Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Home Sweet Home

As most of you know, or have figured out since I haven't posted in a while, the Ra'anana Express lost last Thursday to the Netanya Tigers in the first round in the first year of the IBL. Esquier Pie threw a two-hitter, but five throwing errors for the Express turned out to be too costly as we lost 3-0. I arrived at LAX last night around 11pm and by 11:01 I was passed out in the back of my parents car. Allow me to take this time to discourage you from ever spending 20 hours in one day on an airplane.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Real Quick

Hey everyone. Thanks for all of the support that past few days.
It's Thursday morning here and the day has finally arrived. It's playoff baseball. Our bus leaves in 45 minutes so this will be a really quick post. I'm pleased to say that we finished the regular season on a high note last night. Our Israeli pitcher threw a complete game four hitter and shut down Netanya 9-1. I caught well going 1-3 with a sac fly, SB, and run scored. For the first time in a long time our team is showing signs of life. To unify us even more, we have decided to go the NHL route and grow facial hair for the playoffs. I happen to love the joy that a fu-manchu brings to my life and others around me so I opted to go with that design. Nothing is a better conversation starter than looking like you are from a 1973 action movie. There will be pictures for all to see when I get back. Okay that's it, gotta run. But I'll post again after our game to let you all know what happened.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Please Understand Something

Those of you providing negative comments on my blog are entitled to do so. We live in a free society where you have a right to voice your opinion. There are some of you, however, who have taken the time to single out my parents and how they raised me as the basis of your comments. Let me assure you that I do not take that lightly. Let me also assure you that by doing so, you are making yourself sound ignorant. Your disagreement with my post gives you absolutely no right to slander two people who you do not know, better yet who do not deserve to know. They are genuine, put others before themselves, and have done a beautiful job of raising my sister and me. It is irresponsible to make such damaging statements against people that you have never met, and I will not stand for it. If you are confident enough in your comments to come out from behind the anonymous curtain and let me know who you are, I would be glad to have a tranquil conversation with you about my writing.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Please Allow Me To Explain

I have been receiving a lot of criticism from friends, family, and anonymous fans about my most recent post. I want to vehemently apologize to anyone and everyone I offended. In response to that criticism I have removed the post from the website. It was in no way intended to create such discontent among my readers. I have absolutely no idea, nor could I even imagine how much time, money, and dedication it must take to start a professional baseball league in a country where many of its citizens don't even know the rules of the game. I believe that I have made it very clear over the past several weeks that I am indeed having the time of my life here. I couldn't be more thankful that this league is in existence. I couldn't be more thankful for the hundreds of volunteers who set up our field every day, to the bus drivers who drive us to and from games, and for the fans that continue to show up every day. Everyone I have met here has had a positive impact in my life and I will not forget any of you when I leave. All of you have made this experience a tremendous one. Yesterday's post was not meant to take away from any of that.
All I wanted to do with the post was explain that the players and personnel who make up the league have still managed to make it a huge success. I have no doubt that eventually the league will reach an insurmountable level.
The beauty of this blog is that you can voice your opinions, and, whether you are right or wrong, you are entitled to those opinions. The problem with this blog is that you can only read it in the context you choose to, regardless of how I may have intended for you to read it. I cannot stress to you enough how grateful I am to be here. How grateful I am to be able to bring a smile to so many kid's faces each night. How grateful I am to bring baseball to Israel. How grateful I am to be able to share this experience with you.

Overall, I want to reemphasize that this league is a truly great thing for Israel. I wrote it because I care about this league and want it to be the best it can be. By being one of the pioneers of this inaugural league, I believe that expressing my thoughts can lead to the improvements needed to make this one of the best leagues outside of the United States. Please know that I meant no disrespect to the people who have made this experience one of the most enjoyable times of my life.
If I have lost some of your respect, I can only hope that going forward I will be able to gain some of it back. I urge you to continue to read this blog and share in my journey.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Recent Games

*Note: This post was originally written Tuesday August, 7th.

Well, as days go, this is probably one of the worst that I have had in the time that I have been here. We lost both today and yesterday. Last night we played third place Modi'in, and if we had beaten them, would have pulled within 4 games of 3rd place with 9 to go. It was a huge game for us because we would be a lot better off being the 3 seed instead of the 4. Well, we led the game 1-0 until the bottom of the sixth when two errors ended up costing us the game. Story of our season right? They scored one to tie up the game and we all know what a tie after seven innings means...home run derby time. What a joke. We ended up losing 4 home runs to 2. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to grind your way through seven innings only to lose in damn home run derby.
Tonight we played the 5th place Netanya Tigers. A win would have meant some breathing room between both teams, and a virtual guarantee for us to be the home team in the 4th vs. 5th playoff game next Thursday. They threw a 6'7" lefty from Tennessee Emory who was on his game. He was locating his 83-86 mph fastball with ease, dropping in the occasional deuce, and had a decent change. He left Tennessee a couple of years ago because of control problems, but he pitched like Maddux tonight. That would be Greg, not Mike. Two strikeouts looking and one ground ball to second base later, and right now I'm about as sour as the ripest lemon on a scorching summer day.
What's frustrating is that our team has shown signs of brilliance, but for the most part, through 33 games, we have very little to show for it.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Express On the Way Up

See, here is the thing. Every time I make a post about how our team is doing, we immediately go the other direction. This is by far the streakiest team I have ever been a part of. We will win three in a row, then drop three of our next four. We will play well for a week, and then begin to resemble the Bad News Bears. It's incredible. I mean, I feel like we are really riding an Express train, which has evidently turned into a tumultuous roller coaster ride. So I say this with much hesitation...wait for it...we have won two in a row. Our record has improved to 12-18 and we are comfortably sitting in 4th place. With only twelve games left until the playoffs begin, we have pretty much cemented ourselves in the 4th vs. 5th seed game. But, as this whole paragraph implies, who really knows?

There is one topic that I have been meaning to write about lately. It is concerning discrimination in Israel. You see, in Israel, and more specifically on the campus where we live, there are many nationalities. Among them are Ethiopian Jews. They are descendants of Be'er Sheba, an Ethiopian queen who heard about the wisdom that good 'ole King Solomon provided and decided to take advantage of his services, in more ways than one. The two eventually wed and so began a lineage of Ethiopian Jews. While here, I have befriended two of them, both women, and at one point even asked them to come out with us for a night on the town. Everything was great until we arrived at our destination, a bar/dance club called Golina located at the port in Tel Aviv. When we got to the entrance, my friends and I were let in without hesitation, but when the girls got to the front, they were stopped faster than a yellow Ferrari traveling 140 mph. I could not understand what the problem was. These were beautiful women who wanted to enter a club. What was the issue?
After immediately leaving, one of the girls, Hadas, explained to me the bigotry and racism that plagues the dark black-skinned population in Israel on a daily basis. She told me that black people were not allowed in certain clubs, were not treated well in restaurants, and didn't have all of the opportunities as other Israeli's. I couldn't believe it. I felt like I was having a conversation in Mobile, Alabama in 1956. Amazingly, white Israeli's have no problems hiding their feelings.
On Friday night, some friends and I went our for Sushi, and after, visited Hadas at her work. She is a bartender at a bar called "R and B" in the outskirts of Tel Aviv. When we asked our white waitress at the sushi bar if she had ever been, she gave us a look of discontent right out of hell. "I would never go there, it's not for people like me," she said. Well, I had no idea what she was talking about until we got there.
The dimly lit "R and B" sign was only visible as we pulled up to the joint. When we got to the door, three out of shape security guards quickly folded their arms and protruded their chests at us. Only until I talked to the third one was I able to convey the message that as four white men, we meant no harm and were only there to visit our friend. As we entered and passed through two more security guards, a metal detector, and another guard at the top of the stairs, it dawned on me that we probably weren't their regular customers. This was an Ethiopian club, with no white people in sight. Nevertheless, we entered reluctantly and found a table.
For the next hour, I felt more uncomfortable than a whore in church at the Vatican. We received more looks than Pamela Anderson would walking down Santa Monica Blvd. Except our looks were those of confusion and assumption, not of content. We were the big elephant in the middle of the room. When I eventually tried to start a conversation with one of the girls in the club, I was brushed off like paint on a canvas. It was incredible. People would point, stare, and point again. I'm talking reverse racism at its finest. After two rounds we couldn't handle it anymore so I said goodbye to my bartender friend and we left. But not before the security guard at the top of the stairs attempted to prevent us from leaving for another half hour.
Looking back on this experience, I'm not quite sure how to and/or from which angle I should look at it. Is this how black people in the states feel on an everyday basis when among a room full of white people? Were we just getting the treatment that Ethiopian Jews get when they attempt to enter a white club in Tel Aviv? Or did we just come on a bad night? Either way, I can now add prejudiced to my list of emotions felt.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Feels Good to be Back

Hello again. Have you missed me? For all of you avid readers out there who sign on every morning hoping and praying that I have updated this blog of mine, today is your lucky day. After a weekend vacation, sleeping 16 hour straight to recover, and a double-header today, I finally have some time to write. Which is good because this is becoming sort of an addiction of mine. No, not the type that is a gateway to worse blogs, but the kind where I can put down into words my experiences and thoughts during these couple of months.
Before I get to the weekend that was, a quick update on the Express. We have been struggling mightily as of late. We are 0-3-1 in our last four and have been regressing in every defensive category that I can think of. In addition to that, three of our eight pitchers are hurt right now. And I have no doubt that there is a direct correlation between our 50 (+/-15 not ruled as such) errors and the injuries to our pitchers. The reason is because for each error committed, there is on average an extra 10 pitches thrown per inning. The workload incurred by our staff has to be more than any other staff in the league. That combination, and the fact that the treatment facilities here are much worse than par has resulted in our pitching staff being more bruised up than offensive lineman after an NFL game.
On top of that, our baserunning is flat out atrocious. We probably have been either picked off, thrown out stealing, or back-picked 70 times in 30 games. And no, you did not misread that. An astounding 70 times. I mean, you really have to try in order to be that bad on the bases.
Personally, I'm finally starting to hit the ball well and have consistently good at bats. Alert the average is above the Mendoza Line. I attribute this change in fortune to picking up the pitcher's release point much sooner than I had been. It seems to be working for now so I'll have to stick with it. It only took 25 games to make the adjusment. I'm sure all my prior coaches would be real proud.

Now, before I tell you about my weekend vacation, allow me to explain Eilat to those of you unfamiliar with the territory. Imagine if you will, a four hour drive originating in a major metropolitan city. About two hours into your journey, you make a quick pit stop along a barren highway to get some gas and food (think:Barstow), and begin to wonder if you car will soon overheat. In addition, the people at the gas station speak some ancient tongue that you don't understand and you pray they accept all major credit cards. You somehow make it the other two hours and out of the darkness of the desert appear lights so bright that they light up the night sky. Remind you of anything? If that description doesn't make you think of the amazing road trips you've had from LA to Vegas, then you either A) need to get your head examined, or B) need to stop reading this immediately and go make that trip. Because that is what Eilat is, the Vegas of Israel.
There are resort style hotels at every corner, a plethora of opportunities awaiting you in the Red Sea including deep sea fishing and jet-skiing, and Egypt and Jordan a mere minutes away. And who wouldn't enjoy their time as a Jew in Sinai, Egypt? We stayed at a place called the Royal Beach. Think five-star hotel, a room overlooking the boardwalk on the ocean, a comfortable mattress (trust me, it matters after sleeping for six weeks on wood boards), fine dining, and great nightlife. See, Vegas right? It was a great place to spend the all-star break. And there is just something about going on vacation during the break that makes you feel like a pro. In the middle of the relaxing weekend, a pitcher on my team named Nate and I went to Petra. Petra is an ancient city originating in 6000 B.C.E. Once we crossed the Jordanian border, it was a two hour drive to the site.
A quick side note: I can't really explain the feeling that overwhelms you immediately after entering an Arab country...but allow me to try. Think of the last time that you entered a room full of people that you weren't supposed to be in. Or overheard a conversation that you weren't supposed to be listening to. Or better yet, when was the last time that you saw your boss firing someone. All very awkward situations, correct? Well multiply that feeling by a thousand.
But I digress...
Petra is basically an ancient city inhabited by cave dwellers. It is a city home to humongous rock structures twenty or more stories high in which the people carved square rooms out of the rocks to live in. If you can imagine families living in doghouses then you are on the right track. Take a look at the link to get a better idea. Oh, and apparently it's one of the new seven wonders of the world. Only six more!
We got back Monday night, watched the Angels vs. Tigers game on the delayed very delayed Sunday Night Baseball telecast, and went to bed. Because after four straight nights of partying, who doesn't need to sleep a full day to get their rest. I felt like I was in college again. But man, what a great feeling.
So there you go. My weekend in a nutshell. Hope you enjoyed the synopsis. There is a lot more to add but I would be here all night. Feel free to ask me all about it when I get home. Talk to you all soon, surely on a more regular basis.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

All-Star Break

It's Thursday night here, which means only one thing. We have an early game tomorrow because of Shabbat. Although, this week is unlike any other week. Sunday is the All-Star game, and surprisingly, me and my .195 batting average were not invited to participate. In response to this all-star snub, some friends and I have decided to skip town and go to Eilat for the weekend...along with the rest of the so-called "snubs." For those of you who haven't looked at a map of the Middle East lately, Eilat is at the southern tip of Israel. We are leaving tomorrow immediately following our game with the first place Blue Sox. It should be a nice, relaxing weekend on the shores of the Red Sea. I think we might even make a visit to Petra (in Jordan) and possibly Egypt. Don't worry mom, I'll make sure I can get back to Israel before I attempt at crossing any borders.

The Express pulled out a win today against Petach Tikvah 13-3. In what I would call a slopfest, the game was out of hand by the fourth inning. Max Vasquez of Columbia threw five quality innings for the team from Ra'anana. After losing three in a row, it definitely felt nice to win again. Our Dominican catcher is hotter than the devil in hell right now and adding to his home run total at a wicked pace. Another one today puts him at 8 for the year, and with no sign of slowing up, we are optimistic for a strong second half.

Since I will be out of town this weekend, my next post won't be until Monday. Be sure to read that one though as I will give you a detailed version of my weekend at the Israel border and document tomorrow's game.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

I'm Still Here

Hey everyone. I finally have some time to post something. Things have been going really well out here. I think after a month my stomach is finally getting acclimated to the food, as players we finally have a consistent routine, and the teams are finally figuring out how to play well together. Right now the Express are hovering around .500, which I'm more than happy with considering the way we played our first 10 games. The turnaround has been a combination of better pitching, more consistent defense, and timely hitting. Combine that with our Dominican catcher being on fire at the plate, and we have the right recipe for success.

I forgot to mention this in my last blog so I'll bring it up now. Last Saturday, the Newmarks, a family from Cleveland who relocated to Ra'anana, had 12 players from the team to their house for Shabbat lunch. I met the JMO (that's Jewish Mother), on opening day when she politely asked if I thought we would be interested in a nice home cooked meal.

After eating the dog food that they serve us where we are staying, I jumped at the opportunity to set up the meeting. Needless to say, it was a good decision. The buffet style lunch included taco salad, hot peppers, green bean casserole, and low mien. Apparently the meal was catered by The Rio Hotel . They also served cholent, which is, as the JMO called it, "an ancient meat dish from the time when we were slaves in Egypt." I'm sure Moses was a big fan, and so was I. After the meal, the family invited all of Ra'anana to come hang out with the team. Well, not ALL of Ra'anana, but it felt like it. But hey, who am I to complain. To them we were superstars. We mingled for a while before leaving to go back to the barracks that we call home. The important thing about it is that we have now developed a fast growing fan base. Many of the people at the meet and greet are now showing up to our games in droves. If not droves, definitely dozens. And in turn they will tell their Anglo friends, who will tell their Anglo friends, and eventually at least one Israeli will learn about the league and what it has to offer. And that's we are all here for right?

A quick note about our recent play. We have won two in a row...against Netanya. But they still count as wins. I hit my second home run of the season tonight. A solo blast to right-center. Evidently I only bring my bat with any hits left in it when we play the Tigers. Tomorrow is a day game against Modi'in, who are playing really good ball right now. It will be a good test for us.
Thanks for continuously reading and keep the feedback coming.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Quiet Setback

Through 15 games, the Express are sitting quietly in fifth place. Although our record looks absolutely terrible on paper, I like the way we are playing. We haven't played bad baseball in over a week and our last two games have resulted in two tough losses. Thursday's loss to Bet Shemesh was in a home run derby, and in Friday's loss to Modi'in, we just ran out of innings. Tonight we play the Tel Aviv Lightning. The game is going to be televised on the local sports channel and repeated throughout the week. You can view it on the IBL website beginning Thursday night at 8pm EST. It is a chance to show the country some quality baseball, and at the same time begin our ascent up the IBL standings.
I wanted to quickly mention something that has been on my mind for a while. This whole "home run derby after a tie" thing is quite possibly the most absurd rule that I have ever seen enacted while participating in any type of baseball activity. I mean, to put your heart and soul into seven innings of quality baseball ...and then participate in a home run derby to decide the winner almost seems unsportsmanlike. It's kind of like going to see an action movie and just before the last scene where the villain and hero duel to the death, the screen goes black. The let down is immediate. It is unbearable. But more importantly, it is boring.
Sure, in theory a home run derby would be exciting. Who wouldn't want to see big, strong athletes flex their muscles and blast weakly thrown baseballs deep into the Israel night. But in reality, the derby drags on and on...and on, and turns into 30 minutes of substance with 5 minutes of action. The players don't like it, the fans don't like it, and I know the coaches don't like it. So why do we do it?
The argument is that since Israeli's are used to fast paced games like basketball and soccer, an extra-inning game would just add to the boring nature of baseball. The big problem is the most of the fans coming to our games are Anglos, or American Israeli immigrants. They want to see, and more importantly understand, the excitement that goes along with an extra-inning game. Where every pitch is important and each baserunner could be the game winning run. Extra innings should make you feel like you do when you see deleted scenes during the closing credits of a movie. That way you can leave the game feeling like you got more than you paid for. And what consumer doesn't like that feeling?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Michel Hits Game Winner; Express Win Two in a Row

It's been a successful couple of days here in Israel for the Ra'anana Express. After losing a close game on Sunday to the Modi'in Miracle, the Express brought out their A-game for the Netanya Tigers on Monday night. The Tigers starting pitcher struggled to find his control for most of the night, but for whatever reason, our baserunning resembled a bunch of six year olds in a little league game. We were picked off twice, got thrown out at third two times, and kept swinging at terrible pitches. Finally, after five and a half innings, all of which I'm sure were painful to watch from the stands, our dugout came to life. It was as if the baseball gods themselves arrived at that very moment. We were tired of performing poorly offensively and letting their guy off the hook inning after inning. With a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the sixth, our leadoff hitter stepped up to the plate. Knowing that he needed to get on base, he crowded the plate, giving the Netanya starter as little a strike zone as possible. It worked! A leadoff walk led to a steal which led to a ground ball to shortstop, productively moving the runner to third. I was due to hit third that inning.
It was evident that their pitcher was tiring, so the Tigers went to the bullpen. They decided to go with a right-hander from Columbia with a mid 80's fastball and devastating changeup. My coach wanted me to bunt at the first pitch. "Let's see if we can safety squeeze to get this run in Jesse," he said. As they brought their infield in, I thought to myself how the safety squeeze probably wouldn't work because of it. Well, sure enough on the first pitch, I squared to bunt and fouled it straight back into the crowd. Maybe the baseball gods really were there. The 0-1 pitch was a fastball high. As I stepped out of the box, my mind was going faster than Sir Isaac Newton's on the day he discovered gravity. What was he going to throw? Where did I want to hit it? Should I try and lay down another bunt?
I decided that he was going to come with a fastball. Surely he wouldn't throw something offspeed, risking a ball in the dirt getting by the catcher. As luck, or the gods, would have it, I was right. The ball came in around 86 mph and left my bat twice as hard while sailing over the right field fence. I had done it. The home run was one of the hardest balls I have ever hit and more importantly, it gave our team the lead we so deeply desired.
We went on to hold them scoreless in the top of the seventh and won the game 3-1. Needless to say I was walking on air the whole night. It felt good to contribute offensively because through the first 10 games I might as well have brought a toothpick up to the plate. All that was behind me now though.
See, the thing about professional baseball, as I'm now learning, is that there is no rest for the weary. Day after day we go out there. What happened yesterday has no bearing on today, and today no bearing on tomorrow. By Tuesday night, my home run was old news and it was time to take on the lowly 1-10 Petach Tichvah Pioneers. It was a chance for us to win two in a row...for the first time all year. We scratched and clawed the whole game and pulled out a 4-2 victory. My roommate and starting pitcher, Travis Zeir, pitched a solid 6 1/3 innings and got his first W of the year.
With each inning we play, our team is beginning to understanding its limitations. While we aren't going to win many games 10-7 or 13-6, with solid defense and a very good pitching staff, we will be able to stay in most games until the late innings.
Our next two games are against Bet Shemesh, the powerhouse of the league. We have a chance to quickly climb up the standings and are poised to continue winning if we play well.
On a different note, the league has decided that all six teams will make the playoffs. The top two seeds will have a first round bye. The third will play the sixth seed, winner to play the second, and the fourth will play the fifth, winner to play the first. This is a much better format than the original one game championship, as teams that are 15-25 after 40 games will still have something to play for.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Finally off the Schnide

With a win yesterday, the Express improved to a season best 2-6. .250 winning percentage baby! Those are better odds than Hasselhoff being sober for two days straight. In addition to the win, I went 1 for 3 with a single, walk, and rbi. Those fantasy stats will be up to par in no time. We won 14-2. Thats right, our team went on an offensive explosion. Granted, the pitcher was older than Dan Rather and threw at about the same speed as it takes me to run from home to first base (hint: slow), but hey, we busted out the whooping sticks. I caught and continued to play well defensively. I finally feel like I'm getting my timing down in the batters box. 1 for 11 will turn into 11 for 21 in no time. We lost today 7-3 to the Netanya Tigers. I had the day off but got a pinch hit at-bat late in the game...and proceeded to walk for the team leading sixth time. Tomorrow is off and Sunday we face a lefty from Australia who threw a no-hitter his last time out.

Now, on to more important things. Here is a link to the Chaiyenu event that I mentioned in yesterdays post. It is an article on the IBL website. Hope you enjoy it. By they way, I have received nothing but positive reaction from you all regarding this blogsite. I really enjoy telling you my stories, and expressing them in my own personal way. Special shout out to Amanda Gropper, who actually called me here in Israel to tell me how much she enjoyed these posts (but neglected to leave her number so I could call her back...hint hint). About to get kicked out of the library so I have to run. Oh yeah...our TV game on Sunday was rescheduled because we are so bad right now.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Quite a Fourth of July

Yesterday was a day that I won't soon forget. It started off with a full breakfast of two hard-boiled egg whites, a bowl of the Israel version of Smacks cereal, which by the way was definitely lacking the abundant sugar content I so badly desired, and the best Israeli Insta-coffee I have ever tasted. This breakfast, although mighty tasty and one of the best I have had yet , was not the reason for my amazing day.
The night of July 3rd, I found out that I was going to be involved in two dynamic charity events on American independece day. One of which would involve running a half-day baseball camp with two of my teammates for the 11 year old Israel National Baseball Team. They are getting ready to go to the Czech Republic for two weeks on Sunday to play in the European Championship Tournament. To top it off, the camp would be held at the Ra'anana Little League field. The other was to take place at Ra'anana public park, where three teammates and I would bring league sanctioned balls and gloves to an event put on by Chaiyenu, a branch of
Chai Lifeline, which is a charity organization that helps out kids with cancer all over the world.
As our minivan approached Ra'anana Little League field, I was reminded of the innocence that young kids possess. It didn't matter that the Express were batting a dismal .189 as a team, or that we are an even worse 1-6, the kids embraced us as if we were their parents and they had just found us among a sea of 50,000 people after being lost for two hours. We taught them how to properly execute a rundown, how to run a first and third play when the runner on first steals, and how to put their batting helmets on correctly. But none of that stuff mattered as much as when we were able to sign autographs for them, talk about their experiences in Israel (most have moved here from America), and even play a little baseball trivia. I swear there was an 11 year old kid who knew more trivia than every baseball encyclopedia combined. When he asked me to give him my all time Washington Senators team, I decided it was time to throw in the towel.
After the camp was over we all boareded a bus and went to watch Bet Shemesh continue their leaguewide dominance over IBL competition. They are 9-0 and don't look like they are going to lose anytime soon. I swear it's like David vs. Goliath but in this case, Goliath always come out on top.
Anyways, four hours and a quick power nap later, it was time to take a taxi to Ra'anana Park and meet the kids from Chaiyenu. I'm not sure if they were more excited to see the players, or the boxes of goodies (see: two dozen balls, 12 gloves) we brought with us, but when the announcement was made that we had arrived, 400 kids made a beline straight for us. I felt like I was directly in the path of the Million Man March. We tried to hand things out as best we could, but were overwhelmed by the hundreds of tiny fingers grabbing at us from all directions. After the goods were passed out, we tried to console those who came emptyhanded and left with nothing but tears streaming down their faces because we couldn't give them a ball. We played catch, took pictures, signed more autographs...and arms, but more importantly put smiles on a lot of kids faces who are either siblings of cancer patients, young kids in remission, or even taking a quick break from chemo treatments. It was quite an event.
After such a full day, I went to Mike's Place last night to celebrate my independence. It is an American bar in Tel Aviv that plays live music and gives you that American feel we all miss around here. It was nice to get the taste and sound of home for a couple of hours. Tonight we play the 1-7 Petach Tikvah Pioneers. Someone has to win...right?

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Well, Sometime's I'm Wrong

So...You know how I said that as a team we had nowhere to go but up? A better lie would have been telling you that I am taller than Shaq. We lost last night to Tel Aviv 16-1. Do you have any idea how hard it is to lose that bad? More people have climbed Everest than have lost by a score that lopsided. The box score said we committed only seven errors, but I counted at least ten. It was one of the more embarrassing games that I have ever been a part of. That being said, coach gave me the day off, which was nice because now technically I can erase the game from my personal memory bank. In all seriousness, we win and lose as a team. We just need something to jump-start us. Whether it be a couple hit batters, a grand slam, or even a team brawl...where no one gets hurt of course, just some nice Jewish verbal sparring. Something to light a fire under us as a team. Either that, or one guy needs to step up and put the onus on him to become our "clutch" player. So far, every other team has established someone like that but us. I should be back in the lineup tonight and would love to take on that role...we will see.
Tomorrow is July 4th and our team has the day off. Apparently the Israeli immigrants from America like to celebrate the holiday just as they did before they made Aliyah, besides the BBQ hot dogs of course. I think some of us are going to go to Tel Aviv to see what *limited* fun we can have. I'll let you know how that goes. In the meantime, keep the Ra'anana Express in your prayers as we are still looking to get our first real W.

Monday, July 2, 2007

A Week Gone By

So after one week, the Ra'anana Express are a disappointing 1-4. We are leading the league offensively in strikeouts (thanks in part to my 4), defensively in errors, and our pitchers have allowed the most walks. It doesn't take a baseball genius to figure out that a team with that stat line is not going to be in first place. I'm still optimistic though because we are just getting our back foot out of the starting gate. With 40 more games to play we have nowhere to go but up.
Since our Dominican catcher has had a bum shoulder recently, I have caught the last 4 games. Defensively I'm doing well but offensively I haven't got it going yet. Granted, in the four games I started, three times we have faced a Dominican pitcher with stuff dirtier than Howard Stern's mouth. I do have four walks though, so at least those are keeping pace with my K's. Tonight we face an Aussie, so I'm looking to get off the schnide and put a crooked number in the hit column.
On a much more important note, since we had no games Friday afternoon through Sunday night, I had some free time to travel around the country. On Saturday morning, the players sober enough to wake up at 7 o'clock in the morning boarded a tour bus headed for Jerusalem. We stopped by the Palestine border, went to an Elvis, that's right..Elvis diner in the outskirts of the city, and walked through the Armenian, Arab, and Catholic quarters of the city. For obvious reasons, the Jewish quarter was as dormant as a dead fly on Saturday.
As the rest of our contingent headed back to Ramat Hasharon, five of us stayed in Jerusalem for the night because we had bought tickets the day before to go to a Jackson Browne concert scheduled for 3:00AM Sunday morning. Why would we do such a thing? Because the concert was a sunrise show at Mount Masada, home of the last stand between the Ancient Jews and Catholic Romans. The backdrop of the show was the backside of the enormous mountain, with the southern part of Dead Sea off to the left. I felt like I was at the end of the earth, watching the concert unfold as the sun came up. It was an intimate show as only 2,000 people were present. The main act was a singer/songwriter named David Groza, and Browne came onstage to perform two songs with him. It was quite an experience.
I eventually got back to my room around 10:30AM, took a quick power nap, and boarded a bus at 2:30PM to face that same Dominican pitcher on the Modi'in Miracle who was a former to Yankee prospect. Quite a weekend, I know.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Making History

On Tuesday night, one of our Dominican pitchers made history in front of a packed crowd of 256 people at our home field, Yarkon Sports Complex. Esquier Pie, of the aforementioned Dominican Republic, was three outs away from pitching a perfect game, but after three walks in the seventh erased that bid, he was able to keep the Modi'in Miracle hitless and become the first pitcher in the long history of the IBL to throw a no-hitter. I was fortunate enough to be catching him that night. It really was amazing to catch a guy who can spot his 89-93 mph fastball wherever he wants, make hitters look foolish with his changeup, and throw the occasional 12-6 curveball. Now, I don't want any of the pitchers I have caught in the past take offense to this, but this was hands down the best guy I have ever had the pleasure of catching. This coming from a guy who has probably caught more pitchers than most people have relatives....distant relatives. To give you an example of just how dirty he was that night, Aaron Levin, Modi'in's third hitter told me, "There was one pitch last night that I didn't even see. I just heard it whizz by me." Now tell me that's fair. We ended up tying the game 0-0 because their pitcher, also from the Dominican Republic, was previously the New York Yankees 25th ranked prospect as of two years ago. Somehow the guy got his visa taken away and ended up playing for the IBL. His name is Maximo Nelson, he is 6'7", throws 92-95 mph, and looks like a redwood tree standing out on the mound. He only gave up two hits the whole night.
By league rules, a tie after seven innings results in a home run derby. We won the derby 4-3, but the game was protested because one of our players was using a bat banned by the league. They have not told us the result yet.

On Monday night our team didn't play so well. We were shaky defensively, still trying to get a feel for each other and the field while getting back in the flow of things. Tel Aviv beat us 10-4 that night behind a 6'5" lefty that they brought in to pitch in the third who threw 4 1/3 innings of no-hit ball. He was probably sitting at 84-86 mph with a really tight slider and good location.
So far I am 0-2 with a walk on the year. We have faced some good pitching and having not seen anyone pitch harder than 80mph in over 4 years, it will take some time for me to adjust to such fireballers. I'm giving it two weeks. If pitchers don't start to ease up then, I will start praying to face some guys throwing less than 92. This IS the land of miracles, right?
We play Bet Shemesh tonight, who is 3-0 on the year. It will be a good test for us.
On a more important note, the NBA Draft is tonight and if the Lakers could be so kind and get either a point guard who can run the floor or a big man to grab some rebounds for Kobe, I would be eternally greateful.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Opening Day of IBL a HIT!

The 4,000 baseball fans that packed Yarkon Sports Complex yesterday made opening night of the newly formed Israel Baseball League a success. The standing room only crowd were witness to history as the Modi'in Miracle put a whooping to the Petach Tikvah Pioneers 9-1. I would say that Israeli immigrants from America, or New York Mets fans as we like to call them, made up about 75% of the crowd, however there were some signs that this whole "baseball in Israel" thing could possibly catch on.
The night started with a ceremony marking the significant event. There was not one, but two, ceremonial first pitches, an introduction of all the teams, a dynamite Hatikvah singer who would have blown both Rosanne and that poor little girl from Portland who forgot the word's to our anthem out of the water, and an announcer being as professional as the local drama troupe would be performing on Broadway. Nevertheless, the game went off without a hitch, disproving the notion that Jewish Standard Time even exists. I digress...
As a player on one of the teams not actually playing in the game, it was my duty to mingle with fans and spread baseball cheer throughout the stadium. Well naturally that included signing autographs, many autographs. On baseballs, on hats, on gloves, on the back of shirts, on the front of shirts, and even on some poor teenage girl's arm. I figured it just wasn't my place to tell her it would take two weeks to get all of those Sharpie signatures washed off. And who was I to tell all of them that back in the United States I was about as important as the guy selling them the Jerusalem Post every morning. But hey, these were kids, and kids like, love their autographs. Some kid even said walking away that he was going to sell my ball on ebay. I told him to try and get a Barry Bonds ball in return. We'll see if that comes to fruition. I'd be lying if I told you it was anything but awesome. I think I could get used to this.
In addition, I met two different families from Ra'anana, my home city, who took down my contact info and said they would love to have some guys from the team over for a BBQ. How cool is that? You think Russell Martin or Jeff Kent have ever gone to a Dodger fan's house? I gonna go with a capital NO on that one.
Our first game is tonight, and with any luck we will be up by 12 runs in the second inning so I can get some playing time. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, our other catcher is one of those Dominican players. Maybe if I knew that going into this I wouldn't have come...yeah freaking right.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Welcome to Paradise

I think it was Green Day singer Billy Joe Armstrong who first uttered these famous words, but I could be wrong. In any event, the ship, or airplane in my case, has landed. As I'm writing this, it is Saturday afternoon here in Tel Aviv. I arrived at Kfar Hayarok in Ramat Hasharon two days ago and finally feel acclimated to the time change. This after sleeping for about 16 hours yesterday. I know, I know, not much different from back home, but this sleep was definitely needed. Trust me.
Let's rewind a little.
One thing I love about this country is the closeness of its people. For instance, as we landed in Israel two days ago, the entire plane applauded in unison. The plane on the runway next to us could have heard the sound waves. Was it because we landed safely? Maybe. That no terrorists had highjacked our plane? Possibly. That people were finally back in the country they call home? Most definitely. Its a feeling of camaraderie that brings everyone together, and it's great to be a part of it.
The rest of the Los Angeles contingent and I then boarded a bus and were taken to where we will be spending the next two months of our lives. Let me try and paint a better picture for you...
Imagine five-star hotel accommodations, 3 restaurants, a 24 hour masseuse, luxury Olympic size pool and spa, king beds in every room, and on call room service. Now that we got that out of the way, erase all that and picture a 30X30 foot room with four beds small enough for Frodo Baggins and his band of brothers to live in. One bathroom in each room and a cafeteria serving food fit enough for the best beggar on the streets of medieval Europe. Other than that the place is great. The people here are great. And most importantly the combination of both has made for a great couple of days, sans the time spent sleeping.
Luckily we had some time yesterday to practice so I was able to meet my teammates. We have three Dominican players so we should at least be competitive. The running joke here is that your team's ability is a direct correlation to the number of Dominican players on the team. Honestly, they are ridiculous. And apparently Vladamir Guerrero's brother is one of them. Word is still out though on his ability to hit the ball 500 feet or throw guys out at home plate tagging from third on a ball hit to the wall.
Alright, I'm getting kicked out of the library here so it's time for me to go. Opening Day is tomorrow and our first game is Monday night. Talk to you all later.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Time Has Come

After months of planning, too many goodbyes, and a haircut that makes my head shinier than a 2008 quarter, it's time to go. I'm leaving Los Angeles tonight bound on a journey that will take me thousands of miles away to fulfill my dream. Aside from the twelve hour layover in Toronto, I can't wait to get there. I will arrive in Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv on Thursday morning and find out where I am living, what fields I will be playing at, and who my teammates are. I'm pretty fired up to be finally going out there. I feel that I'm as ready as I can be physically and mentally to make this a successful trip both personally and athletically. Next time I talk to you all it will be from the promised land.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

How Great is College Baseball

You live and you learn. That’s how the old adage goes right? Well, baseball is funny that way too. As I’ve aged, the way I approach and look at the game has changed, and I think for the better. As a young kid playing America’s pastime, whether it be throwing that green felt tennis ball around in the backyard with your older brother, running the bases after your dad’s park league softball games, or even hitting that ball through your mom’s kitchen window after she told you not to play in the house numerous times, we watch major leaguers on TV and expect that they play the game the right way.
I can remember watching Dodger games on Prime Ticket, which was then bought by Fox Sports (thanks for those five great years of terrible losing and even worse free agent signings; Murdoch, Malone, et. al.), only to now be renamed Fox Sports West Prime Ticket. What my young impressionable mind saw on TV is what I expected great baseball to be. The onus lies on home runs, strikeouts, and manager’s arguing to entertain us, the fan. What we fail to realize though at such a young age, and what our parents neglect to tell us, thanks dad, is that Major League Baseball is a business, in which it relies on its millions of fans worldwide to survive. I bring this up because over the past five years, I have been fortunate enough to witness some truly great baseball. And I’m not referring to that billion dollar business.
College baseball is a business too. A much different business though. Multi-billion dollar TV deals with media conglomerates like ABC, CBS, and FOX bring in much of the revenue for NCAA and its President Dr. Myles Brand. I feel that because of this, college baseball is much less exposed to the nation than other amateur sports of equal national importance. Which makes sense, right? Who does the average sports fan care about more: Some pitcher from the University of Miami who might make it to the big leagues in five years, or the All-American running back that could be available late in round four of next years fantasy football draft? I’d take Adrian Peterson in the third though. I digress…
Usually the only college baseball that people see is in late spring when ESPN decides to jump on the bandwagon and flex their muscle by showing the super-regional tournaments and every College World Series game. And if you have been watching, these games have been highly competitive and entertaining with everything from 2-1 pitching duels to outright slugfests.
College baseball is pure. Where players don’t hesitate to hit a ground ball to the right side with a runner on second and give themselves up even if their batting average might drop five points. Where bunt defenses are of the utmost importance and you can see a starting shortstop come in to save the same game in the bottom of the ninth. Where players aren’t motivated by a future filled with Escalades, iced-out necklaces, and appearances on MTV cribs.
If I sound bias, it’s because I am. Three players in this years College World Series have been on the same field as me at one time or another. Year after year I see people who I grew up with playing on ESPN and finally getting the attention they deserve. Do yourself a favor and try to catch a game or two over the next two weeks. You will see how the game is supposed to be played.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Why Israel?...Well, I'm Glad You Asked

You might be asking yourself why in the name of Adonai’s green earth I have this innate desire to travel halfway around the world just to play baseball. What, with all of the tumult surrounding the region, its neighboring countries, and the fact that the majority of media coverage coming out of the middle east deems the region as perilous, one would think that it would be senseless to take part in a league where fan support is not even guaranteed. But as usual, things are not always what they seem.
My first and only visit to Israel took place in December 2005, at a time when the country was in an even more heightened state of alert than it is now. Car bombs, cafe explosions, and "martyrs" killing many Israeli's were being shown on American news channels almost daily. Sure, my family was concerned about my safety, but I knew that the group I was with would take all of the necessary precautions to keep us safe. Needless to say I can now classify that trip as one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
As a reform Jew living in America, I only knew about Israel based on two things: what people with firsthand knowledge had told me and what I had read from articles and books. People I talked to however always ended those conversations with, “…but you have to go and experience the feeling for yourself.” Coming back from that ten day trip I realized what all of the fuss was about.
Swimming in the Dead Sea, climbing Masada before sunrise, living for three days on a kibbutz, seeing the Temple Mount and touching the Kotel were all part of that indescribable experience. Nevertheless, that trip whizzed by like a 95mph Roger Clemens fastball over the head of a hitter getting a little too close to the plate circa 1993.
In addition to the fact that I’ll be playing the game I love, I will be able to play it in the country that feels like a second home to me. It would be foolish for me to get philosophical and say that when I went there, I felt the spirits of my ancestors who first walked that barren desert almost four thousand years ago. But what I can say is that in a world where Jews are not only the minority, but also bare the brunt of many off color jokes, snide comments, and myopic remarks, it’s nice to look around and see someone just like you. The opportunity for me to play baseball and give back to the Israeli community is something that I truly am looking forward to.
For those of you who are not Jewish and can't relate to what I’m describing, take the time to remind yourself that even Jesus was a Jew, well for a little while at least. If you are Jewish and have been there, you know what I’m talking about. And If you are Jewish and haven’t visited yet, maybe you should go sooner rather than later to see what all the fuss is about


Hello and welcome whoever you are and wherever you may be. Family, friends, friends of the family, fellow bloggers, and random strangers, thank you for taking the time to visit my site. My name is Jesse Michel and I have been awarded what I consider to be the opportunity of a lifetime. Maybe not yours, but definitely mine.
This summer I will be traveling to Israel to play baseball for the Ra'anana Express of the Israel Baseball League. In this, the inaugural season of the league, over 120 players from all around the world, (See: USA, Australia, Israel, Dominican Republic, Australia) will be participating. To play professional baseball is every young boy's dream. Growing up, I envisioned myself being the starting catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers or New York Yankees. As I got older though, I came to the realization that most major league clubs aren't looking to invest millions of dollars in a 5'8" catcher with an average arm, speed like a Santa Cruz banana slug, and less power than it takes to light up Jerusalem on Shabbat. Was I going to let all of this stop me from pursuing my dream? Absolutely not. Pro baseball is pro baseball. Israel, USA, The doesn't matter where.
Over the next several months I will allow you to come along for the ride on this once in a lifetime opportunity, whether you want to or not. I hope to provide some insight into the political, religious, cultural, and social circumstances in the current State of Israel. Through real-life observations, candid opinions, and open webwaves, I hope to make this site both intriguing and informative. Please feel free to email me, leave comments, or opine about whatever you wish.