I was a West Indian pro, and greeted me with deep respect and awe and trembling."

He made precisely six runs, alarming the very proper ex-pat Brits as he dropped his bat, baseball style, to take off for the other end of the wicket. But the experience was little short of an epiphany for him.

"What impressed me was how the game had a whole philosophy, and I saw that as a tool for reaching inner-city kids," he said.

For Hayes, cricket is exactly what is needed in neighbourhoods such as Compton - drive-by shooting capital of the US and home of gangsta rap - to re-establish a sense of discipline and respect for authority. "When I say authority, I don't just mean the police, but parents, teachers and even gang leaders. It's disregarding them that gets a lot of these kids killed," he points out.

"We're not working to get kids off the streets. We're working to make the streets safe. Cricket teaches them to swallow their pride and deal with problems, rather than lash out. When you're out, you fold your bat and lift your head. If you want to swear and cuss you can do that behind a building afterwards. You don't argue with the umpire."

These are things, Hayes says, that American sports can't provide. Even baseball has been spoilt by prima donna behaviour, violence between players and the corrupting influence of huge salaries. "These millions and millions are destroying our young people. These sports are a way of getting ahead, but if they don't make it they turn to crime."

Hayes built a team bringing teenagers from Compton together with residents of his Dome Village, and drafted in Leo Magnus, a Jamaican former professional, to teach them the rudiments of cricketing technique. Within two years they had captured enough imaginations and raised enough sponsorship funds to make their first trip to London.

They visited the Houses of Parliament in a red double-decker bus, met government ministers and royalty and, most memorably, sowed consternation by beating the Hambledon Cricket Club in the very birthplace of the sport. "Their coach said it was the biggest tragedy to befall Hambledon ever," Hayes recalls with a grin. They had hoped to meet that other cricketing Compton, Sir Denis, but he died before they could meet. (Sir Denis took a great interest in them, says Hayes; with his uncertain knowledge of Los Angeles neighbourhoods, he thought the team was named after him).

Providing a little cricket diplomacy in Northern Ireland is only the first in a series of ambitious projects for Hayes and his team. He is trying to persuade the feuding politicos of Compton to raise money for America's first cricket stadium, confidently predicting that, given the right facilities, the sport could turn into a national sensation within as little as 10 years. His 21-year-old son Isaac has produced a cricket rap and hip-hop CD.

And the Walt Disney Company is seriously considering turning the story of the Homeys and the Pops into a movie, with Katy Haber and Hayes himself co-producing.

All this is heady stuff for Compton kids who have barely travelled outside their own neighbourhood, let alone won recognition for anything. "Girls come up and hand out their phone numbers," Sergio says with a smile. "Even my friends ask for my autograph."

Not that there aren't a few hiccups. The Homeys' star batsman was recently convicted for his part in a drive-by shooting and faces three to five years in prison for assault. (He says he wants to teach cricket to his fellow prisoners.) One of the homeless team members can't make the tour because it would violate the terms of his parole.

Such setbacks are a blow for morale, and especially for the technical confidence of a team that could use a little more subtlety. Watching their practice sessions at the Willowbrook Middle School in Compton (motto: a Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste), it is clear that the hurtling deliveries and cracking hook shots owe more to macho posturing and the memories of schoolyard baseball than to conventional cricket.

"They don't have the patience to wait for the bad ball," comments Ryan Daniels, an Australian graphic artist who helps out with the training sessions. "It's like trying to teach a bunch of wild horses how to pull a buggy. It's hard, man, hard!" Let's hope Gerry Adams is ready.

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth


Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee