Homeless Globetrotters : Cricket Team From Downtown Camp Headed for Britain

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Talk about a sticky wicket.

The airplane ticket to London was in his pocket. Welcoming letters from Buckingham Palace and No. 10 Downing Street were in his hand. So was the note from the White House proclaiming him to be an American ambassador of goodwill.

But his parole officer wasn't buying any of Joe Jacobs' story.

Not when Jacobs explained how he'd changed from a homeless person into a star batsman for a Downtown L.A. cricket team invited to England to rub shoulders with royalty and play some of Britain's top cricket clubs.

"He wouldn't let me go. He said I couldn't go more than 50 miles out of the city," said the 29-year-old former warehouseman who is on parole for a narcotics conviction.

Fortunately for the L.A. Krickets team, operators of a homeless encampment at the edge of Los Angeles' high-rise district interceded with the parole office in time for Jacobs to leave Thursday night for the unusual sports road trip.

The 14-member cricket team is made up of residents of the Justiceville dome village adjacent to the Harbor Freeway south of Downtown. For the next 10 days they will be sipping tea and playing gentlemanly matches with some of England's most elite cricket clubs.

If the trip sounds unlikely, wait until you hear how the homeless camp was introduced to cricket.

English-born movie producer Katy Haber--a cricket enthusiast who is secretary of the Hollywood-based British Academy of Film Arts Cricket Team--began working as a volunteer with the Justiceville dome project 2 1/2 years ago.

When members of the rival Beverly Hills Cricket Team found themselves unexpectedly short one player a year later and put out a call for help, Haber almost jokingly suggested they recruit Justiceville founder Ted Hayes.

"I said, 'How about a homeless advocate who plays baseball?' and they called him," said Haber.

The Beverly Hills group was impressed by how quickly Hayes picked up the somewhat quaint rules and techniques of the game played in England for 700 years. Locally, cricket lovers play weekly matches in a 40-team league at Woodley Park in Van Nuys.

Three months ago, league administrator David Sentance, a West Los Angeles investor, suggested teaching the game to other residents of the Justiceville encampment. He was stunned by how fast they took to the game, too.

When a group of visiting British businessmen saw the homeless men playing cricket a short time later, they suggested that the fledgling players travel to England--perhaps in 1996--to see how the experts play the game.

Good idea, said Hayes, 44. But since residency at the homeless encampment can be transient in nature, why not go this year?

Merrick Baker-Bates, the British Consul General to Los Angeles, snipped away the red tape, leading to welcoming letters from Prince Edward and Prime Minister John Major. Members of the Krickets were nervous as they packed their bags late Thursday afternoon at the dome village. However, it was the flight--not the matches--on their minds. "They said we'll be over the water for eight hours. I'm not too keen on that," said Roger Simon, 28, a jobless painter and landscaper. "But how many guys from South-Central like me have been to England?"

Hayes said equipment and lodging for the trip is being donated. Other donations also paid for discount airline tickets, he said. None of the cost of the trip is coming from Justiceville's $12,000-a-month operating budget, he stressed. Of course, if the team finds itself without a place to stay in England, "we can always sleep on the street," he said with a grin.

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