I must apologize for not writing EVERY DAY. I know you, faithful reader, expect more from a King of Jewish Baseball like myself. I wish too, I am, after all, a literary genius, and it feels good to sit here and work through this. But I am also the short stop for the Israel National Team. And it is not easy to play in and write about the games at the same time as I am sure you cannot imagine. I know, it is not normal for a player to be a better writer than the writers, or the writer to be a better player than the players, or, for that matter, in my case, for both, or either, to also be the most important artist of the 21st century, but then again, I never claimed to be normal.
Even now, I do not really have time. I am typing in the dark by a fountain in the Olympic training facility in Italy and have been busy all day taking ground balls with Barry Larkin and hitting with Steve Finley at Major League Baseball’s Elite Camp for the top young players in Europe. I am here as a coach, but, AND DO NOT TELL ANYONE, I’m lookin’ for a contract, leaving with nothing less than a multi-year deal with a Big League club. I am already in negotiations with the Orioles. But, I digress, must apologize, again. You see, writing is a time machine, you can push pause, fast forward, go in, come back out, and sometimes I get lost. I should not be thrilling you with the true and amazing details of the magical world called my life– no, I should be telling you about the trip, the team, the highlights, and THE FIRST EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP ISRAEL HAS EVER WON IN BASEBALL. So that’s what I will do.
We flew into Prague instead of Ljubljana where the tournament was being played and spent the night at a very nice cave at the bottom of a gorge. Amazing design. The vampire behind the counter was friendly enough to unhinge himself from the ceiling and show us to our rooms where we slept for almost 4 whole hours before the short 10-hour drive to Slovenia.
We had three vans. We got lost immidiately and either decided to split up or it happened unintentionally. Our van slowly wound though the small towns of Central Europe. We were amazed by the manicured farms and ginger bread houses and the giant mountains rising into the clouds. WE ARE FROM A DESERT. Do you expect us to believe these things are real? All this green? All this space? This peace? The sheer scale makes it obvious. NOTHING IS THAT BIG. ALL FAKE.
Israel National Team, rolling through.
As the big mountains became rolling hills, and perfectly manicured lawns became perfectly neglected driveways, and things in general started looking shittier, we knew it, this was it, we had finally arrived, SLOVENIA.
But the shittiness is a facade, a ploy to KEEP YOU OUT. Slovenia– Ljubljana, at least, where we were, is amazing, perfect, a city in its prime, hovering between adolesence, and death. If your guage for the health of a city is how much graffiti it has, and it should be, Ljubljana is doing great. Ah yes, beautiful, naked, Ljubljana, holding a flower in one hand, and a plastic water bottle of homemade liquor in the other, with a knife between its teeth. The people are ALIVE, like we used to be. They hate communism. They hate capitalism. They hate everything. So they love everything.
To give you a better understanding of this magical place you will SURELY NEVER VISIT, I, King of All Jewish Baseball, using only a hearing aid and a metal detecter, compiled this collection of photographs. Keep in mind, I was not interested in acts of skill, but acts of passion, people of passion, in a city of passion. Ladies and Geetles, without further ado, I present, THE ANARCHISTIC GRAFFITI OF LJUBLJANA.
“The person you love is 72.8 percent water.” Truth.
I have no idea what this says, but I agree.
A very nice place… to sleep.
Jew Man? Awesome.
Most important piece of art in Ljubljana.
But we could not spend all our time taking pretty pictures, we had a job to do, a tournament to play, to win.
Our first game was Tuesday against Finland. We won.
Wednesday against the hosts, Slovenia. The whole town was there, they cleared the hospitals and prisons, brought everyone, dusted off the vuvuzelas and the noise makers. We won anyways. WE ARE THE GREATEST JEWISH BASEBALL SHOW ON EARTH!
Thursday. Latvia. Won. We were tearing through Eastern Europe like the Russian army.
Friday, the big game, the semi-finals. Two teams move up to the B Pool next year, both finalists, so all we had to do was win the semis to advance. We played Romania. WON, automatically in the 2015 B Pool. Boom.
But, it was not enough. No Israeli team had ever won a championship in Europe in baseball. We wanted it. The finals were Saturday against Slovenia, again. We won 14-0. We outscored our opponents 53-7 overall. We dominated. Our pitchers had an ERA around 1. Our team batting average was over .300. We hit 9 home runs in 5 games. Alon struck out the last batter. We ran and huddled at the mound, a single laser shot from us, from our hearts, into the cosmos. We were the champions.
It was our 1st international competition since losin the WBC in 2012, the weight lifted a bit. I could not tell if I was happy, I just knew I was not sad. The happiness grew. It came later. I still have it. But at the time, I felt only relief.
We needed this. We deserved it. We are back in the B Pool, where we belong, and we will make a run at winning that next summer.
We had one night to celebrate. In the morning, we packed up the vans, and everyone drove back to Prague to catch flights home. They dropped me off at the airport in Ljubljana and I rented a car to drive to Italy. We were so close for the week. 20 of us. Nothing else mattered. Then it was over. I looked back at the team and snapped a picture from inside the rental agency. It’s not for the blog, for once. It’s just for me.
I love you Guys. My brothers. WE DID IT!
The 2014 Israel National Team.