A week in Slovenia was not enough to satisfy my craving for baseball and adventure and separation anxiety, so I drove to Italy for Major League Baseball’s European Elite Camp. How did I receive an invitation to such a prestigious event, you ask? Well, because, hmmmm, how can I put this… I AM THE KING OF JEWISH BASEBALL!!!
I had to relearn how to drive a stick shift in a thunderstorm in the Alps. But I got to the facility without careening 7,000 feet down the side of a mountain. Every time I get to where I am supposed to be, I am shocked. When I’m on a train, I am sure it’s the wrong one. Why doesn’t anyone else look concerned? What is wrong with me? Who are these people who do not worry needlessly? They must not be Jewish.
When I am driving, I am sure I just took a wrong turn, or will. I do not understand the miracles of technology required to move through the physical world from point A to point B. It is too complicated. Right now, I am sitting safely in a flying machine many thousands of feet above the ground looking down at clouds traveling so fast that if it were not for the thin sheet of metal between the air inside the plane and the air outside, my face would be ripped off. How, exactly, is one supposed to comprehend these things? I must admit, it is also because– something I am ultimately proud of and embarrassed by, despite traveling the world, I HAVE NEVER PURCHASED A PLANE TICKET, wouldn’t even know where to start.
The thing about being a SUPERSTAR ATHLETE, or a King of Jewish Baseball, or Janet Jackson, is this… you don’t have to do anything for yourself, people do it for you. It is most fantastic and crippling. It’s better this way, I tell myself. I am not a travel agent, no, no, no, my mind cannot be cluttered with unimportant details of travel documents and credit card numbers, my ideas are too valuable, I need time and space to invent apps that will never be developed and come up with art projects that will never happen, and to write, of course.
Camp was at the Olympic Training Facility in Tirrenia, Italy. The top 40 players in Europe under 18 were invited. When I arrived, Dan told me I would be rooming with Mr. Collins from Holland. Great, I thought, an old guy. What kind of first name is “Mr.”? Vic Collins aka Dutch Mo Vaughn aka the Snoring Machine arrived at 11:30 that night and turned the lights on. It was the beginning of a week of friendship and no sleep.
In the mornings, we would eat and get out to the field for a 9am start. The kids were from Holland, Italy, Germany, Czech, Croatia, France, and the UK. Major League Baseball sent Head Coach John McLaren (coach/scout, currenty with the Oakland A’s), Infield Coach Barry Larkin (Hall of Fame Short Stop, Cincinnati Reds), Hitting Coach Steve Finley (All-Star Outfielder, journeyman), Base Running Specialist Fernando Perez (Center Field, 2008 World Series Rays), Pitching Coach Greg Swindell (Lefty), and Mike Larson (MLB scouting bureau). Meet them…
Schedule was like spring training. Practice in the morning, ground balls, team defense, BP. Break for lunch at 12. Back for games at 1. We worked and worked and worked. The kids were all in pain. But a little pain never hurt anyone. THIS IS WHAT IT TAKES, KID. No one said it was gonna be easy.
At night, we had meetings, listening to European scientists who have never been on a baseball field speak about learning modalities and skill aquisition. And then I listened to Vic snore. He snored like it was a mating ritual. He snored so loud I felt bad for the air. He snored when he was awake. He snored on the inhale and the exhale. It sounds like he was eating and screaming and choking and speaking in tongues. I would lay there, horrified, until I could take no more, then I would snap my fingers, or punch him in the face as hard as I could, but he was unfazed. He would take a short break, allowing the air to back into the room, and I would try to fall asleep quickly. Then the sun would come up, and we’d go back to the field.
Every once in a while I get a week in the Big Leagues. It’s more than most. But not enough. I’ll get there one day. 46 years old. Pinch hit appearance. BP pitcher. Mascot. I changed my name to Rufio Rufio and told the scouts I am 14. Getting some interest from the Blue Jays and the Royals. We’ll see what happens.
We start camp tomorrow, in 5 hours, actually, at Kibbutz Gezer. I am going from a baseball field in Slovenia to a baseball field in Italy to a baseball facility in Israel. The King of Jewish Baseball. Home is on the ballfield.