Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Game On

Monday, June 25, 2007, 6:00 p.m., Game 1 of the Bet Shemesh Blue Sox season.
Location: Gezer Field at Kibbutz Gezer outside of Jerusalem (Gezer is pronounced "Geh-zer", not "Geezer").
The opponent: The Netanya Tigers.
Gezer Field is set up in, well, the middle of nowhere amongst fields and fields of 3-4 foot tall sunflowers. The baseball field is a converted softball diamond, the first ever constructed in the State of Israel. It was built by David Leichman, a thoughtful, energetic resident of Gezer for many years now. David is a big "macha" at Gezer and he still plays competitive fastpitch softball in his mid-50s while working hard to make Kibbutz Gezer the thriving community that it is. His pride is apparent in the fact that his son, Alon, is one of the youngest members of the IBL. Alon, an infielder, is a member of the Blue Sox.
Working with what space they had, Gezer Field is somewhat unorthodox. Both dugouts are on the third base line, separated by about 10 feet. Naturally, the jokes started that a hockey game was sure to break out in the midst of this baseball game. The fences are fairly shallow...about 290 down the lines and about 360 in dead center. Sort of like the Astros ballpark, the outfield slopes uphill to the fence, although at Gezer, that is true all the way around the outfield and not just in centerfield. Our centerfield, a fleet and talented ballplayer from Virginia Beach is Sean Slaughter (I dare anyone to come up with a better baseball name than that). Sean tested the angles and figured out that it was easiest to cover the most ground by starting up on the hill in either right or left center. Our right fielder, Jason Rees, had to contend with another Houston-like obstacle...a light pole that is inside the rightfield fence. Jason mastered the angles in right, as did Mike Lyons in leftfield. All had to deal with what looked like a warning track of dirt that was about 20 yards in from the fence, which was really the area from which the original softball field fence had been ripped. The basepaths were a darker dirt and a little sandy, but our defense handled itself well. Our SS, Greg Raymundo, our #2 hitter, did strain a hamstring going from first to second when his foot slid in the sand, but he's a gamer and he'll be back shortly.
So, the game. Our starter was Jeff Mor, in honor of his Bet Shemesh residence. He had many, many fans in attendance and didn't let them down. He struck out the first two Tigers and induced a weak pop-up to first for the third out. He also got fined by our Kangaroo Court (of which, as the only lawyer, I am the Chief Justice) because he was "consorting with fans in between pitches from the pitcher's mound" as they cheered him on. We didn't score in the bottom of the first.
In the top of the second, we threw young Jason Benson at them. This kid can pitch. He's pitched in the minors here and came to the IBL from the CanAm league in Canada, where he was 4-0. He was hitting great spots at the knees and not getting calls from the ump. Meanwhile, big Leon Feingold from NYC was throwing heat for the Tigers, though he had trouble with his control. Nevertheless, his Tigers got him a run for a 1-0 lead. We then tied it up with some smallball. Things unhinged for good for big Leon when he nailed our catcher, Jake Ayres, right at the bottom of the earflap of his helmet with a fastball. Jake went down and stayed there for a few minutes (he's ok now and will be back in the lineup shortly). Leon whose a good guy, was rattled and took a bunch off his fastball after that (he can bring it upper 80s to low 90s). Johnny (JLo, Johnny LoLo) Lopez, our big first baseman, caught up with one and cleared the fences for what turned out to be the winning run.
I sat this one out, helped Blomberg coach and did the things you do when you're not playing...stayed ready and kept the guys in the game focused. I also drank a lot of water, something I'll be doing all season, as it was hot as a witches pitooty out there (I leave it to you to figure out what a pitooty is). What I learned was that I still have that burning competitive drive because I was really pissed that I didn't play. But it's a team game and we are a good team. This dog's day will come.

As an aside, we've had various sundry issues to deal with at the Kfar. The league is kinda figuring things out as they go along and it is surely coming together. Our league laundry is being picked up and it looks like they'll do our personal stuff, too. This is important because the big machas of the league had a misunderstanding with the Kfar folks and told us we could do our laundry on site in a large commercial washer and dryer. It turned out we cannot. Thankfully, though this has been worked out and, thankfully, I brought many, many pairs of BVDs. The food is the food...sometimes it sits right and sometimes I just sit for a while and read, if you catch my drift. We start running clinics for kids soon and I've had a blast signing autographs after games with my teammates.

Game 2, Tuesday, June 26th....Our starting pitcher was Ben Pincus, a really sharp lefty from Tampa Bay. I met him in NY this summer when he worked out with a bunch of us while he was doing an internship at CBS. He's got really nice stuff....he had a rough first inning because his mechanics were off, but he pitched out of it and we came up on the short side of a 2-0 score in the middle of the first. It was 2-1 in the bottom of the third. Hey now, I forgot to mention that I got the start in left field. No balls came my way and I only got one at bat. Our catcher, Scott J, lead off with a walk. I was given the bunt sign. This brash young righty, Danny Kaufman was on the hill. He went into the stretch and I squared, but pulled back as the pitch was high. Second pitch, I squared again, but Kaufman busted it inside for ball two. The bunt was still on so I squared again and laid down the best bunt of my life, dragging it up the first base line, past the pitcher. Everyone said I beat the throw, but I was called out. I ragged on Blomberg a little for not arguing the call, but it's all good. We had a runner on second and proceeded to load the bases. Then our rightfielder, Jason Rees, the IBL's featured player of the week on its website, cleared the bases and we went on to win 8-2. Blomberg pulled me and put Mike Lyons into left in the fourth, which I swallowed, but was not pleased with. Again, though, it is a team game and I will do whatever it takes to win. Of course, I expect to see a little more respect as games go forward. We also got stellar pitching performances from Raf "West Coast" Bergstrom, a big dude from the Bay Area of Cali who chucks hard and has a very niiiice change up, too. To boot, he wears # 54 and kinda resembles Goose Gossage from the Yankees back in the day. Aryeh Rosenbaum, a young lefty from Teaneck and Yeshiva U. came in to finish it up and pitched admirably out of a jam he got himself into by inducing a double play grounder and then getting the third out to end the game.

Game 3, Wednesday, June 27th...the Blue Sox are rollin'...our starter was my roomie, Scott "the Professor" "the Pearl" Perlman, a 41 year old master of the strike zone. He's a lot of fun to watch because he comes from all arm angles, mixing curveballs with sliders with changeups and fastballs. He is a smart pitcher who knows how to keep hitters off balance and he did so this game. He came out to a loud ovations from the crowd with the score 4-3 after he tired in the heat (game time temp was 103 degrees!) and hung a curveball on an 0-2 count that got out of the yard. We stretched the margin to the final score an inning later when Johnny LoLo took a high fastball 10 rows deep over the right field seats (10 rows of sunflowers that is, not seats). I coached first most of this game, relinquishing the spot to Perlman when he came out in hopes that I'd get the call to pinch hit or pinch run. Justin Cardinal got the start in left as he hadn't played yet. He's a great kid from Ottawa, Canada (our team is made up of a bunch of diverse, really interesting and good guys). He acquitted himself well in all aspects of the game and played six innings. Blomberg replaced him with Mike Lyons in the 7th. One of our durable and flexible pitchers, Juan Feliciano, made his second appearance and got the save.

Today, we're back at Gezer against our other roommate, Nate Ballenberg's team, the Ra'anana Express for bragging rights. Loser cleans the bathroom, too. Looks like it will be another hot one.

On another note, I am excited as Sam and my aunt Marsha are arriving tomorrow morning at 5:00 a.m. Had a car delivered today so we can all get around and see some things and they will be able to get to games. Marsha will be writing about the league and Sam will be helping out in some capacity or another during my team's games.

I hope you all are well and enjoying your summers. If there is anything anyone would like to hear about as I learn how to blog better, just let me know and I'll do my best. Will be trying to upload some pix soon.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Am Yisrael Chai-Alan's in Israel, so what's up?

Hi everybody...thanks to all who have been checking to see what's going on with me here in Yisrael. It took a while to get here and it's taken a while to settle in (still not sure we have our final room assignments), so naturally, it's taken me a couple of days to get a post out to y'all.
Well, let's start with the flight. Great bunch of guys on the flight...we were about 25 strong. I had a good aisle seat with a seatmate from Chicago (non IBLer) via Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. In between trying to nap, we had some cool chats about work and life. She was off to Zurich for a week's vacation with friends who live there while she is trying to figure out her next professional step. I can tell you from flying into Zurich that she picked an awesome spot to re-charge her battery.
Once in Zurich, we waited only about 40 minutes before boarding our connection to Tel Aviv. Sat next to an Israeli transplant who lives in NJ but was going home to visit. Nice guy, musician and music student trying to make a go of it in a tough business. Smart dude, too as he worked out a couple of gigs in Tel Aviv while he's back visiting. Thought I'd read some on this flight, but couldn't keep my eyes open. Got some sleep before we landed at 2:40 p.m. Tel Aviv time.
That's when the excitement started, though not for me. We all passed through Customs, except for one of us, a young fella just out of college who happens to be of Islamic descent (but is born and raised in the States and no one is more American than a native born guy who plays our national pastime in college). Now in this day and age, I can understand the Customs folks asking him a few questions, even if the league had cleared everyone in advance. But they wouldn't let this guy get his bags while they interrogated him for 1 1/2 hours, repeatedly asking him "where are you from", "what are you doing here", "who are your parents" and "where is your family from". All in all, the kept him in the airport an extra 4 hours while the rest of us were all bused to our destination. When they finally got it that he was with the baseball league, they sheepishly let him go with an apology. He's a great guy, he's from Brooklyn and is going to be one of the better players in the league and he dealt with this mess extraordinarily well.
The accomodations are, well, sufficient. We are three or four to a room. From what a couple of guys said, we're better suited than some Single A minor leaguers. I'll agree with that when the A/C in our room starts to work....but more on that later...

Catch up time....
Our internet connection has been on the fritz for a few days...we're all learning that we have to make do with certain conditions that we're not exactly used to; the bottomline is, it's all about the baseball games, which are played between the lines, and helping run the clinics for the kids....so here's a bunch of catchup for everyone who has patiently awaited news from the homeland...

Thursday, June 21, 2007-Sunday, a.m., June 24, 2007

Well, just finished getting ready to go eat after waking up…eating lunch that is…still adjusting to the time change…roomies and I were up til about 2 a.m. Israel time shooting the breeze about, well, what else, baseball, of course…remembering back to our first trips to a major league game, reminiscing about guys we’ve played with/against that have made it to a higher level of the game…Scott Perlman, a veteran pitcher who has great stuff and came to us from the Westchester/Rockland woodbat league, actually had a couple of guys plucked from his team during the last major league strike. One of the guys, who was going to play in the bigs, got cut after they found out he’d lied about his playing history on his application…yikes…KNUCKLEHEAD!!
Anyhow, got a little extra sun yesterday at the beach, so I’ll be wearing sunscreen and a t-shirt til that resolves…that matzoh must have baked quickly in this crazy hot sun when our forefathers were wandering the desert out of Egypt!
Today, going to try to get in a little more of a baseball workout and run about five miles, maybe to the beach and meet the guys there. The beach area around Tel Aviv is definitely cool….foud a great place to eat and get a reprieve from the cafeteria at the Kfar. Mike’s Place is a cool, good old American sports bar food (better than most I’ve had in the States, actually). Dont' know why the league hasn't worked something out with them to put a banner in the place, have schedules for the taking and maybe even an event with players there. Would be great p.r.
Wandered the backstreets a little bit and found a few places to rely on to pick some things up. Going to have to get a rental car in the next several days. Will make travel much easier. And if you come visit, I’ll be able to pick you up at the airport if I’m not obligated to be at a clinic, game or other league activity (so far, there haven’t really been any, though they tell us our schedule will have activities added soon).ok…more later.
Well, too much excitement to get out for a run…we got our uniforms today and took individual pictures. The league may (or may not) be coming out with …. baseball cards…my guess is that they will do it for the marquee guys, but we’ll see…all in all it was a lot of fun….I scored one of the two numbers I was hoping for…21…the number of my idol growing up, the great ballplayer and humanitarian, Roberto Clemente (for those of you who have not read it, I highly recommend his fairly recent biography by David Marannis). During the uniform distribution, I met a bunch of my teammates… we have a great bunch of guys from what I’ve seen so far…with Ron Blomberg at the helm, I think we’ll be a loose, relaxed, exciting team that will surprise some of these other teams…Eric Holtz is the official assistant coach, but he’s a player, too…the man knows his baseball and will be joined by my roomie, Scott Perlman in helping Blomberg. But it’s clear that this team will all join in on helping things click. I think one of our studs is going to be this guy Johnny Lopez…he’s big…he plays 3rd and 1st and is eager to break a tie by helping us win a homerun derby. We’ve got a young fella with a great baseball name, Sean Slaughter who looks like he’ll get on base a bunch, steal some bases and get us on the board early. We’re deep in pitchers, including a local fella from our “home” town, Bet Shemesh…Jeff Mohr and a Canadian kid with a nice arm, Jason Benson. We’ve got a couple of catchers who are big dudes and look like brick walls behind the plate who can do some damage with the bat..
Gotta tell you that this league, overall, also seems like a really great bunch of guys…incredibly diverse…from all over the country, from Australia, from the Dominican Republic, from Canada, from Japan (we lost our guy from the Ukraine, who we were told had visa issues). Indeed, it was cool to see one of the Dominican guys talking to the Japanese guy…turns out the guy from D.R. speaks some Japanese because he played some pro ball in Japan…very niiiice, I was interviewed by a reporter from Beersheba who came up to interview players in the league for the Jewish Press…we had a great chat…turns out she’s from Brooklyn, too…the center of the universe…so, Google The Jewish Press for an IBL article and hopefully I will not have been edited out.

The room I’ve settled into is terrific. Along with Scott, we’ve got Jim Pierce from Dorchester, MA., a D-III infielder who played his college ball at Thomas College in Maine and Nat Ballberg from Long Valley, NJ, a D-III pitcher/infielder who played his college ball at Haverford College in PA. I’ve warmed up with both of them and they can flat out play. Nat has some nasty movement on his pitches and throws a knuckler with more juice on it than any I’ve ever seen before. Jim is on the Blue Sox with Scott and me while Nat is on the Ra’nana Express. We’d like Nat to stay with us, but we’re waiting to see what the league is deciding about having a mandatory rule that teammates room with teammates. Nat, Jim and I have hit the beach together a couple of times and explored the backstreets of Tel Aviv.
Tomorrow, we have a mandatory meeting at 8 a.m. and then a practice from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. (Nat’s team practices at 7:30 a.m. and then meets when they get back). So, it’s time for me to get some sleep because tomorrow, the real excitement begins. My first official practice as a pro player….
Practice was cool...took balls in the OF and at 1B and handled it just fine. We have some talented players on this team and we're excited to get out there and show what we got. That's on Monday. First things first, the league opener on Sunday. Only two teams are playing, so the rest of us serve as league ambassadors, meeting and greeting folks coming into the ballpark, signing autographs (yeah, really, I mean, pinch me!) and that sort of thing.
Been working with some of the more senior guys here to sort through some lifestyle issues that we're all facing here at the Kfar...am happy to report that my room now has a working A/C. It got installed today and makes a significant difference.
Well, I've got to go drop this at my room so that I make the bus out to Petak Tikva for the opener. Will update this all more regularly now.
Miss you all...be in touch!