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.