Tag Archives: baseball

THE B POOL

3 Aug

We came up short, again. It’s the cycle. Try, fail, try again, fail again, try again. Failure is the rule, success is the exception, in baseball, at least. Pain is the rule, health is the exception. It goes like this…

Prepare. Practice. Play.

Focus. Fixate. Fantasize.

Nothing else matters. Put everything on hold. Do it after the tournament. No calls. No emails. Stay with the guys, the team, the group. Eyes on the prize. No distractions. No pain. Ignore the hip. Nothing hurts. Play hard. Put it on the line. Don’t leave the hotel. Don’t waste energy. Rest. There’s another game tomorrow. Good vibes.

We win the first 3. Beat Belarus big. Barely beat Poland. Beat Austria big. We’re rolling. Eitan hits a walk-off slam against Poland. We can’t lose…

Then, we do lose, it goes wrong, against Lithuania, a team we should beat, every time. The nightmare. 7 errors. Day game after a night game. Try to rally. Get it together. Get the energy up. Can’t do it.  These tournaments are not normal. Everyone wants to win. We’re playing for our countries. Every game is game 7. The night before, the Austrian fans were still in the stands going crazy after 3 hours in the rain in the 9th inning with their team losing 10-1, cheering, drinking, singing. It’s intense.

We lose again the next day to Sweden, barely. Dean starts the game. Deano. Best pitcher there. I like our chances. It’s a good game. Back and Forth. We’re winning 5-4 in the top of the 9th. Dean throws 140 pitches. Go to Shlo. Definitely Shlo. Big Shlo. The Magic man. Shlo already has 2 wins in the tournament including a complete game 2 days earlier against Austria. But Sweden scores 5 runs in the 9th, 9-5, them. Shit.

We can still do it. One guy at a time.

We score 3 runs to make it 8-9. Single, single, single, passed ball, single, passed ball, single. They’re nervous. Simon is on 1st, the tying run. I am up, the winning run. 2 outs. I can hit one out to win it, hit one in the gap to score Simon from 1st, or at least get on base and keep the rally alive. It’s perfect. I am the one, the King of Jewish Baseball, the captain, couldn’t script it better. I want to be up there, and I think the guys want me to be up there too. I feel good, already have 2 hits in the game. Ball 1. Ball 2. Take a strike. Strike 1. 2 and 1, perfect, fastball count, my pitch, see it, hit it. Ground ball to short, shit, in the hole, at least, maybe it will get through. But he makes the play. That’s it. It’s over.

The guys. Damn.

Let go. Let the pain set in. Be tired. See how bad the hip is. It’s bad. Don’t fight it anymore. Get a drink. Stay up all night. Get sick. Fly home. Go back to work. Life. Reality. Tell everyone you lost, 3rd place out of 6. They tell you it’s OK with a hint of pity.  It is not. Think about the games. Write a blog post. The 2-1 fastball. How did that happen? How did I not hit it out of the park, or in a gap somewhere, at least? Was Sweden the better team?

If we played badly, it would be easier to understand. But we didn’t. We were good. We averaged 8 runs a game. Our pitchers did a good job. The top 5 hitters in our line-up all hit over .400 with on base percentages over .600. Our 3, 4 hitters had 20 RBIs in 5 games. Our pitchers had the lowest ERA in the tournament. Austria and Sweden were good, but we were just as good, maybe better.

Usually writing about it makes it feel better. Not this time. The hip hurts. Maybe we just need time. Next European Championship is in 2 years. I’ll be 37. Damn. The cycle. The disappointment. The hope. We did good. People know us now. They know we’re good. We were close. We can do it. The young guys can do it. It’ll be their turn next time.

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Brothers. The 2015 Israel National Team. I love you guys.

GREECE

9 Jul

Greece is melting, so we thought it would be a good time to go there.  That’s right, Ladies and Geetles, just last week, the same week, in fact, that the country defaulted on its loans t0 the European Union, the Israel Under 21 National Team won the Acropolis Cup in Athens with a perfect record of 6 and 0.  Only 3 teams attended.  Team Israel, Team Australia (made up completely of players from Germany), and the Alimos Lions, the local club team and our hosts. We duked it out for SUPREME INTERGALACTIC CONTROL of the Under-21 Baseball Universe as economies collapsed like sundowns in the background, and in the end, Team Israel stood alone.

2015 Israel U21 National Team. Acropolis Cup champs.

2015 Israel U21 National Team. Acropolis Cup champs.

Originally, there were supposed to be 8 teams, 2 divisions, sponsors, groupies, mascot races, an event worthy of its own name.  Then, 6 weeks before the tournament, the Greek Baseball Federation dissolved and combined with the gymnastics federation.  That is not a joke.  And only 3 of us were crazy enough to continue on, head first, into the economic and baseball wasteland known as Greece.  There were 2 ways to look at the tournament, and maybe at the country, as an amazing failure because it was not as big or as good as we hoped, or as an amazing success because the fact that it even existed was a small miracle.

The games were played at one of the old practice fields from the 2004 Athens Olympics that has not been touched in 11 years, a modern ruin, a recent relic, frozen in time like the Acropolis itself, without the crowd, grass growing over the dugouts and around turtle screens left on the field.  There was no running water or electricity at the stadium.  There were buckets of water in the clubhouse to rinse the toilets with and Spyros, who you will meet shortly, bought a generator and a wireless microphone so we could have walk-up songs and to announce the starting line-ups before slipping down his mask to umpire the games.

A practice field from the 2004 Olympics.

A practice field from the 2004 Olympics.

International baseball is carried on the shoulders of individuals who, for whatever reason, make superhuman efforts to play the game, in Greece, in Moldova, in Israel. With no baseball federation and no support, one man made the tournament happen, our friend Spyros, the announcer and ump, founder and head coach of the Alimos Lions, tournament organizer and janitor who spent his precious euros on bus rides and water bottles for us, despite everything, held a barbeque for the teams at the stadium, traditional Greek food called Souvlaki, traditional Greek dance also called Souvlaki, if I remember correctly, shooting fireworks off in center field, lighting the dark Greek sky for a moment.

Spyros.

Spyros.

But the crisis in Greece hasn’t hit anyone, not the banks, not even Spyros, as hard as it’s hit the non-human community.  That’s right, Ladies and Geetles, I, King of Jewish Baseball, sadly report, there seem to be abandoned, depressed, bear-sized dogs all over Athens, and by “seem to be”, I mean that there are definitely without a doubt gigantic dogs laying around the streets of the capitol, panting, people stepping over them, hardly noticing they’re there.  So, as is my habit, using the new technology known as a camera, I sprung into action and started photographing these pets turned punks. Apparently, in Greece, when faced with tough times, kick your dog out of the house, first thing, then, once that ungrateful beast is gone, try to figure out how to find gainful employment and rebuild the country.  Meet them, the Bear Dogs of Athens.

Hey Buddies. What you doin' out here?

Hey Buddies. What you doin’ out here?

 

Hey. What's going on? Why are there so many dogs around here?

Hey. What’s going on? Why are there so many dogs around here?

 

No really, what's going on? Why are there so many dogs.

No really, what’s going on? Why are there so many dogs.

 

Not cool.

OK. This is not cool. What the hell is going on?

 

Is anyone else seeing this?

Is anyone else seeing this?

 

Don't worry about me, Guys. I'm fine.

Don’t worry about me, Guys. I’m fine.

 

Help me!

Help me!

 

I blame this dog for everything.

I blame this dog for everything.

 

The last dog in Greece with the courage to stand on his own four paws.

The last dog in Greece with the courage to stand on his own four paws. The Spyros of the dog world.

 

A happy dog. Thank god.

A happy dog. Thank god.


And now, after a strange week in Greece, we’re back in Israel, working summer camp every day, and preparing for the B-Pool European Championships, July 27-August 3 in Vienna, Austria. That’s right, Israel Baseball fans, it’s almost time for the Greatest Jewish Baseball Show on Earth, the Israel Senior National Team, to pack our bags and hit the roads of Europe, again, this time for our biggest, baddest tournament yet, winner moves up to the A-Pool next year.  So get your blue and white face paint and your games face on and check #roadtovienna on all social media to follow the team on our journey.

EXIT SANDMAN

27 Jun

Allow me, King of Jewish Baseball, to dutifully tell the tale of last week and an Ancient and Holy Tradition, the 2nd Annual Israel Baseball Summer Classic, the under 21 National Team versus the Senior National Team, 5 games in 5 days, a very short marathon, the Puppies vs. the Old Dogs, blood sport, war, Great and Sad Theater of Humanity, acted out on the nearly flat surface of a parallel dimension, the baseball field at Baptist Village, Israel.

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Old Dogs win the first two games of the series.  Enter Sandman.  Mariano Rivera is in Israel!  We get this picture of him holding his stylish new Israel Baseball sweatshirt and ask him if he wants to throw out the first pitch at the final game of the Classic.

New closer for the Israel National Team.

New closer for the Israel National Team.

Of course he does.  He is, after all, the Greatest Closer of All Time and we, the IAB, are The Most Powerful Clandestine Jewish Baseball Organization in the World.  It only makes sense.  He would love to throw out the first pitch and meet the kids who play baseball in Israel.

Mariano is coming. Tell Everyone. Bring him in through gate in left field. Play Enter Sandman when he walks in.  Rent a sound system, hire a photographer, security, invite the press.

Meanwhile, the series rages on.  The Youngs battle back, using their switchblades, mainly, and easily win the next two games, tying the series, and setting the scene for a 5th and final showdown, a rubber match for all the shekels, and, as assumed, eternal life.  In the backgound, Mariano.  Will he come?  Or won’t he?

No phone calls, no meetings, no confirmation, looking like no Mo.  These guys are hard to nail down.  I once sat up memorizing Doc Gooden’s career statistics, 1984 Rookie of the Year, 1985 Cy Young Award winner, 1986 World Champion with the New York Mets, 1996 no hitter with the New York Yankees, 2000 World Champion also with the New York Yankees – only to have him no show the next day.  It’s not easy accepting the love of so many adoring fans, I know, Dr. K, Mo, the King of Jewish Baseball, it gets tiresome.  Exit Sandman.  Cancel.  Tell everyone, contact the press, he isn’t coming.

But people will do what they want to do, or, at least, in this case, will still do what they had planned on doing, so they came anyways, some of them, at least, from Jerusalem, from Raanana, from Modiin.  They came for the food, but stayed for the music, as they say, came for Mariano, but stayed for us, the Greatest Jewish Baseball Show on Earth, give them what they want, the rabid, viscous fans, a close game, stand-up doubles, an autograph, and chocolate, by god, give them chocolate.

Game 5 was tied in the bottom of the 9th inning, 5 to 5, coincidentally, or not, when the black sky opened and owls with the bodies of rabbits filled the horizon, Snake Birds and Horse Men vomited Earth and Sea, and the Old Dogs scored a fatal and final death blow, a 6th run, ending the game and tournament, both teams exhausted.  It was a good game, in a weird way, thanks to Mariano Rivera.  We will tell people he is coming to every game from now on.


Tomorrow, we have the IAB Annual General Meeting, a thrilling event, no doubt, like the White House Corresponence Dinner, just like it.  We will gather around a fire and and join hands and ask the Great Mother for visions of the past and future and drink bottled water as our ancestors did.  And then, after the meeting, it’s off to Greece, that’s right, Ladies and Geetles, put on your gold chains, your leather jock strap, and your white batting glove, because the Under-21 National Team is coming to Greece!  We are playing in the Baseball World Cup in Athens.  Anything could happen.  We could win, the economy could collapse, again.  I will magically switch from Fish to Coach Fish, from short stop to the 3rd base coaches box, and we will, we know this much, at least, as always, play baseball.

Check #roadtoathens on social media to keep up with our quest for glory and ultimate victory.

 

BASEBALL FOR ALL

22 May

It is I, King of All Jewish Baseball, once again, with the financial opportunity of a lifetime. Finally, your chance to do something good, GIVE US YOUR MONEY, to make right all the wrong, to be born anew, fresh and clean. All it takes is a small donation, an offering, if you will, something symbolic, a seared lamb shank, some sage, a few thousand here, a million there, a sacrificial Visa or Master Card number offered at the sacred alter of crowd funding, where self-anointed modern-day saints kneel before friends and family and accept the wealth they assuredly deserve.  How can I do this, you ask? Allow me to explain.

Many months ago, my man Tom, aka Dizzy, Gillespie, King of All International Scouting for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Executive Director of Play Global (http://www.play-global.org/), called me and said he had an idea, “Let’s set up a series of fraudulent crowd funding campaigns,” he said, “then disappear forever into Mexico City.” Kidding, kidding.  He said, “Fish, I have an idea, let’s start a program in Israel for Jewish and Arab kids to play baseball together.  I am, after all, the King of All International Scouting for the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Executive Director of Play Global, and you are the King of All Jewish Baseball and the Executive Director of the Israel Association of Baseball.  Together, we could surely accomplish this.”  To which I said, without thought, “That is a horrible idea, Tom.  But let’s do it anyways.”  And thus was born BASEBALL LE’KULAM, or, for those of you not fluent in transliteration, BASEBALL FOR ALL.

After much preparation and convincing of parents to loan us their children, on March 5th and 6th of the Great and Nearly Perfect year of 2015, 30 sixth graders, boys and girls, 15 Jewish kids, and 15 Arab kids, who would have never met despite living so close, the Jewish kids from Modiin, the Arab kids from Ramle, just a few miles apart, came together for Baseball Le’Kulam.  None of them had ever played baseball before. But we played together.  Some of them had never shared a dinner table with a member of the other group.  But we ate together.  And a few had never spent a night away from home.  But we slept together– wait, that didn’t sound right.  We slept over, in the same building, that is, the coaches staying up all night chasing the kids back into their rooms when they tried to escape to bond over junk food and air guitar bands.  

And like that, magically, Baseball Le’Kulam went from a nice idea, a theory, to a real thing. The kids turned from names on a piece of paper into real human beings with real faces and real lives and real families.  Just two weeks ago, all the kids and their parents and siblings were eating pizza and playing catch for Baseball Le’Kulam Family Nightas the sun set at Kibbutz Gezer.  We have 2 more sessions, June 4th and 5th, and October 15th and 16th.  But all this real pizza and real coaches for these real people costs real money.  Which is where you come in. 

Watch the video.  Read the campaign page. And donate.  If you can.  We need it to continue the program.  We will not go to Mexico City and put it all on black. Promise. 

CLICK HERE!!!!! https://www.crowdrise.com/baseballinisrael-playglobal/fundraiser/playglobal!!!!!!!

YEAR 2

20 Sep

It’s that magical time of year again when children awaken to claw, crawl, and climb from their underground sleeping holes like the zombie offspring of the undead.  That’s right, the 2014/2015 school year has begun, and despite that not being in any way a unit of time provided to us by nature, or having anything to do with most of you, for those of us who work with kids, it is a signal, THEY ARE COMING, like an unstoppable train.  Summer is over.

It also marks the beginning of my 2nd year on this little-known moon of Mars called Israel.  It feels like longer. So much has happened.  And so much is going on.  So much, dear reader, to tell you. I am memorizing all the lyrics of Brooklyn’s Finest by Jay Z and Biggie Smalls.  And I have started the book.  That’s right, Ladies and Geetles, THE BOOK, the whole thing, the whole story, all of it, THE KING OF JEWISH BASEBALL, to be followed by the film, of course.  I will even share some of it with you here, if you promise not to show anyone.  It is a book about a blog about a man about the future about the past about real made-up things that have and have not yet happened.  Ah yes, where does the time go?

The most excting thing, the best news to share with you, is that last week, new European and World rankings were released.  We’re ranked 5th IN EUROPE, and 19th IN THE WORLD.  It is important to note that I do not know if what I am going to say next is “true”, as it’s called, but that has never stopped me, I am, after all, the King of All Jewish Baseball, I say what I want, it sounds good, and it might even be accurate. 5th and 19th are the highest European and World rankings for any Israeli team, in any sport, ever.

And we’re not done yet.  Not even close.  USA, we’re coming for you.  I have heard of this USA before.  THEY ARE NOT THAT GOOD.  “Kershaw”, he is no Lipetz.  Sorry, “Tulowitzki”, we have Fish.  “Adam Jones” has nothing on Weinberg.  On paper, they may be the  better team.  But on a gravel parking lot in Herzliya, I think we have them beat.  Anytime, anywhere, USA, name the makeshift field, and we’re there.

Boom.  19.  Come get some, USA.

Boom. 19. Come get some, USA.

And, of course, as promised, an excerpt from the book…

“I was born a Fat Bald Naked Poor Jewish Baby in Vermont, January 2, 1980.”

Boom.  That’s all you get.  The first line.  You thought I was going to give you more?

Buy the book.

 

SPRING TRAINING

9 Mar

Spring Training for the Premier League started last week.  It is time for another season, time to crank it up, again, one more time.  I have been telling myself I am done for 10 years.  I am dramatic, I know, can’t help it, I am, after all, the King of All Jewish Baseball – comes with the territory.  But, the pain is real, and I know I do not have a lot left in the tank.  Couple years at best.  If I can get to 38, I’ll be lucky, I already am.  Every year, every practice, every game, between every pitch, sometimes, I tell myself, this is it, you’re old, and stupid, you could blow a knee on the next play, and that’s it, it’s over, stay focused, stay lose, anything could happen, a bad hop, broken orbital, this guy could pop-up a ball in foul territory, over the mound in the bullpen, you could trip, crash, slip, some people can’t even walk, they’re in hospitals, better make the most of this shit while you can.  You’d never know from watching me play.  I look like I am having fun.  And I am, sometimes.  But mostly I am horrified.  It is a mix of habit, excitement, and fear.

I try to get to the field early, before everyone else.  Don’t like being only a little early, or late, it’s unsettling.  Practice starts at 7.   Change, in the dugout, or in the bleachers, and get warmed up.  Run from the right field line to the center field fence, and back.  Do your dynamics.  My heart rate is going up.  Shit.  My hip hurts.  Remember to do your hip exercises.  Stretch.  Core.  Band work.  Weighted ball.  Throw.  Get it right.  Every time.  make it feel right.  Keep your effort level down.  It’s early.  Take it easy on your arm.  Be smooth.  Breath.

Time for defense.  Short hops.  Bare hand work.  Take a bucket of ground balls.  Get there.  I’m tired.  Shit.  My legs are heavy.  Breath.

Let’s hit.  Tee work.  Mini whiffles.  Flips in the cage.  Concentrate.  Be natural, like a lefty.  Don’t worry about the ball in.  You can cover the inner half, look for the ball away.  Keep it simple.  It’s easy.  Just get your foot down and make sure you’re in a good spot to pull the trigger. Don’t over-stride.  Breath.

I feel good.  Too good.  It scares me.  I feel fast, and strong.  I don’t want to feel good now and feel like shit later, when it counts.  But there is nothing I can do about it.  Just get there and do the work.

It is insane.  The brutishness.  The trying.  I am different on the field.  Get me warmed-up, and I am an animal, playing in dirt, diving face first.  Then, when I cool off, it hurts, all of it, the knees, the shoulders, the back, mostly, and I know, I am almost done.  Don’t hit too much in the cage, save some bullets, like Thome.  And this is what I do– nay, what we do, still, the same thing we have done since we were kids.  I will bleed, it will hurt, not too bad, and I will die a little on that field, over and over again, gladly.

It is, after all, time for another baseball season.  And anything can happen…

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Let’s go.

THE UMPS

1 Feb

Israel Baseball is growing like Sea Monkeys.  But with more players, teams, and games, you need more umps.  So, 3 weeks ago, we began the official Israel Association of Baseball Umpires Course.  Every Monday night, at Baptist Village, 6 of us gather, the SOON TO BE ANOINTED NEW UMPS OF THE IAB.  The course is lead by none other than, that’s right, faithful reader, you guessed it, Neon Leon Klarfeld aka The Overseer and Protector of All Jewish Safety, Wellbeing, and Barbecues aka Jewish Santa Clause aka Jewish Wizard of Oz, and also, Chief Umpire in Israel.

Neon Leon teaching us in the classroom.

Neon Leon teaches us in the classroom.

Umpires are historically in a category of humanity– nay, sub-humanity, all to themselves.  Who is willing to put up with it all? – The long games? – The abuse?  At best, an ump is invisible.  At worst he is a demon, an idiot, blind, drunk, stoned, taking bribes, favoring the home team, a clown, “horse shit”.  There is no glory.

Anyone available to officiate a youth baseball game on a Friday afternoon holds a certain station in life – broke, unshaven, recently divorced, balancing clumsily on one leg, changing into uniform in the parking lot, hiding behind the open trunk of a ’74 Impala in lose, dirty tighty-whiteys.  Limping slowly to the field, 5 minutes late, feeling around in their pockets for game balls.  What saint can handle all this?  And know the rules?

The love.  The tenderness.  The tears of the ump.

No one knows.

As a player, I have been taught systemic hatred of umps.  They only mess the game up.  Get rid of them.  Replace them with computers, anything is better than this weirdo.  But no– now I am, or will be, one of the weirdos too.  Things have changed.

You still think it’s funny, easy?  I invite you, Dearest Idiot, to see if you have what it takes to know the most, and receive the least, study the rules, and still be called a moron, to eat the shite of the world, and stand strong, stoic, arms crossed, confused, scared, facing scruffy coaches and players, in short, to be an ump.  I present to you, Ladies and Geetles, one question from one homework assignments.  Keep in mind, these scenarios are endless.  Good luck…

  1.  With a runner on first, batter hits a line drive up the middle which deflects off the pitcher’s glove, hits the field umpire and is subsequently caught by the second baseman.  R1 thinking it a catch tries to make it back to first base.  The second baseman, thinking it a catch, throws to first for the “double play”  and the ball arrives at first before either the batter or R1 get to the base.  The first baseman tags the base.  Place the runners.

Whats that? – You have no idea? – Your head hurts?  Yeah, that’s what I thought, you DO NOT have what it takes.  So allow me, King of Jewish Baseball, certified ump, to explain.

The hitter is out at 1st base.  The runner going back to 1st base is safe and remains at 1st base.  The ball hitting the ump was the equivalent to the ball hitting the ground, so it is not a catch.  The force is off once the out on the batter/baserunner is recorded at first, and the runner from 1st, R1, as he is known, is allowed to return to the base.  If the ball had just hit the pitcher, and then the 2nd baseman caught it, it would be a double play, batter-baserunner would have been out on the catch, and R1 would be out with ball arriving to 1st base before him.  But no! Because it hit the ump, no double play, runner on 1st, 1 out.

Now, get out of my face, return to your dugout, place your whole ass on a bench, and make sure next time you come out here, you know what in the hell you are talking about.  Do you hear me?  As a matter of fact, did he go, yes he did, strike three, you’re out, game over, you’re ejected, lifetime ban.

It is not easy, this ump life, the studying, the ridicule.  But we carry on anyhow.  After all, no umps, no game.  We make things official.  We are the judges, upholders and keepers of the rulebook, THE GREAT BLIND AND DRUNKEN GODS OF BASEBALL, and in the end, you will submit to our will.

An angel.

The future umps of the IAB.

THE SCHOOLS

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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THE STORM

15 Dec

Is it safe to come out?  I have been inside for a week.  Everyone has. It’s been raining, hailing, and snowing, for 40 days and 40 nights.  The worst storm in the history of Israel.  Jerusalem got 24 inches of snow.  All baseball activities canceled.  Our fields are under water, or ice.

Hombo Field at Kibbutz Gezer

Hombo Field at Kibbutz Gezer

There is only one explanation for these extreme weather conditions.  No, dear reader, faithful peasant, it is not what you’re thinking, clearly, it is not god’s punishment for reality TV, or so called “global warming”, no no no, it was me moving to Israel.  Earth was not prepared for the energetic shift from West to East, and it threw our planet off its axis.  Wind patterns changed, oceanic currents reversed, flowers sprouted on moon glaciers, continental plates liquified, birds flew confused overhead, crashing into one another, falling into lakes of bubbling sulfur.

I am sorry.

But, now, finally, the miracle of the universe is alive around us, and in us.  The Earth rights itself.  The sun is out, burning our dilated eyes as we emerge like zombies from solitary confinement, tortured, crazed, skinny, hands outstretched, blocking the light, feeling for sharp objects, hiding our unshaven faces and sunken cheeks.

Jerusalem will thaw.  The fields will dry out.  And, soon, here, and all around the world, it will be time to play ball.  And we will be new again.

HANNUKAH TOURNAMENT

10 Dec

It is that time of year again, time for the most anticipated event of the combined worldwide baseball and popular science communities.  No, dearest, imbecilic reader, it is not what you are thinking, the so called “World Series”, or the World Baseball Classic, it is not even Haley’s Comet.  It’s the Israel Association of Baseball’s Annual Hannukah Tournament.  Boom!  29 teams in 3 age divisions playing games simultaneously at 7 venues across the country.  Over 350 participants – players, coaches, umps, parents, grandparents, drivers, and fans.

An event of this magnitude, surely, was no easy administrative task, it required the considerable force of 3 of this Earth’s most powerful Jewish Baseball Geniuses, Neon Leon Klarfeld aka The Overlord of All Jewish Safety, Wellbeing, and Barbecues aka Jewish Santa Clause aka Jewish Wizard of Oz, Margo Sugarman, the Queen of Jewish Emails Pertaining to Israel Baseball and All Other Divine Communications, and, of course, me, the One, The King of All Jewish Baseball.

It began with a simple meeting over pizza with Neon Leon.  A great idea.  A Hannukah Tournament.  It happens every year like the changing of the seasons.  What could go wrong with something so natural, so perfect?  Weeks later, 40 different versions of the schedule taped the the wall at international HQ of Israel Baseball, an unsolvable puzzle, a broken man, phone calls at all hours from coaches, travel conflicts, venue changes, there’s no home plate at Baptist Village, Raanana needs baseballs, only half of Jerusalem’s uniforms were delivered, the sun is going down and Shabbat starts early this time of year, forecast says rain in Bet Shemesh, there’s only one ump scheduled for Modiin, can Dan ump, Misgav thinks their playing at 10am in Tel Mond, call them, they’re playing at noon at Gezer, I am getting a call on the other line, write up another schedule, Ginot Shomron has a Bar Mitvah in the morning, 3 of their players can’t make the early game, Rehovot and Tel Aviv have to combine to get to a total of 9 players, write up another schedule, e-mail it to me, we’ll send it out to everyone, hold on, I am getting another call, wait, which copy are we sending out?

It was like the control room at Cape Canaveral, Apollo 13, a rescue mission, Houston, we have a Hannukah Tournament, we ate dehydrated food for a week, didn’t sleep, and when we did, fitfully, awoken by a buzzing phone under our pillow, worried for our Jewish Baseball Brothers lost out in space, or on Route 431, The Hashmonaim Flames have a flat tire.

In the end, it worked, sort of.  The teams got to the fields.  Umps were there.  Pitches were thrown.  Outs were recorded.  Actual baseball games were played.  Scores were even reported.  More schedules.  Day 2.  Week 2.  Still no sleep.  A winners bracket.  A losers bracket.  We’re getting close to the end, the Spacecraft of Jewish Baseball is nearing safe re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.  Write it up and get it out.  Confirm the umps.

Then… it rained.  Even now, a week later, as I sit here, literary genius, Ulpan dropout, typing, it rains still.  And day 2 of the tournament was eventually canceled due to weather.  It was, even with the rain, the largest Hannukah Tournament in nearly 5,000 years.

I can, as you know, faithful reader, continue on like this for some time, with these words, peeling back the layers of time and thought, lingering, going deeper, to a place where there is nothing, to the center, but I will spare you the full power of my descriptiveness…ness, for now, instead electing to show you this new piece of technology, by Queen Margo, a collage slide show music video mixed media installation.  We are, after all, inside of a blog, if you have forgotten, a forum for this kind of thing.  I warn you only, before you begin, do not stand and punch something due to the rush of adrenaline you will surely receive from the song alone, at least not with your throwing hand.  Here it is…

But we did not stop there.  No, the insanity of the tournament was not enough.  So between rounds of the Hannukah Tournament, we had Israel Baseball All Star Day.  West Coast scouting supervisor from the Cincinnati Reds Rex De La Nuez came to see 20 of our best 14-18 year olds, there were skills competitions for younger players, a free barbecue, we lit the Hannukah Candles outside the 1st base dugout, and then the grande finale, the Greatest Jewish Baseball Show on Earth, the 1st ever Premier League All-Star game, under the lights, in front of the ever-growing IAB extended family.  Hundreds of friends, family, and kids in their uniforms stayed to watch 2 teams, 24 players in total, battle for the right to call themselves the best, in Israel, that night.

And then, it was over.  The phone calls stopped.  The inbox returned into a manageable flow.  The schedule stopped changing.  And I can now say, Ladies and Geetles, without further frothing and rambling, using only the power of my technicolor coat, and 2 modern day royals, we did it.  And we continue to do it.  We may have been rained out, but we will not be rained on.  Israel Baseball, lift off.