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.