Patrons of Brandon’s newest sports venue hailed its grand opening on Saturday morning with an exhibition match under a warm sun and a hazy sky. But the smoky air didn’t deter opening ceremonies for the newly built J&G Homes Cricket Field.
Two teams — the President’s 11 and the Vice President’s 11 — squared off in a friendly game of cricket to mark the inaugural day of the field, construction of which was completed on July 25. Completion of the new venue ushered in a new day for members of the Westman Cricket Association, who until Saturday had to travel to Winnipeg to participate in the sport.
"It feels like it’s our own soil that we worked on," said Digvijay Vaghela, who played as a fielder for the Vice President’s 11 on Saturday. "We feel proud of it, by playing here instead of going to Winnipeg all the time. It saves a lot of time. It brings a lot of the guys who want to play in Brandon. It brings a lot of families together as well. The community is getting bigger."
Construction of the facility came together through a unique partnership in Brandon’s sports community. Brandon Minor Baseball, the Westman Youth Football Association and the Westman Cricket Association agreed on a plan to construct the cricket pitch built between the two football fields at Boyd Stadium, which is part of Simplot Millennium Park.
On nights football isn’t playing, cricket will have full use of the pitch and both fields, giving them a regulation playing surface in Brandon for the first time.
Westman Cricket Association president Akash Patel previously told the Sun that most of the provincial games for Manitoba will be held in Brandon following the construction of the Wheat City’s new cricket field, "because Manitoba normally plays Saskatoon."
Simplot Millennium Park has its own board — all three sports are technically its tenants — with a mandate to provide recreational opportunities in Brandon. At the same time, all three sports will be represented on the board. Each pays a rental fee for a predetermined number of hours of access to the facility, which is located west of the Maple Leaf plant on the junction of Richmond Avenue East and Highway 110.
The city is still planning to build a cricket pitch at its new development at the corner of Veterans Way and First Street. Development on that facility began this week, but the cricket association intends to make J&G Homes Cricket Field its primary location.
Now that cricket has a permanent home in Brandon, Vaghela believes it will give a lot more playing opportunities for people who cannot find the time to make it to Winnipeg. As a result, he believes there will be increased talent coming here to Brandon.
"Most of us are from Brandon," Vaghela said, "but we also have players who come and play from Rivers, Virden, some people come from Neepawa. We have quite a few individuals who come and play from the Westman region."
Cricket is a growing sport in Brandon, with more than 200 kids involved.
» firstname.lastname@example.org, with files from Perry Bergson
» Twitter: @MattGoerzen