Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Boychiks of Summer - Israel Baseball Tees Off

PICTURE FROM CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER

YARKON FIELD, PETACH TIKVA - Like many baseball fans in the Jewish community I was excited to hear that Israel was getting its own professional baseball league. When fortune had it that I would be in Israel this summer I excitedly contacted my brother, who resides in Israel, and made plans to attend. Well, the day finally came and I had many questions about this league. What would the quality of gameplay be? Would the playing fields measure up to pro standards? Israel Baseball games are only 7 innings, so when do they stretch? (FYI - Middle of the Fifth). Well, I had a front row seat, literally, to the evening’s proceedings and I can lay it out for you, but you’ll have to excuse any stream-of-consciousness writing, as it is close to 3AM while I type this.

The game itself was OK; I was entertained, but I reserve judgment. The game was played on a Sunday when most of the league’s players did not arrive until the Friday immediately preceding. This led to some less-than-crisp play, especially by the Petach Tikva Pioneers, who were routed 9-1 by the Modi’in Miracle (the team I had chosen as my rooting interest because of their strong Met-ties with orange and blue as team colors and former Miracle Met, Art Shamsky, as manager). The 2B and SS had miscommunications about who would be covering the bag and dove into each other at one point going for a groundball; also, there was an embarrassing moment for the catcher, Michael Olsen (heretofore Two-Out Olsen), who after a strikeout in the 4th tossed the ball to the infield grass, as catchers customarily do, however this was only the 2nd out and allowed the runner to advance while he was making his way to the dugout, thus giving a unique twist to Catcher's Indifference. An acquaintance of mine who is playing on the Pioneers informed me before the game that the team had only met once before the game that Friday and had only had a single half-hour session serve as their “practice”.

Because of the one-sided nature of the game, it being the inaugural game, and its being televised on PBS this coming Sunday the managers attempted to get everyone into the game, especially the few players from Israel, who were well-received by the fans. For you highlight-junkies and trivia buffs, Ryan Crotin, 3B for Petach Tikva, hit the league’s first, and thus far only, homer-a shot down the LF line. [FYI #2- The OF dimensions were respectable; 320 in the corners and 385 to center]

Former US Ambassador to Israel and now Israel Baseball Commissioner Dan Kurtzer threw out the league’s ceremonial first pitch, although the pitch was a weak one and sailed about 10-15 ft to the 3B side of home plate. This was symbolic of the day in general, a little off the mark, but could be good with a little improvement. The league was faced with unexpected interest for the game, it had anticipated a crowd of 1,000 and the day of the game announced expansion for an additional 1,000 (the attendance turned out to be in excess of 3,000). On the way to the game I joked with my brother that since this is Israel, the “expansion” would be accomplished by the use of Keter brand plastic chairs (those of you who have spent any amount of time in Israel know what I am talking about), as fate would have it I was exactly right, although they did use the nicer green ones instead of the cheap white ones; I was lucky enough to be there early to secure seating in one of the bleacher areas behind the backstop. Overall the field itself was very nice and the accommodations are comparable to a high school field, but nice.

Another setback was the sound system/ PA announcer which was fully functioning for 2 minutes and for the rest of the game was barely audible in my section, which was, as I mentioned earlier, not far away-being right by home plate. This made it hard to identify players, since their names are not on their jerseys, their numbers are not listed in the program, and I couldn’t hear the announcements.

Additionally, I have sat through many games in the summer sun at Shea Stadium, but the Middle-Eastern sun is a whole different ball game and I couldn’t help, but feel that some sort of shading over the spectator area would have been warranted and not unreasonable. Also, the league had hyped itself as being very fun-oriented in the style of many minor leagues. This was hardly the case; music was only infrequently played and the few between-inning promotions attempted came off as a little lame and disorganized, although the crowd seemed amused by the cliché’ dizzy-bat races. On the plus side, the environment was very family-friendly and tickets and concessions were affordable (50 shek for premium seating and concessions provided by Burgers Bar at their normal prices).

As the saying goes, Kol Hatchalot Kashot [all beginnings are difficult] and there is much to be positive about in this new league with what seems to be competitive talent, ranging from age 17 to 51 (yikes!) [League officials have compared themselves favorably with the level of A-Ball; I’m no scout, so all I can say is Major-Leaguers, they ain’t], and problems that are easily fixable. There was nothing uniquely “Jewish” or “Israeli” about the experience except for the singing of Hatikva, but as a baseball-lover, I, along with many other Americans-in-Israel will continue to follow and support this new league, but it remains to be seen how Israelis will take to it. I saw very few, aside from the media, and have no real basis to speculate whether they will warm up to this pastime of ours. But if need be I will keep you posted as the official SerandEz Israel Baseball Correspondent.

{Additional Notes: I caught the rebroadcast of the game later that night on Israeli TV and was moderately impressed with the coverage. The announcers were knowledgeable about baseball and did a decent job explaining the rules. Thankfully they did not attempt to apply new hebrew terminology, but rather transliterated the traditional english terms in their hebrew commentary. Also, managers were miked allowing viewers to hear their discussion in the dugout, to umpires, and, what I found most interesting, to the pitcher during a mound conference. Schmaltzy Line of the Day was awarded to the JNF rep. who waxed, between innings, about the Jewish-Israel connection to baseball since it is all about coming "home".}


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