PLEASANTON — The city is considering adding a cricket pitch to a large grass field at Muirwood Community Park — and some neighbors are pushing back against the idea, saying they don’t want more traffic or flying cricket balls.

Though the patch of firm, synthetic turf the city is thinking about installing in the middle of the natural grass field would only be about 65 feet long, the proposal is stirring a big debate, with some residents maintaining the sport could cause overcrowding around the park with cars and take up too much grass area. And some are concerned flying cricket balls could be dangerous.

City staff and cricket advocates, however, say the park appears to be the only one in the city where a cricket pitch could be set up soon, that also has enough space, a restroom, storage space and enough parking, as well as fewer sports competing for the space than some other sites.

The city hopes to be able to create the pitch so the growing number of players in Pleasanton won’t have to drive to neighboring cities such as Dublin and San Ramon, or others farther afield in the South Bay to use fields there.

PLEASANTON, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 11: View of Muirwood Community Park in Pleasanton, Calif., on Friday, Feb. 11, 2022. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

The city’s library and recreation department is holding a community meeting about the proposal at Muirwood Community Park from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday to give people a chance to ask questions and share their opinions about the plans.

“That sort of thing does not belong in Muirwood Park,” Cynthia Shon, who lives near the park and walks there often, said Friday in an interview.

“It’s going to take up a huge amount of space, and safety is a big concern,” Shon said. “These balls fly, and they are hard. What keeps them from hitting people?” she said of the balls used in a cricket match.

She also said the neighborhood streets are already full of cars when soccer or youth football is played at the park, and worries that adding cricket games would increase traffic congestion. Shon said she has been handing out fliers to neighbors in the area and said people are “up in arms” about the cricket pitch.

She’s not the only person with concerns. In a post about the cricket pitch on the social media site Nextdoor, nearly 500 comments have been posted, largely from people opposed to it.

Rameshu Immadi, a member of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission and a cricket advocate who serves on the board of the nonprofit Cricket for Cubs, said he feels the concerns from neighbors seem largely based in “anxiety over a new sport,” one that is rapidly growing in popularity in the U.S., but still may not be familiar to many.

Both Immadi and Steve Berberich, another parks commissioner, said given the space available at the park, and how far most batted cricket balls fly, people who stay outside the cricket field’s boundaries will be safe.

“The orientation of the pitch, if it’s oriented right, that ball will never get close to the street,” Berberich said during a November parks and recreation commission meeting, where the commission unanimously recommended the City Council install a pitch in Muirwood.

“If a ball hits the street, then that person should not be in Pleasanton playing cricket — they should be playing on the world’s stage,” Berberich added with a laugh.

“Some people think we are going to dig up the whole field and there will be hundreds of cars in the neighborhood,” Immadi said in an interview. But that’s far from the truth, he said.

PLEASANTON, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 11: View of Muirwood Community Park in Pleasanton, Calif., on Friday, Feb. 11, 2022. The city of Pleasanton is considering building a cricket pitch at Muirwood Community Park. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

While the synthetic pitch would be permanent, cricket teams playing there would set up a temporary playing field of at least a 180-foot radius, marked with plastic cones in an oval shape.

The pitch would be placed in the middle of the field, so that when cricket games are not happening, there would still be enough space for two soccer games, one on either side of the pitch, according to Heidi Murphy, director of the city’s library and recreation department.

Murphy noted the city is using community meetings like the one Saturday to hear from residents following the commission’s vote in November, but a final decision from the City Council on this pitch likely wouldn’t come up until late spring or early summer.

Berberich and Immadi both said while they understand concerns about parking, they don’t think cricket games will add more of a parking crunch than the neighborhood already sees, because cricket wouldn’t be played at the same time as soccer or other sports.

Longer term, the city is also weighing where the best place would be to build a more complete cricket field in the city with larger boundaries, lighting, bleachers and other amenities.

Possible locations for that project, which could take five years and several million dollars to create, currently include one of the open areas at Bernal Community Park, or on a portion of the large, undeveloped plot of city land known as Staples Ranch, off Stoneridge Drive near the Pacific Pearl shopping center, city staff reports said.

While some prior efforts to get a cricket field in Pleasanton off the ground have failed going back several years, the City Council in April 2021 unanimously supported building one in Pleasanton after hearing “significant” support from residents and advocates, according to city staff reports.

A youth cricket pitch has been in place on the Alisal Elementary property for about a year, and Immadi said there haven’t been any complaints from neighbors about traffic, noise or interference with other activities there.

“Everyone needs to just realize that the parks are for all Pleasantonians. They’re for everyone,” Berberich said, in response to concerns from some residents who don’t want the pitch in Muirwood near their homes.

“All the kids who play soccer, lacrosse, softball, flag football, have a place to play,” he said. “I don’t see why the kids who play cricket can’t have a place to play in Pleasanton.”