Thursday, August 16, 2007

Catching up to the Playoffs

blog 7...
Life is good. Last time I wrote, the Blue Sox had fallen on some hard times. We were not playing well and the teams behind us were. Well now the tables have turned once again. We have won five in a row and seven of our last eight. We have a 2 and a half game lead in first place with about 15 games to go until the playoffs. Our pitching has stepped up and our offense has returned to form. We have the league leaders in batting average, home runs, on-base percentage, RBI’s, stolen bases, wins, ERA (you get the idea). We are playing well again and at the right time. The ‘ship is far from in the bag, but I like our chances much better right now.

I finally got my first professional win after one loss and 4 no decisions. Again, I had my family there and it made it that much better. It was 106 degrees on the field and no breeze whatsoever, which may explain why I have never in my life been so tired after pitching only five innings. I am really starting to feel more confident on the mound. I feel almost like when I was in high school, when I pretty much peaked. Every time I took the mound, I felt like I was going to win. I was not afraid to go after any hitter and beat him with my best pitch.

I would not over think or second guess myself on the mound. Once again, life is
good and I like the way things are going. We had the All-Star break last week. As I had not made the team, two of my friends from other teams and I decided to take a trip to the one of the southernmost points of Israel, Eilat. Getting out of the car after the five-hour drive I was hit with a wave of heat like I have never experienced. In Eliot, it is not uncommon for it to be over 110 degrees, at night. I have never been to Arizona but people have said that it is the driest heat you could possibly encounter. Well, to them I say 115 degrees with a 115 degree wind blowing in your face has to be worse.

I had planned on staying in Eilat for two days, then going to Jerusalem for a day then back to Tel Aviv. However, midway through our second day in Eilat I got a very interesting phone call. One of the pitchers on the All-Star team could not throw in the game and the managers of the team recommended me to replace him. I could not have been more surprised or excited. After a frantic search for a way back home, I found some other players who had taken the trip who were going back to for the game. Seven hours later we were back and I was running on fumes.

That changed as soon as I got on the bus to go to the game. All the best players in the league and I was one of them. It was an awesome atmosphere at the field. There was about as many people as the inaugural game and they were all cheering for different teams. We had the home run derby, which was pretty competitive with Stuart Brito, a first baseman from Tel Aviv, winning it by one in the finals. All the players sat together, with their taking pictures and video cameras. It felt just like the Major League All-Star game, minus a few things here and there. After the derby, the coaches went through the lineup. I was throwing the sixth inning.

The first through the fourth innings I was really nervous. I mean I had thrown 107 pitches on Friday and it was only Sunday, and my arm is not as resilient as it used to be. However, once I started stretching and throwing in the bullpen I felt relatively calm and I was ready to face a lineup of the best hitters in this league.
It went pretty well, I’d say. One inning, no hits, one walk, one strikeout and one big sense of relief. After that I just enjoyed the game, which we won 6-5.

Afterwards all the players were taking pictures together and signing autographs for each other. It was an incredible experience that all the arm pain in the world could never tarnish.

In conclusion, baseball is good, my time here is good, life, is good. My time here is running short and, in some ways, I am looking forward to being back in America. For now, though, I am going to get all I can out of the last couple weeks and make sure I leave her with no regrets, on or off the field.

blog6... It has only been about 10 days since my last post; however, quite a bit has changed. We are no longer undefeated, having hit a little bump in the road and losing three out of four. We have gotten back on the winning track and now sit at 16-5, 2 and a half games ahead in the standings.

I finally had a decent start, five innings, two runs, six strikeouts. My first good day on the mound was nullified a tad by the six errors made behind me, which ended up leading to another no-decision. My statistics, not that I check, are beginning to come back into this universe so that also is a plus. It felt good to finally feel like I could pitch again. What made it even more special was that my parents were actually able to be at this one, as they are staying here for the remainder of the month.

I am very close with my family so it meant the world to me to have them here. My brother Loren and his wife Ali are arriving today and I cannot wait for them to see me play some ball and experience Israel with them.

My position on the field has changed as well. I was lucky enough to be given a start a first base a couple days ago, our regular first baseman was in relief that day. Although I was a two-time All State first baseman in high school, I had not really hit in a game in a while so I did not know what to expect. It could not have gone better, well that is not true but it was close. I went 2-for-4 with two RBI’s and a perfect day defensively. I do not see myself playing the field often, but whenever coach Blomberg asks for it I will be there, for sure.

Another difference is the way games are being played. Guys are really starting to turn it on, on both sides of the ball. We have had two no-hitters in the first three weeks of the league several guys are still batting over .400 and a rivalry has even begin to spring up between the Blue Sox, my team, and the Tel Aviv Lightning. We are 1-2 in the standings and our games have gotten pretty heated.

Last time we played we had our catcher get taken out twice at the plate, he held on both times, guys being thrown behind and benches not clear, but close. I am looking forward to every game we have against them. Not only because of what is happening between the teams, but two of my roommates are on that team. Talk about an interesting dinner conversation.

My final and probably my favorite change is my living situation. The league had all the players living together in a dorm like setting, which was fine, but I personally wanted to spend a majority of my free time immersing myself in a new culture. So I, along with four other players, looked for and found an apartment right in the heart of Tel-Aviv. It is such a different experience; picture Manhattan with a nice beach. When we are not at the field, my roommates and I go out to dinner, go out to concerts, including Live Earth earlier this week and basically do the things that make us feel like we are not just visitors here.

Israel is an amazing country. It is beautiful, interesting and surprisingly friendly. It is such a young country yet it has thousands of years worth of history.

All-in-all, Israel is treating me well and I having a blast. I can only hope the rest of the season goes as well as it is right now, well except for my personal performance, which has to get better. Until next time, Shalom.

blog 5...
9-0. That is all I can say. Through 9 games of my first season of professional baseball season my team has lost exactly zero games. I have pitched well but two no decisions, mostly because we have this thing about late inning comebacks.

Through these first ten games without a loss we have come from behind six times, two in the last inning, including a ten-run final frame. The comeback kid’s moniker just does not cut it with this team. More like the incredibly ridiculous comeback kids.

We are a team firing on all cylinders early in the season. It is nice to be on a team like this, it is always nice to be on a team like this. Ron Blomberg, our coach and the game’s first ever designated hitter, is the kind of manager perfect for this team. He is a character on a team full of characters. He calls everyone “big guy” at least ten times a game. I think he believes our team name is the Bet Shemesh Big Guys. We have guys from Australia, Canada, the Dominican Republic and the U.S. We barely know each other, we all come from different backgrounds and somehow we have come together, early in the season, and have played “perfect” baseball. Any athlete knows that it will not always be like this, but for now, life is very good.

On a personal level, I am a bit disappointed. I have thrown well at times, however I cannot escape that one “big” inning. My college coach always described a big inning as one in which the other team scores three or more runs. I have had that inning in all three of my appearances. I am trying to keep a positive attitude and understand that I am still just getting back into it and I just need to make improvements during my days off the mound. I will get better, I have to. As I said, there is quite a bit of diversity within the players of this league. The interaction of all these guys with such a variety of backgrounds is something that is interesting to watch. It is not just where we come from, or what our baseball experience has been, it goes further than that. Guys here different on everything from their views on the world, mainly the part of it in which we currently reside, to what you call McDonald’s, the Australians call it “mackers,” something I like and have chosen to stick with for the remainder of my life.

The main difference, one that possibly is magnified because of where we are, is religion. Although I have always thought of Israel as predominantly Jewish area, this is the epicenter of more than just the Jewish religion. A perfect example of this was last week when the league organized a trip for all of us to go to Jerusalem. We went through the Jewish Quarter, the Christian Quarter, pretty much all of the areas we were allowed, which does not include the Muslim quarter. Watching the different reactions to religious sites and customs to which others, including myself, were unfamiliar was kind of a wake-up call. For one day, I saw what is special to other people and it made me wonder why I had not tried to educate myself on these things sooner. The conversations that took place on the way home between Jews, Born-Again Christians, Catholics and all the other faiths showed the true power of experience can hold. Maybe certain countries that are at odds could take a page out of that book.

In conclusion, things are going very well here on and off the field. Hopefully we can stay on the winning path as long as possible. We have gained quite a following, I am fairly certain our first basemen could be mayor of Bet Shemesh if he ran and no one wants to disappoint fans. There has been a new dynamic added to this experience, that of wanting to know things about other people’s ways of life.

Needless to say, I plan on coming home with much more than an Israel Baseball League Championship ring, however I certainly do plan on coming home with that All I know is, right now, life is very, very good.

“Go Ben! Go Devil Rays,” was the cheer from the little boy sitting down the right field line wearing his yarmulke. This is an odd thing to hear considering one, I do not play for the Devil Rays and two were are playing on a field in the middle of the desert 5000 miles away from Tropicana Field. These were just some of my thoughts as we arrived at Gezer Field in Bet Shemesh for my first game as a professional baseball player.
In many ways it was just like before. The nerves, the anticipation, the constant talking to myself with my glove in front of my face. However, this was much different than my baseball experience in the past 5 years. Nothing hurt, ached or throbbed. I was not nervous if something on my body was going detach itself from its point of origin. I was excited and concentrated on nothing but making my first professional start a good one. Well, that and the displaced Devil Rays fan.

Standing on the mound I do not think I could have been more nervous, and it showed. I walk the first two hitters I face and before it is over I have let two runs in the first inning. I am able to settle down and go 1-2-3 the next two innings, all I am supposed to throw that day. But the first inning slip up is going to stick with me until I am able to get back on the mound.

But the more I think about it as I sit and watch the rest of the game, a 8-2 win en route to our 5-0 start, I begin to understand what this experience was really about. It was about realizing a dream. Making something that seemed impossible, possible. I analyze the game and my start as much as I can and start to really enjoy myself. The field itself, with a pole in deep right and second base right in front of the outfield grass, is something out of a comedy about minor league baseball and takes some adjusting to for the players. For as different as it is, ethnically or otherwise, it is still baseball. I look around at the over 900 fans that showed up to watch us and I smile.
Baseball in Israel is something that can grow to be something truly special and enjoyable to the people of this country. It is one of those things that can become culturally relevant anywhere. All you need are people who are interested in the game and people who want to play the game the way it is supposed to be played. If the inaugural season of the Israel Baseball League has anything it is potential to become a legitimate member of the baseball community. I hope, for the people of Israel as well as the 119 other guys in this league with me, that it becomes a reality.

After the game we are mobbed by little kids asking for autographs. I sign hats, old balls, t-shirts and even a little girl’s arm. I know it is nothing like what actual Major Leaguers deal with, but fellas I cannot see how that gets old. We all sign for about 30 minutes and, in a daze, get back on the bus to head back to Kfar Hayarok, where all the players are living, and get some rest. Tomorrow, we get to do it all over again. Hopefully, that Devil Ray fan will keep showing up because I could always use the support.

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