Saad Zafar is ready for cricket to take the next step in Canada, both on the pitch and in the stands.

Zafar, Canada's captain for the upcoming Cricket World Cup, was getting set to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on Friday before the Toronto Blue Jays hosted the Minnesota Twins. His appearance was part of Cricket Night at Rogers Centre, an event designed to bring fans of the two bat-and-ball sports together.

"It's going to put us in the limelight. It's going to put us in the news," said Zafar, standing in the 200-level concourse of the ballpark hours before the game. "From that it will generate eyeballs and sponsorships and then those funds that we generally lack we can use those into development of our infrastructure, starting grassroots cricket, where we promote cricket to the kids and schools so that we can have homegrown talent.

"It can do a lot actually, an event like this can go a long way in the development of the sports in the country."

The 37-year-old Pakistani-Canadian all-rounder, who started playing for Canada in 2008, was one of several cricketers who took in the ballpark before the Blue Jays took the field. They were there to cross-promote the two sports but also raise awareness that Canada will be competing in the ICC Men's T20 World Cup for the first time next month.

Canada opens the group stage against the United States on June 1 at Grand Prairie Stadium in Grand Prairie, Texas. The event is being co-hosted by the United States and the West Indies.

"It has always been a dream for me to represent Canada in the World Cup because World Cup is the biggest tournament in cricket," said Zafar. "It doesn't get any bigger than that. It has a massive amount of audience.

"That has been my lifelong dream to represent Canada in a World Cup and that has finally come true. I am super excited and I'm looking forward to it."

Former cricketers Curtly Ambrose and Richie Richardson, both of whom are from Antigua and Barbuda and played for the West Indies, also toured Rogers Centre on Friday.

"My ambition is to see cricket becomes a more globalized sport than even soccer," said Richardson, who will be a match referee at the World Cup. "That's my goal. That's what I would like to see.

"So when things like this happen where Canada and other smaller countries get the opportunity to be on the world stage, it means that the game is spreading."

A white cricket hat with the Blue Jays logo emblazoned on the front was given to the first 15,000 fans to attend the game with the Twins as part of Cricket Night on Friday. Concessions at the ballpark also added one-night only specials to their menus like mini samosas, "Delhi’tine" loaded fries — essentially poutine with shredded paneer cheese and butter chicken — and chai latte churros.

Christine DesJardine, the Blue Jays vice-president of brand and digital marketing, said that it was all part of an effort to introduce fans of cricket to its North American cousin.

"We know that many new Canadians have grown up in countries where they might not have been exposed to the game of baseball, but they do play cricket and are huge fans of that game," she said. "So we're inviting all the cricket fans down to the ballpark tonight to learn and experience great things about cricket but also learn about baseball and about the Toronto Blue Jays."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 10, 2024.