Wednesday, August 15, 2007
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
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
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
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
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
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
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...
Thursday, April 5, 2007
Chag Sameach, Happy Passover, and for those of you really technical folks, Moadim Le'simcha. I'm signing in to just say hello and wish everyone some happy holiday greetings, hoping the brisket and matza ball combo in most of your stomachs is sitting well. As for me, well, I am lucky enough to be celebrating the holiday in the place where it all began; no I don’t mean
That being said, before I found out I shouldn’t be practicing or exercising, I had a couple of amazing experiences with the YU team. The coaches, Norman Ringel, Howie Blitz and Ramon Batista all tell us that 'once a part of the YU team, always a part of the YU team' and they truly mean it. So when I go down to their practices, I am running with them, warming up with them, and getting yelled at when I miss a ball just like a regular player. On one very unique night, we went out to the field to practice under the lights to get a familiarity with the home turf. Now the reports said that the night would stay clear until close to , but the snow started just after we had fully warmed up and taken the field. None of the players were willing to give up the chance to take some live ground balls so the coaches obliged and started practice. (A side note: there is nothing, and I mean nothing, better than taking ground balls. Maybe its the die hard infielder in me, but I truly believe any infielder could take ground balls and fielding drills for hours at a time.) About halfway through, the flakes were about the size of quarters, and when they come down like that, the ball looks about the same size. It was one of the hardest and most fun practices we ever had... people diving on purpose just to get a chance to make 'snow angels' in the infield, in between catching flakes on our tongues. Soon after though, we really couldn’t distinguish between the ball and the snow, and had to call the practice off about a half hour early. Still, we had a great time, and a good workout against the elements. It was a good experience for the team, but I don’t know how many 20 degree games I will be playing in the summer in
Ok, so now that I am doing a little bit better, I really hope to write about what I do during my routine to prepare with the team and on my own. I will be writing about regular routines this week, and when I get back from
Sunday, March 11, 2007
The second item, also being a beverage, was real apple cider. Now they sell something in Israel called apple cider, but don’t believe them. For some reason, Israeli's call apple juice apple cider...there is no difference over there. The only problem is that when I complain to people that there is no cider, only juice, they ask me..."so then what IS the difference" and I could never explain it other than the taste. Thank God for Wikipedia...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_cider and as you can see, even they don’t have a great handle on it, but everyone knows once you taste cider, there is a world of difference.
The third and final thing that I have needed before an Aliyah trip was grass. Now I know...Israel has tons of grass, and there are public parks all throughout the major cities with large grassy areas for soccer and kickball and all other great games, but I had never been able to find the great kind of grass; that soft Bermuda. To me, that grass is the only way to walk around between sprinklers on a summer day, and definitely the only way to cool off your toes in the backyard. So for the three years I lived in Israel, I could be seen (this is not a joke; ask my friends) taking off my shoes at various reputable parks, and 'testing' the land for "between-toe-ability." Sadly, all the grass I found was thick, and somewhat sharp...a lot like the crab grass one would expect in deserts in the Middle East.
Enter Baptist Village circa 2005. I was spending the summer there doing a research internship for an Israeli Hospital, and my YU coach, Norman Ringel (whom I will speak about many times throughout these blogs), was in town for the Maccabi games. We spent a few days together giving clinics to coaches and players in the IAB, or Israel's version of Little League, but also had a chance to catch some of the baseball games and scout some Israeli talent. As we get to the field, coach keeps talking about how this field and Gezer, (both fields the IBL will be playing on), are legitimate baseball fields, professionally made. I would always respond "but the grass; it’s not the same." And anyone who goes to a ballgame before it starts and smells the freshly cut Bermuda knows exactly what I am talking about. Anyway, we get to the field, and I am shocked to see the real deal baseball field right before my eyes. This is why we need real grass. The walks and the summers are all part of it. But the smell of the grass, the game played in the summer...And right before my eyes, there was an Israeli baseball team, playing on Bermuda grass, being rooted on by Americans.
All I needed was a tall cold glass of apple cider, but, as they say... 'two outta three ain’t bad.'
Next week, I'll be writing about my practicing with the YU baseball team, which lets me work out with them during the season.
Sunday, February 25, 2007
can even remember the teams; The Padres, the Cubs, and for three years the Yankees which, growing up in Boston was a real mixed blessing. The two years that we had made the World Series though, we lost to the Red Sox, so all was right in the world.
My whole life, I have tried to be around the game. Whether it was being a manager for the high school team while in middle school, playing summer ball with local high school kids, or declaring sick days when Opening Day at Fenway Park coincided with Talmud class, I loved watching, playing, and experiencing baseball.
After graduating Maimo, I spent a total of three years in Israel pursuing my other real passion, my Judaism. Through studying Torah, hiking the hills of Tzfat, even just hanging out in Jerusalem, I loved experiencing and learning about my heritage. I followed that passion to Yeshiva University, where I was lucky enough in my senior year to be a part of starting YU's
first baseball team, and was its' captain for my senior year, and in my first year in Smicha.
Now I have put the Smicha on hold to be in grad school for psychology, but thankfully I get to keep playing baseball in the new Israel Baseball League.
I am about to sign off for the first time, but I wanted to share one thought; When I was a small boy, running around in shul, I had the same dream every kid has only with a little twist; I wanted to be a religious Jewish baseball player. The kind that plays the field all week, then every Shabbos can be seen in the local shul spending time with the kids in the community, while observing our oldest traditions.
Now every week when I see friends on Friday night, all their questions sound something like "are you really playing professional ball? What about Shabbos? This is the coolest thing ever!" (to which the answers are 'yes' 'we don’t play on Shabbos' and 'yes, even though that's not a question'). It’s the greatest thrill to think that quite honestly, its my dream come true.