T20 takes off: Baseball fuels cricket's rise

Story highlights

  • Low wages push players away from minor league baseball
  • Pro cricket coach Julien Fountain boosts US cricket with new Twenty20 talent scheme
  • Baseballer dreams of becoming "best cricket player in the world"

(CNN)Cricket is not a game that looks ready to take off among American sports fans -- but it could be about to provide an unexpected new career for professional athletes in the United States.

Despite the millions earned in Major League Baseball, the minor leagues are filled with players only pocketing around $1,000 a month as they chase a dwindling dream of making it big.
It's a breadline salary so low that it has sparked a class-act lawsuit against major teams.
    But one man thinks another way out is for minor leaguers to take their professional skills and switch them to another ball game.
    Julien Fountain, the former fielding coach for Pakistan's Test cricketers who also played baseball for Great Britain, is recruiting American players to a scheme he calls Switch Hit 20 -- aimed at taking the inherent aptitude and athleticism of ballplayers and training them in the nuances of Twenty20 cricket.
    "I'm not trying to take players away from a baseball career," says Fountain, who had tryouts with the Royals, the White Sox and the Mets, before coaching some of cricket's top international teams using skills learned in the ballpark.
    "But any current minor leaguers who feel they aren't going to make it, or guys who have recently been cut or quit because they simply cannot afford to carry on; they are perfect for a career in modern cricket. And the key things for these guys is that it pays considerably better than the Gulf Coast League."
    It's something he's already done once. After leaving his post with Pakistan last year, he converted a group of Korean baseball players into a national cricket team that reached the quarterfinals of the Asian Games this fall.
    "Having moved back and forth between the two sports myself, I know the potential these guys have for success in T20 cricket," says Fountain.
    "I was the first to introduce baseball fielding techniques to international cricket, because a major league outfielder will out-throw a professional cricketer every time. This is a sport that Americans can do well at."
    Minor leaguer Boomer Collins has been chasing the dream of the big leagues since he was a boy. His looks, his build, the way he talks and even his name are as near to the definition of an American ballplayer as you're going to get.
    But beyond the square jaw and the all-state honors as both outfielder and quarterback, there's one thing that makes him different to every other guy out there on the diamond.
    He wants to be the greatest cricket player the world has ever seen.
    Thomas Collins III got the nickname "Boomer" thanks to the tornado crashing past the Texas hospital where he was born in June 1989.
    A couple of decades later and his .374 batting average, with 13 home runs in 60 junior-year games at Dallas Baptist, saw him eventually signed by the Blue Jays.
    His story since then is depressingly similar to thousands like him, becalmed in the minor leagues on a poverty-line salary of $1,200 a month.
    "I'm always an optimist. I'm 25 years old. This year will probably prove a lot. I want to make the big leagues and I'm going to work my butt off until it happens or doesn't happen," Collins said in his break be