Tag Archives: europe

AMSTERDAM

15 Aug

Once a year, coaches and scouts from around Europe swarm like locust and gather at Major League Baseball’s Elite Camp for the top young prospects on the continent. This year, camp was in Hoofddorp, Holland, at the new Hoofddorp Pioneers complex. Dutifully, I, King of All Jewish Baseball, made an appearance.  That’s right, Ladies and Geetles, it’s true, I went to Amsterdam for camp, and to allow the Dutch people to see me in person, from my balcony, of course.

I fly home to Israel tonight and do not have much time to write, so I will let the magical new artform known as photography tell the story for me. So sit back, relax, and be transported through the lens of my iphone into to a slightly over-crowded fantasy land called Amsterdam, where the streets are liquid, the fairies fly, and the bicycles never stop.

Good morning, Dudes.

Good morning, Dudes. Time to stretch.

Steve Finley going over the finer points of base running and post WWII European economics with the guys.

Coach Finley going over the finer points of base running and post WWII European economics.

It's Dave Bush! Used to play aginst him in college when he was at Wake Forrest. Sad story. I went on to become the King of Jewish Baseball and just dissapeared into oblivion, only pitched 10 years in the Major Leagues for the Blue Jays and Brewers. Pathetic.

It’s Dave Bush! Used to play aginst him in college when he was at Wake Forrest. Sad story. I went on to become the King of Jewish Baseball and he just dissapeared into oblivion,  pitching 10 years in the Major Leagues for the Blue Jays and Brewers. Pathetic!

My Cincinnati brother, and the 2nd best short stop at camp, Barry Larkin (and Fin) talks to the guys before lunch. Practice in the mornings. Games in the afternoons. Meetings at night.

My Cincinnati brother (and the 2nd best short stop at camp) Barry Larkin, and the King of Irish Baseball, Steve Finley, talk to the guys before lunch. Practice in the morning. Games in the afternoon. Meetings at night.

This is the life for me.

This is the life for me.

Get me the hell out of that BASEBALL PRISON. I need culture. Take me to Amsterdam.

Get me the hell out of that baseball prison. I require culture, and house boats. Take me to Amsterdam.

What a dump.

What a dump.

Don't jump little dude! OK. Now you can jump.

Don’t jump little dude! OK. Now you can jump.

Take me to the people. Show me how they live.

Take me to the people. Show me how they live.

Amsterdam, Amsterdam. Man o Man. Amsterdam, Amsterdam. I'm lost in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam, Amsterdam. Man o Man. Amsterdam, Amsterdam. I’m lost in Amsterdam.

 

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.

DSC_3796

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.

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.

 

MLB CAMP

10 Aug

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!!!

Major League Baseball.  Finally...

Major League Baseball. Finally…

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…

Me and another coach from camp.  Said his name was "Barry Larkin".

Me and another coach from camp. Said his name was “Barry Larkin”.

Guy in the back (Steve Finley) photo bombed me.  Did not know he was there.

Guy in the back (Steve Finley) photo bombed me. Did not know he was there.

Look like a ballplayer one time, Perez!

Do me a favor, look like a ballplayer one time, Perez!

Not sure who this is or how he got into camp.  Told security he pitched for 14 years in the Major League.  AND IT WORKED.

Not sure who this is or how he got into camp (Greg Swindell). Told security he pitched for 14 years in the Major Leagues. AND IT WORKED.

Big Vic Collins aka Dutch Mo Vaughn aka the Snoring Machine.

Big Vic Collins aka Dutch Mo Vaughn aka the Snoring Machine.

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.

Class of 2014, MLB Europe Elite Camp.

Class of 2014, MLB European Elite Camp.

THE C POOL

27 Feb

I must apologize, dear reader, again, for not writing lately.  I know you wake each morning, in a panic, and stumble from bed, naked, drunk, to read a new blog post.  And most mornings, I fail you, I am not there, my absence rushes in.  You swipe at the emptiness in front of you, gasping for breathe, wondering, where is he, WHERE? –  With goats?  Yes.  The elderly?  Yes, usually.  But this time, I was in the Dark and Magical Land of Prague, home to the worlds largest community of Orthodox Vampires.  You see, it was time for the 2014 Confederation of European Baseball Annual Congress.  All the Kings and Queens of European Baseball united in one place, battling for baseball supremacy of the continent.  Power.  Politics.  We had important issues to vote on, decisions to make, chicken or fish, where will next year’s Congress be held.   I am glad to report I survived the glare of a thousand gargoyles and made it through the meetings so that today, I do not fail you, today, I deliver, today, I write.  Using only the experimental technology known as words, and youtube,  of course, Ladies and Geetles, I humbly, dutifully present to you another blog post, on this, the Most Important Blog of All Time.

photo-4

2014 CEB Congress

In Prague, we met our opponents for upcoming competitions.  This summer, this July, to be specific, we, THE ISRAEL NATIONAL TEAM, will play in the European Championships “C Pool” in Ljubljana, Slovenia.  A total of 8 teams will compete. 2 of the 8 teams will move up to play in next summers “B Pool”, and the winner of the B Pool will play with the Best in Europe in the 2016 A Pool.   The other teams in the C Pool are; Latvia, Romania, Noway, Finland, Ireland, Hungary, and, of course, our hosts, Slovenia.  Being the KING OF ALL JEWISH BASEBALL, and leader of the Most Powerful Baseball Organization in the World, the Israel Association of Baseball, I thought I should do some research.  Here is what I found.  Enjoy.  A look into our world, the world of international baseball.

Enjoy a well played game in Latvia to the soft sounds of Metallica.

Moving on, a video from Baseball in Romania’s Facebook Page.  These teams love metal.

Romania

Norway’s Opening of their Baseball Hall of Fame.

Finland’s own version of baseball.  What is this!!!  The best head-first slides I have ever seen, and there are 20,000 fans.  Horrifying.

A well-done story about baseball in Ireland…

Baseball in Hungary – nice little ballpark.

A single pitch is thrown in Slovenia, the pitch heard ’round the world as it’s come to be known, a come-backer, out at 1st.  Base runner at 1st not sure what to do…

So it appears we will be competing against Romanian Metal Heads, Hungarian Missionaries, and some of the Greatest Athletes in Finland playing a sport called baseball that is not baseball.  Winner takes all.  In defense of the other teams, we do not have even as robust an internet presence as they, that is, besides my instructional videos, which are admittedly cardboard boxes of videography.  And in the end, they are not “the other teams” at all.  As the saying goes, all is fair in love and international baseball.  We are one team, playing the same game, fighting the same bizarre battles in Norway, or Portugal, or Israel, one tribe of weirdos, baseball players, spread out over Europe, the diaspora, to be reunited for a brief moment this summer for the Greatest, Bloodiest Battle of Them All, The European Championship C Pool.  See you in Ljubjana.