Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Playoff Time

I haven't written for a little while, so I wanted to check in with you guys before the post season began. A lot of things have happened this summer, so I just wanted to make sure everyone is up to speed.

By now, most of you know that Ken Holtzman, the winning-est Jewish pitcher in Major League history is no longer managing the Pioneers. While it seemed somewhat surprising to see him go with only a couple weeks on the season left, it was a decision that was in the best interest of Ken and the league. That being said, Tony Farrera, the assistant coach of Modiin, left the Miracle and joined what he called "The Big Red Machine" the "Red Dawgs," The "Red Team" and anything else that emphasizes our team colors.

To Tony's credit, we are about a 500 team since his coming aboard, and for those who have been tracking us this season, its a big improvement, and a major step in the right direction for playoff time.
I personally got to start a few games recently which was a lot of fun. My back never really did fully heal, but a mixture of ibuprofen and long, long, stretches make me feel pretty close to 100%. My dad also has come in for these past two weeks to watch the "shovelmen" (a pre- Tony nickname), and I had the fortune of making a few plays while he was in the crowd.

Besides rounding out the regular season this week, the league had a special tree planting ceremony in one of the nature reserves outside of Modiin. As the resident "Rabbi" (which has become my nickname on the team) I read a short prayer in Hebrew about tree planting, while some fellow, taller players read an English edition. The idea itself is a bit sappy (that was on purpose) but planting our roots in the land while hoping for a long future was a nice symbolic gesture.

I think I will post a long blog at the end of the season as sort of a finale; my thoughts of the league, being a religious player, and the experience of being in Israel while doing something quite 'American.' But I will say this, I don't think I ever appreciated the work ethic it takes to be successful in sports until I started training for this summer. I spent basically 10 months working out 4-6 days a week, running, fielding, hitting, even watching baseball to better understand the game. All of that work amounted to little over 10 AB's and a dozen game appearances.
Now of course, I would rather have not been injured, played in more games, collected more hits etc., but playing at this level truly is a sort of job. Most of us fantasize about 'playing' in the bigs, but the work and patience it takes to get there is extraordinary. And those lucky few who get to make it, and on top of that, to enjoy it as just a game, they are the truly talented ones.
But what a job.

One of my roommates (Epps) says, "whenever I get frustrated on the field, for whatever reason, I think about how I could be in a cubicle in North Jersey this summer." Now granted, better air conditioning would be involved, but is that even a choice? a real decision?
As I got a base hit to right field this week, advancing the tying runs to scoring position and loading the bases, I got to first base and thought in my head "I cant believe I am playing pro ball for the summer."

What a Job.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Post Win Thoughts

Hi everyone,
Just checking in after a really huge win tonight against Modiin. It was big because we played against this pitcher twice already, once on opening night, and once another night where he 'no-hit' us. To be able to fight back shows that the shovelmen are really starting to come along. A-Mo pitched lights out, and it was just an awesome day at the field. Willy-B also woke up with two big time home-runs, and we finally beat a top team with their top man on the hill. Its a big emotional win for us, knowing we can play well against the best in the league.

Additionally, there were around 450 kids and staff from Moshava at our game tonight. Playing in front of a crowd of rowdy 10th graders is the best way to rile up your team! After the game it was great to sit and meet the kids. At first I was hounded by the typical lines:

"Can I have your autograph?"
"Can you give me a ball?... a batting glove? your bat? everything you own?"
"who are you again?"

but then came some fun questions.

"Oh you are from Boston? do you know _______ (fill in the blank)?"
"Yaakov Green is your brother?? He was my advisor in youth groups!"
"Can you hang out with us on shabbos?"

But onto the update;
So yesterday was Tisha- BeAv, the 9th of Av, a day commemorating, among other things, the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. I went back to my friends house in Chashmonaim, to read the traditional book of Lamentations (Eichah), and spend the fast among friends and air conditioning. It was a bit hard going off for the fast. We had a rough game the day leading into the 9th, and I had to run off immediately after it finished in order to make services on time with enough liquids in me to last the 25 hour fast. That has actually been a really interesting point for me this summer. On the one hand, I have made some really good friends on this team. Buts, A-Mo, Chopper, Crot, Willy... (the list goes on) have all been a ton of fun to be around, and play with. But at the same time, when shabbat comes around... or a religious fast, I'm the only one on the 'field.'

Now, this shouldn't be seen as complaining. Everyone on the team is truly respectful and understanding. But at the same time, every weekend I turn down invitations to the pubs and clubs on Friday night... Its just a distance that has to be.

But I take the positive with the more tough to handle... All those kids screaming my name because we have the same background, and coming up to me afterwards because I went to Yeshiva with their older brother. Those are the guys on the 'field' with me while I respectfully decline every Friday night, and partake in every fast.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Trip to Jerusalem

I promised to talk about my time when I'm not playing, and seeing as how I've had a lot of that lately... here is a recap of our trip last week. Since the league was still putting the finishing touches on the Tel Aviv Sportek field, a group of Pioneers (whom I will only refer to by nickname... your job is to figure out who I am talking about) and myself headed up to Jerusalem on Friday. Now there was one other opportunity for the players to head to J-town, but seeing that it was on Saturday and the city officially shuts down on shabbos, A-mo, Buts, Chopper, Epps and myself waited for an off day where we could really soak in the entire town. And being that I had lived outside Jerusalem for a combined three years, I was designated tour guide, which was fun because I got to choose the spots to visit. And those spots all contained food.

Now Epps has been to Israel countless times, but for A-mo Buts and Chop,this was there first time in the holy city, so I needed to make an impression. The first stop on our tour was to the famous Shuk (open market). Now for those who aren't familiar, think *Aladdin*, only without the stolen melons and crafty monkeys. Everybody yelling that their prices are the lowest, their fruit the freshest, and their meats the most kosher. Its a lot of fun to see, haggle, and taste on Friday afternoons when everyone is rushing to prepare for shabbos. We took the necessary picture next to the smelly fish stand (a classic) and headed for the center of town to catch some lunch that didn't smell like bread salmon apricots.

On the way to lunch we stopped at the back end of the Shuk for one of Jerusalem's most famous places. Its not the Prime Ministers house or the Knesset (Parliament), but some of the most important decisions of the Middle East take place right there. Cinnamon or Chocolate? (Always Chocolate).Blueberry, or apple? (Always both). I'm referring of course to Marzipan,home of the best rugalach in the world. It was awesome getting to introduce these guys to their first Marzipan experience, and watch their eyes melt along with the gooey interior of a freshly baked batch. It is honestly an honor to buy them their first few. But they are on their own tab now.

Next stop on the food tour was to the best shwarma place I know in Jerusalem: Maoz, right at the top of the Ben Yehuda concourse. Now I'm sure this will spark a raging debate about how foolish I am, that Massov, or Melech or whatever is better shwarma, but... you don't like my taste? take it up in your own blog.

Four shwarmas and one falafel later (Epps wasn't man enough to handle the real deal) , we roll ourselves to the edge of the old city, outside Jaffa gate. Here my job as actual tour guide begins. For those familiar with theold city, we started at Jaffa, and walked through the Arab Shuk towards the Temple Mount, where everyone has the best deal... and they need 'just a minute of your time.' Three dollars for "Pearl Jam" T-shirts in Hebrew, random olive-wood camels, and of course 'antique' chess sets, and we are headed to the Jewish quarter of the Old City. We walked and walked, hitting all the major spots (the Western Wall, the Via Dolorosa, etc.) and all the major time periods as well. Attractions from thousands of years of history,dating from the First Temple (the original walls of Jerusalem dating from 1000 BCE) to the Temple Mount's Western Wall (From 500 BCE), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at 400 CE, to the Cardo (A roman pavilion still used today for shops) at 600 CE, all the way to the ultra modern outer wall, built by the Turks at around 1500 CE. Getting to see 2500 years of life is a pretty unique experience, and I was honored to be able to go and show the beauty of the Jewish State, and its holiest sites and holiest city.

But back to food. So we tiredly, achingly, sun drain-edly (I know thats not a word) walked back to 'modern' Jerusalem, where we sat for lunch and drinks at a jazz cafe. I cant think of another place that encompasses so much; to be able to go from Cardo to Coltrain, the City of David to Miles Davis, in one afternoon. Thankfully Shabbos was right around the corner, so I was able to rest, but these are some of the things we have been able to do while playing ball over here... Shavua Tov everybody!

Monday, July 9, 2007

Disabled List

I don’t think I have ever felt a situation where at one side I have a ton of 'down time', but at the same time feel like I don’t have any moment for anything other than baseball. It’s kind of funny really; we play almost every day, and while the games are only a few hours, everything around the game seems to take up so much of our time and thoughts. Here on the Kfar where we all live, hours before the game starts we are all discussing either last nights events, ideas for the upcoming game, or just our thoughts on the league, play, baseball in general.

So on the one hand, I have a ton of time where I sort of just relax, yet on the other my entire life is consumed by baseball! kind of a different situation than what I'm used to, but believe me, I'm not complaining.

So many of you heard, (many being the five people that check into the blog) that I was one of the first players in the IBL to go on the DL (disabled list). It was kind of frustrating. After that amazing first game, (the score of which we don’t like to think about) with all of the crowds, fanfare, and buildup, I am taking infield and just doing regular warm-ups for the second game. The coach hits me a ground ball to flip to the shortstop, and then "pop-pop."

When I told the trainer and physical therapist that "I had never any back problems before in my life," I was given a response anyone with chronic back issues will say the doctor told them:

"well, you do now."

In truth, it wasn’t the worst. I had to sit about a week, and the trainers really helped. In particular, a friend of the family is an Osteopath, and realigned my back at his house after shabbat. He gave me exercises to strengthen the lower back, and my old coach (Coach Ringel from YU) basically told me, I will have to play and work through the pain, but the more I stretch and the more I move around, the better my back will feel. Throw in a lot of Advil before and after games and he’s absolutely right.

So this past week I got to get in some games, and even start one, so that was a really wonderful experience, even if it was belated, playing in front of fans, and just being back in the game was such a special experience. Even when I was injured there are a ton of ways to help the team, from coaching bases, throwing BP (batting practice) to even just being another set of eyes watching the game, seeing different angles.

Anyway, I am going to sign off for now, but I hope to write about some of the interesting religious experiences I have had while playing ball here in Israel. In the meantime, let’s hope for a strong upcoming week, and not lose faith with "the men who swing shovels." Things are just starting to heat up here in Israel.

Saturday, June 23, 2007


Wow. The past week and a half have been a total whirlwind of events, but I am happy to say I'm here in the holy land and ready finally to play in the first ever professional baseball game in Israel. That sentence has a pretty cool sound to it, don't you think? Here is a another one I never thought I would say: I got on the airplane, and asked for one of the hebrew newspapers to see if there were any write-ups on us that day.

I checked a sports section about myself. wow.

I landed this past Thursday, and we hit the ground running, literally getting my uniform as I walked to the campus where we are all staying. We had a quick photo-session (which you cant blame me for how silly I look; I just got off a day of flying and not sleeping) and got to hang out as a team. Friday morning we hit the field, and let me tell you, our boys at PT can really play. Getting back on the field and hitting some balls felt really good, and now its just catching up on sleep and getting the body ready for opening night. We are in the middle of a heat wave, and the temphit around 105 today, so drinking constantly is a must! I had the real pleasure of staying by my psuedo family this past shabbat, the Solomonts, in a small town outside of Modi'in. The entire community welcomed me with open arms. It was amazing to go to synagogue and have people pointing and whispering at me the entire time. And after about five checks, I was sure my zipper was up, and that it must be about baseball. One of the interactions went like this. (I am walking by a little kid on the swingset outside the synagogue. The kidwhispers to his friend) "Hey, you are the baseball player!... what team do you play for?"

"I play for Petach Tikvah."
"You are gonna lose to Modiin!"

I guess its the price you pay for going to enemy territory for the weekend. Another person in the synagogue is coming to the game on Sunday night, and is a diehard yankee fan, as well as living in the Modi'in area; you can imagine how the conversation ended up going. (Me asserting that PT is going to win, and that the Sox are 10.5 games up).The even had a kiddush celebration/reception after services partially in my honor, and hearing how excited the community was for some baseball was an absolute thrill. One friend who moved here said he has been waiting years for this.

So for all of you in Israel, come down, tune in, and enjoy the first ever professional game! and for those back in the US, check out your local PBS listings for July 1 to see the game broadcast nationally!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Post Draft Thoughts

"With the 60th pick of the draft, Modiin selects Sandy Koufax."

This sentence was picked up by the AP, ESPN and countless news outlets all over the world. People argued on "Pardon the Interruption" (PTI, an ESPN analysis show) whether Sandy could still dominate in the majors. All this buzz was amazing for the IBL, seeing our league's name on the top news and sports syndicates around the world. But the sentence before was slightly more important to me.

You see, I was selected 59th by Petach Tikvah.

Hearing my name called out over the loudspeaker to a crowd of 300, including many of other players, and all the fans watching on the internet was a real thrill. Being analyzed by Dan Duquette and Jeremy Schaap was also really surreal. But now I have something extra! I am the answer to a trivia question! Move over Sam Bowie (the person selected before Michael Jordan). Its my house now. "Name the player selected before Sandy Koufax in the inaugural IBL draft." Can't you see that as a question 'for the wedge?' a daily double?

Seriously for a moment, the draft was a really special day in my life. I got a chance to be on the panel along with Dan Rootenberg, now of Netanya, and Nate Fish of Tel Aviv, and we just spoke about our excitement of the league, and our baseball backgrounds. We fielded questions from the audience, and got to represent the other players at the draft. You can actually see the draft and the panel discussion in its entirety here. Being selected by Petach Tikvah, I quickly tried to find my friends.... and my enemies in the audience. Josh Epstein, our first pitcher chosen, was actually hanging out with me the entire night, so im really happy we are together on the same team. Aaron Rosdal, who also has been blogging is a Pioneer, along with Adam Goldman. There are so many others, but those were the ones at the draft that night.

All in all, it was a crazy night, and it meant the real beginning to the forming of our team, and the beginning of the last minute training. I’ve been working really hard most days, and taking lots of Advil! but in about two weeks we will be playing in a packed stadium in front of Israelis, Americans, and anyone else who finds their way to the Baptist Village, or to the internet to see the first ever baseball game in Israel. I hope you are watching!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Anticipation for Draft Day!

Hello Baseball world!

I dont know about the weather across the rest of the world, but the sun has finally shown itself in the northeast, and everybody seems to be outside trying to catch up on lost time. The doctors have allowed me to resume training and I took full advantage; going the very next day to YU to have a day of practice with my old coach, Norman Ringel, and fellow IBL'er Benji Englehart. Because I have been out of training for a little over a month, and Benji is one pretty jacked individual, he had to slow it down a bit for me, but we still had a lot of fun.

A lot of people don’t realize how easy it is to practice the fundamentals of baseball without a diamond, and without a team, and sometimes even without anyone else. But personally, I always like to practice with someone; it helps push yourself to do more, to try harder, and gives you another set of eyes that is so important to correct mistakes, and point out spots for improvement. Benji and I took turns throwing ground balls right at each others feet, a really simple drill, to force the fielder to look down when they are fielding the ball, and 'see the ball into the glove.' We practiced throwing motions, and after all these were done, we worked on reaction timing by having coach stand behind the L screen and throw us right from about 15 feet. The goal is to just work on getting the barrel of the bat out in front of the ball, and keeping your weight back on curves and off-speed pitches. Not easy stuff when you haven’t worked in a month!

Finally we put the screen all the way back in the cage and threw each other the first live pitching we'd seen in a bit. It was great. Now I want to diverge from the topic for a minute and talk about bats. Ever since I got that crazy, dream-come-true call that I was going to be a part of this league, I began working with wooden bats. From the little leagues up through high-school and even the NCAA, everyone uses metal/aluminum/graphite etc., but all big leagues use wood. If you have ever connected with a metal bat, you notice the soft ping, and effortless flight of the ball off the metal.

But wood, man, it makes this amazing crack, the kind that makes Robert Redford say to Glenn Close "God, I love baseball" (*The Natural*, though I don’t think I have to explain the quote). After feeling, and hearing the wood crack, there is no, and I mean no way going back to the ping. It was almost painful to the ear when we were practicing, so off I go tomorrow to buy some more wooden bats (the downside to wood being, sometimes those 'cracks' are actually cracks).

So little by little all the guys are getting ready, but this week is the big day, and I hope you all can tune in soon after to the internet, and see where we all end up! All the tryouts have ended, the players have signed, and the most exciting moment so far this season, the draft is coming and can be seen via the IBL web site on April 29! I am actually going to be there in person when they call out the names, so as soon as I know which city, I'll let everybody know who to root for (my team) and who to root against (the Yankees). So everybody, get your foam fingers out, and get ready to start cheering: "GO ra'ananatel-avivnetanyatikvabeitmodiin!!!" and of course, the sox. For now the red, who knows, maybe by weeks end, the blue...