21 Dec

We have had enough of waiting for people to come to us.  We will no longer stand by quietly watching Israeli children clumsily play imaginary games like soccer or basketball, lonely, in the streets, hoping, somehow, they find out about and sign up for baseball.  No, we will not stand silently witnessing this atrocity, human rights violation, evil.  We will go to the people, to the streets, to the youth, to the schools, and show them what baseball is!

That’s why, Ladies and Geetles, you must know, each week, me and my faithful sidekick, King of Jewish Interns for the Israel Association of Baseball, as he is affectionately known, the recently dubbed Prince of All Jewish Baseball, Sam Friedman, aka Israeli Coach Stevie, aka Shmuel the Brave, aka Shmookie, dutifully ride into the famously unforgiving landscape of the Israeli Elementary School System, equipped only with our bag of equipment, and two genius grade minds, and we deliver, over the day, a POWERFUL JOLT OF JEWISH BASEBALL to several hundred kids and an otherwise downtrodden teaching staff, leaving the school in a kind of hysteria – kids selling baseball cards for 2 shekels in the hallways, chanting “We Love Baseball”, teachers hanging out their classroom windows crying out, “Coach Stevie!  Come back!” as we pull off, sun glasses half way down our noses, honking, a trail of confused emotions and scorched earth behind us.

We arrive at 8am, tired, usually having been lost at least once, and head for the gym, or the court, or wherever the gym teacher tells us to go, and then straight to the teacher’s lounge for coffee.  Who are these Exotic Olympic Athletes, these American Cowboys, these Kings of Jewish Baseball?

Classes in Israel have as many as 40 kids in them.  Sometimes they combine classes so we will have 80 kids who have never seen or heard of baseball, who do not speak English, on a small basketball court, for 45 minutes, and are expected, somehow, using only the power of hologram technology, and comedic timing, to teach them the beauty and insanity that is baseball.

We start with some beat boxing, dancing, a soul clap maybe, Stevie parachutes in on a horse, I get a running start and slide across the gym on my knees holding two flaming hoola-hoops in my outstretched arms, head thrown back, screaming at the sky, “Are you motherfuckers ready for some baseball?”

Then we begin.

I ask if English is OK.  Then I ask if anyone has ever played baseball.  A couple of hands half-heartedly go up.  I ask if anyone has ever seen baseball on TV.  A few more.  Then I say, “My name…”, pause, suspense, all the greats do it, the kids lean in, “… is Fish.  And this is Israeli Coach Stevie.”  The kids burst into ecstatic shrieks of joy.  We’re in.  They love us.

Stevie then leads the 40 or 80 children around the bases 3 times, explaining what each base is called, that you have to touch the base with your foot, and stay in order, or the umpire will call you “out”, and we don’t want to be out, we want to be “safe”, demonstrating the two different gestures umpires use.

After base running, Stevie and I play catch, showing the kids how to put on the glove, catch the ball, switch hands, step, and throw.  And we show off a bit, scare the kids, throw hard, show them ground balls, fly balls, how fast the game is, kids hide behind one another, smiling.  Then they try.  We pass out gloves, helping get them on their hands.  They look at the gloves and laugh.  Everyone gets 2 ground balls, and 2 fly balls.

Then we hit.  Everyone gets 3 tries to hit the ball once.  The kids hold the bat, hands apart, wrong hand on top, standing on home plate, facing the pitcher.  And we say, “Good.  That looks good.”  And then they, smiling, hit the ball, drop the bat, run to third base, or chase the ball, anywhere but the right place.  And we say, “Perfect.  High-five.”

Allow me, dearest, enthralled reader, if I may, to describe one play, in one game, in one class, to give you an idea of what 6 hours of this might be like.  I urge you, throughout, to use your comparatively weak imagination to understand.  The scene…

Basketball court outside the school.  Gym teacher on her phone on the sideline.  Janitor watching from a doorway, mop in hand, curious, disgusted.  Me, King of All Jewish Baseball, alone, in the center, calm, the lone still piece in an picture otherwise blurred by spastic movement, ready to deliver an underhand pitch.  It’s a small class, 20 kids, and older, 5th graders, so instead of simply hitting, we played a game.  A hit.  Shrieks.  The hitter takes off running around the bases, missing every base by several feet– meters, as he goes.  The entire defense, out of position, chases the ball screaming.  One player kicks the ball away from the wall to another player.  She picks it up and throws the ball with her glove to another player who runs the ball to first base, jumps in the air, and spikes the ball down hard on the base just before the runner crosses home plate.  Everyone stops, looks at me.  Have they done it right?  I take my time.  More suspense.  I pump my fist, “That’s an out.  Great job.” More shrieking.

At the end of the 45 minutes, we pass out flyers and baseball cards and tell the kids how they can sign-up for teams in the area.  We pose for pictures, sign some autographs, and that’s it.  Simple as that.  200 new baseball fans.  Of 200, a few come to the next practice in their area, to the field, and join one of our teams.  There are 700 kids registered so far. It is our mission, as handed down to us by the DIVINE SPIRIT OF JEWISH BASEBALL, and several gypsies, of course, to teach baseball to the children of Israel.

If this all sounds too absurd, if you do not believe me because I might be a pathological liar, first, let me say, I do not like you or respect your tiny worldview, then, I offer, take a look for yourself, photographic, scientific, video evidence of the sudden outbreak of Jewish Baseball Fever in Israel, this epidemic of Jewish Baseball, this Love.

The kids running bases to warm up.

The kids running bases to warm up.

Israeli Coach Stevie shows the kids what a home run looks like!

Israeli Coach Stevie shows the kids what a home run looks like!

This young man demonstrates the classic Israeli batting stance, hands apart, on home plate, facing the pitcher.

This young man demonstrates the classic Israeli batting stance, hands apart, on home plate, facing the pitcher.

Hanging tough in the teacher's lounge.

Hanging tough in the teacher’s lounge.

We're in.

Israeli Coach Stevie and the King of Jewish Baseball bringing joy to the kids of Israel.

We Love Baseball (video)


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