Tag Archives: kids

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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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.