Part I: THE EXPLANATION… AND GOLD

2 Jul

Today is June 15, 2012.  In 85 days, on Sept. 9th, I am reporting to Jupiter, Florida to play for Team Israel in the 2012 World Baseball Classic.  Here’s the email I received from the team last week…

Congratulations,

You have been selected to be part of the WBC Team Israel roster of players.  This is quite an honor and each of you is deserving of it because of your accomplishments and talents, and past performance for Israel National Teams.  As the highest level event to which an Israel National baseball team has ever been invited, the IAB wants to recognize your accomplishments, and wants to continue the forward momentum that we have generated over the last 5 years, by having you play a part in the WBC qualifying round.  

 The IAB has set 3 goals for our involvement in the WBC tournament:

1.  To win the qualifiers and advance to the final rounds in March;

2.  To further develop and grow baseball in Israel and help finance the IAB Home facility on land donated by the City of Raanana;

3.  To strengthen the contacts between the Jewish American and Israeli communities through baseball.  

 The WBC qualifying tournament will be held from September 19-23 in Jupiter Florida.  Team Israel will be matched up against national teams from South Africa, France and Spain.  Brad Ausmus has agreed to be the Team Israel Manager, and Shawn Green and Gabe Kapler have agreed to be player/coaches – it is an honor to be coached by ex-players of this caliber, and to have them supporting the cause of developing baseball in Israel.  

There will be two training camps prior to the tournament: from September 9-13 for the Israel Senior National team players and from September 13 – 18 you will be joined by Jewish American players who will make up the bulk of the travelling squad for the tournament.  A number of Israeli ballplayers will be chosen to play on the WBC travelling squad.  The balance of the players will be invited to watch and cheer on your teammates. 

Now, there’s a lot there, so let me help clarify.  Peter is Peter Kurz, the President of the Israel Association of Baseball (IAB), the governing body for baseball in Israel.  Our coaching staff, as you see, is comprised of three recently retired Major League players with an impressive amount of combined games played and home-runs and even World Series rings among them.  Brad Ausmus who will manage, caught for 18 years in the Big Leagues.  Gabe Kapler played for 13 years and was playing right field for the Red Sox when they won the World Series in 2004.  And Shawn Greene hit 328 home runs in the Major Leagues.  All three guys were in the Majors within the last 5 years and Green and Kapler are going to play as well as coach.

There are two dates to report to camp.  The Israeli’s, meaning the “Israel Senior National Team”, will report September 9th.  The American players will report four days later September 13th.

The Israeli SNT is the real Team Israel, if you want to call it that.  The team is made up of Israelis and a few North Americans with Israeli passports.  The core group has played together for years now.  The individual players from the SNT play primarily on different teams in the “Premier League”, or the men’s league, in Israel.  And then every two years or so the team unites for international competitions.  Last summer, 2011, they lost to Great Britain in the finals of the European Championship Qualifiers failing to advance to the 2012 finals in Amsterdam.  I know all this because I was an assistant coach for the tournament and was there screaming in the dugout. So, despite not being Israeli (I’m from Cleveland and live in New York), as the King of All Jewish Baseball, I have been invited to report with the Israelis.

You may ask, what makes one the King of All Jewish Baseball?  Everyone knows one cannot just proclaim themselves a King, it would be heretical and insane.  Well, you will know, I have the credentials.  I, baseball genius and the King of Jewish Baseball, have fought the battles.  I’ve been to Israel to play or coach 5 times in the last 9 years.  I bravely defended Tel Aviv for the Tel Aviv Lightning in the Israel Baseball League in the one and only season of the wounded league.  I’ve fought twice for the United States in the grueling gauntlet that is the Maccabi Games aka the Jewish Olympics bringing home gold and silver medals for the children of my village.  I was an assistant Coach/Prince of the Israel National Team.  And I was recently named head coach of the United States Junior National Team for the 2013 Maccabi Games and am prepared to lead that team earnestly to victory.

The American players, the heavy hitters, will report on the 13th as I mentioned already.  The Major League season will still be going on in September, so the Americans reporting are mostly guys currently playing minor league baseball.  In the World Baseball Classic, you do not have to be a citizen of the nation you play for, you simply have to be eligible for citizenship of that nation.  For other nations, “eligible” is defined most commonly as having had a grandparent with citizenship or according to the “right of return” rule for that country.  In the case of Israel, any Jew in the world is eligible for citizenship meaning Ryan Braun, Ian Kinsler, Ike Davis, Kevin Youkilis (I played college ball at the University of Cincinnati with Youk and we’re still good friends), and a slew of other Jewish Major and Minor League baseball players are eligible which instantly makes Israel a contender.

The actual World Baseball Classic will take place during spring training of 2013.  The tournament we will be playing in this September is the qualifying round like it says in Peter’s e-mail.

There are 16 teams in the WBC.  The top 12 teams from the 2009 Classic automatically are invited back for 2013.  The bottom 4 teams (Canada, Chinese Taipei, Panama, and South Africa) drop into the qualifier with 12 new countries (Brazil, Colombia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Great Britain, Israel, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Philippines, Spain, and Thailand) that have been invited, for the first time, to try and qualify.  16 teams.  4 groups of 4.  Winner of each group advances to the WBC.  We have to win our bracket with Spain, South Africa, and France to get into the tournament.  If any of this is confusing, I will explain it more often and more clearly as the tournament gets closer and as we get info about the team.

Here was my reply to Peter…

Best e-mail I’ve received in a while!  Will be ready to report and kick ass Sept 9-25, gladly. 

Thank you so much for the opportunity.  Let’s win this thing.

Is this roster info public? – As in, can i tell people?

Thanks!

-Fish

His reply…

Fish,

You can tell people, but you are not yet on the WBC tournament team and I hope that was clear…..there is still a long way to go and your struggle will not be easy and there are no promises at all…ok??

Take care

Peter

So “on team Israel” is a bit of an overstatement.  Trying to make the team is more accurate.  Am I stupid? – Or did that original e-mail say I was on the team?  It turns out, there will be a total of 50 of us reporting to camp vying for 26 roster spots.  All I want is a shot. I may have, as King of All Jewish Baseball, been issued an honorary invite, but what they don’t know is that I am planning on showing up and kicking ass.  It’s been four years since I’ve played competitively, and almost ten years since I had a shot at playing legitimate pro baseball.  And this is my last chance to prove to myself and the world I’m any good, so I’m going all in, training every day, playing 50 games before camp, and putting my body on the line one last time.  At an age when I should supposedly be settling down (32) and securing what is commonly called a “future” for myself, besides the upcoming tournament, I am heading into an amazing stretch of the unknown.  In the last month I’ve had my heart broken, witnessed someone kill themselves, and quit my job.  Once my paychecks stop coming in August, I have no plan.  So I’m doing what anyone in their right mind would do in the face of ultimate uncertainty, I’m starting a blog, shaving the sides of my head, and buying lots of gold jewelry.

gold snake bracelet.  newest piece.

Gold snake bracelet.  Newest piece.

From now on I am going to chronicle every game, training session, physical therapy appointment trip to the sporting goods store, bad hair-cut, massage, strike-out, gold necklace, home-run, broken bat, error, diving play, and injury on my journey to Jupiter.  And  it is all just for you!

my new hair cut.

Here’s my final reply to Peter…

You got it, Peter.

I am gonna claw crawl and hit my way onto that team!
Thanks.

-Fish

II

Honestly, I should have started writing this blog a long time ago.  I may have just received the official invite, but I have already been training for five months, and a lot’s happened – I just haven’t had time.

Two years ago I helped found a small indoor baseball facility East Harlem. Every day I, and the rest of the staff, transform the little gym there into an indoor baseball heaven.  We carry 2,000 pounds of astro-turf cut into 14 foot sections out of the little office where we’ve stacked it the night before.  We haul out L-screens, buckets of baseball, tees, indoor pitching mounds… then we drop down three batting cages from the ceiling, get the nets straightened out, and open the doors for the kids.

my office. that’s the turf rolled up on the ground

post transformation

We have over 1,500 players in our baseball program.  We have nine “travel teams”, one in each age division between 8 and 16 years-old.  We have a developmental league for 6 to 8 year-olds.  We do baseball birthday parties, we train high-school teams, and run camps and clinics all year.  I alone do upwards of 1,000 private hitting and pitching lessons every year.  Point being, I have been too busy to start a blog.  But lucky for us, today is my last day managing the Academy.  Roughly one month ago I walked into the ED’s office (ED in this case does not stand for erectile dysfunction, but Executive Director), and resigned, and simultaneously fired off a 5,000 word email to the board of directors criticizing the organization officially sealing my fate as a soon-to-be unemployed baseball coach. Best thing I ever did.  If you are having any trouble deciding if you should leave your job, allow me to help clarify things for you, leave, now, and never look back.  Go do what everyone wants to do but are not brave enough to try– be yourself for a living, or better, be the King of All Jewish Baseball.

I will say, it is nice to have a baseball facility when you’re training to play.  I take a couple hundred swings a day in the cage.  When I started training, I didn’t think I could do it.  My body hurt too much.  I’m mostly used up, and I know it.  My last season playing officially was 2008 in Germany. I was playing in the Bundesliga, Germany’s top pro league, where I lived in an insane asylum in Munich next to the team’s home field and didn’t know anyone but my teammates and wrote a blog like this one mostly to keep myself company for the six months I was there (www.whatthefuckamidoingingermay.blogspot.com). I didn’t think I would make it through the season.  My arm hurt, my hands hurt, my knees hurt.  And now I’m four years older.  I play baseball between 4 and 9 hours every day.  I throw the ball roughly 500 times in that span, and hit a lot on my own or to demo for the kids.  My body is worn out.

But I just completed six weeks of physical therapy, I joined Richie’s, the gym around the corner from my apartment in Brooklyn, I am learning how to run properly from Ed “Go Go” Lovelace (Ed was on the the USA Olympic team in ’92 with Michael Johnson and is the sprint coach for Major League Baseball), and in general have been slowly piecing myself together.  I train every morning.  And I work my shift at the Academy every night.

I’m also playing on two teams to get ready, The Bronx Thunder Dogs in the Westechester/Rockland County Wood Bat League (WRBL), and the Oakland A’s in the Zorrilla – New York’s best, and craziest, men’s league. I have played a total of five games so far.  And I am starting to figure it out as they say, refigure in my case.  I am a combined 5 for 15.  I have 2 singles, 2 doubles, and a home-run so far.  A quick story about my last game with the T-Dogs before I head off for an afternoon training session for my last shift at the Baseball Academy…

Sunday, five days ago I guess, after a 9am-3pm shift at the Baseball Academy following a long night, we, the T-Dogs, drove up to Peekskill, New York for a 6pm double header against the Peekskill Tides.  They have a nice little park up there.  I woke-up as we pulled into the parking lot behind the outfield fence.  I changed behind the dugout and headed to the outfield to get warmed-up.  The fences were shallow, just 330 feet to center field, but thirty feet tall.  Someone during warm-ups was making fun of another guy on the team for hitting a ball of the fence last year and only getting a single.  I should have known then.  There was a big lake behind the bleachers on the third base side of the field and the sun was setting over the water.  It was a warm night.

I struck out on my first at bat, a 3-2 fastball about 4 inches off the outside corner.  I looked quickly at the ump and walked back to the dugout without a fuss and thought to myself, “Good at-bat.  Stick with that approach and something good is going to happen.”  And in my second at-bat, on a 2 and 1 fastball a little up in the zone, I hit a long home-run over the left center field fence.  I knew it was gone when I hit it, and just dropped my bat and started jogging, didn’t even look at it.  It had been a while since I rounded the bases like that and I felt unsure of my stride, like I was going to trip any moment.  We won the first game 5-2.

The second game was moving quickly.  It was 2-1, us, in the 4th inning.  They had a runner on 3rd base, and a lefty came up.  Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you, I play third base.  I had made a catch earlier in the game diving for a ball on the warning track in foul territory on a pop-up bunt attempt and had cut my arm open pretty badly on the gravel and was bleeding, but I was feeling good.  The lefty hit a ground ball to me.  Lefty’s don’t usually hit ground balls to third base, and when they do sometimes it’s kind of a que shot off the end of the bat and the ball will have a lot of spin which is exactly what happened, and instead of staying relaxed and just handling the ball, I stabbed at it, mishandled it, then bounced the throw to first.  First baseman couldn’t come up with it, runner from third scores on the throwing error, batter base-runner winds up on second, tie game, 2-2.

Fast forward to the bottom of the last inning.  It’s still 2-2.  I am leading off the bottom of the ninth for us.  The count goes to 3-2.  I step out of the box like I do before every pitch, close my eyes, and say to myself, “commit to your best swing”.  I  wanted to redeem myself for the error.  He threw me a fastball down the middle.  Bam.  Clean contact.  I saw the ball lifting up into the night sky.  I flipped my bat, and start jogging to first base, game fucking over!  Walk off!  Right?  I hit this one way better than the first one.  Their pitcher was walking off the mound slowly towards their dugout.  But just before I get to first base I hear “Chink”, the ball hitting the top of the tall fence in left-center field.  I turned on the jets to try and at least get to second base.  Their centerfielder bare handed it cleanly off the fence and made a perfect throw to the second baseman.  I was out by 15 feet.  Their dugout went nuts.  We started the inning not with a game-ending home-run, not with a double, not even with a single, but with an out.  I tried to big league it, and I got burned.  Don’t tell any of the kids I coach.  I have no idea how the ball didn’t get out.  It was later and the air was heavy.  Maybe that’s why.  I usually never pimp the game.  Laying out on the warning track on a bunt attempt is much more consistent with my style of play and a bat flip and a slow jog to first base.  And the one time I did it, the baseball gods learned me real fast.  We lost 4 innings later 2-3 at exactly midnight before getting in our cars to drive the hour-and-a-half back to the city.  I got home around 2am, showered, iced, did my rehab and core work on a yellow towel in the living room, and went to sleep thinking about why that ball didn’t get out and planning out my workout for the morning in my mind so that it wouldn’t happen again.

the walk-off that never was

3 Responses to “Part I: THE EXPLANATION… AND GOLD”

  1. Lance Williams July 9, 2012 at 9:11 pm #

    Wow, that’s a mouthful! Chase your dream… we only get this way once! All the best and much love. L-Boogie

  2. Jeremy July 13, 2012 at 11:25 am #

    sweet blog Fish…
    The passion is what gets anyone anywhere. The love part.

  3. Melissa Porche July 14, 2012 at 7:24 pm #

    Love your hair. Miss your face.

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