Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Tough loss

We lost a tough one last night, 2-1, to Bet Shemesh. I was the starting pitcher (first pitcher in Netanya Tigers history!) and had a no-hitter through three innings, but they scored one in the 4th and 1 in the 5th to take the lead, and the game was called after 6 innings due to darkness (Kibbutz Gezer's field is a converted softball field, and although the lights were on they were not very strong, never having been intended for baseball, and apparently the umpires were having problems seeing the ball clearly). It was great hearing the fans chanting "We want seven!!! We want seven!!!" once the announcement was made after the 5th inning that the game would be shortened - had flashbacks to the MLB All-Star game where Bud Selig declared the game a tie and canceled the rest of the game when the all-stars ran out of pitchers. I had a funny story of my own yesterday - I drove in the first run in Tigers history with a run-scoring groundout, but a minute later the umpire ruled my bat illegal (it was a composite wood bat I'd gotten from the Cleveland Indians organization, and I didn't know that it wasn't legal in the IBL!!!) and the runners had to go back to their bases and I was declared out. :( The run came around to score on the next batter's single, but it still was a pretty weird way to start the season. I did record a bunch of firsts for our team, however, and currently lead the league in baserunners picked off, with two. :) It was a great game to watch, and we had nearly 1000 fans in attendance, including Dave Lelonek, my Scoutmaster from Ten Mile River Boy Scout camp from twenty years ago (!) and his family who I met for the first time, who just happened to be visiting Israel this week. There were some amazing plays on defense, including a couple of diving, hit-robbing plays by CF Josh Doane and SS Hector de los Santos, and a great inning-ending play at the plate where Josh threw out a baserunner trying to score on a fly ball and Sam Fader, our catcher, made a great diving tag. The score was close, the game could have easily gone either way, and even though we came up on the wrong end of it (I allowed too many baserunners due in part to the tightest strike zone I have EVER seen) I am proud to have been a part of it and I know the fans all got their shekels' worth. I've been spending a lot of time with the team, and when not with the team been going out and exploring the local cities, not just Tel Aviv. Every day we are pretty wrapped up with baseball activities, and at night we've either been playing cards, going out and meeting locals (and a lot of international tourists), and starting very soon, working out at a real gym (we have been negotiating with local gyms to try to find one we can use daily). I bought a bicycle both for transportation and exercise, and plan on biking several miles today before the game tonight, which I won't be playing in but will be going to watch, and going to try to take some swings in the batting cage. I do look forward to learning more about Israel and Israeli culture; it's definitely a work in progress; we've been here just a week and I'm still learning a lot about the language, customs, etc. but I can definitely see why people move, live, and visit here. It's really interesting.

Our home field, Sportek in Tel Aviv, is STILL not ready to be played on, so the league has canceled some games and rescheduled others. Ahh, the pleasures of bringing baseball to a new country.

Still, this means there's a lot of free time this week for the Netanya Tigers and Tel Aviv Lightning, the two teams which share Sportek as a home field - we have off Tuesday and Wednesday and I think Tel Aviv has off two other days this week. Anyone out there in the Tel Aviv area want to show about 40 baseball players some of the local attractions? Write me!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Start of the Season

Just a quick note to update life here in Tel Aviv. The weather has been beautiful, the people (fans, even?) have been great, and the nightlife is amazing! As a New Yorker from Manhattan, I've been admittedly biased towards the social scene at home, but Tel Aviv certainly gives it a run for its money in some ways. The sheer number of people out at the Breakfast Club was pretty impressive. I have great, great hope for the future of Israel as a major player on the world stage going forward. So unbelievable to see how in the middle of a desert and in the midst of so many dangerously misguided enemies they've created a little strip of utopia for the international community to enjoy.

Oh, yes - baseball! We had our first practice yesterday. I threw off a mound made of soil, and my cleats kept getting stuck. An inauspicious debut! But once I stopped falling over I threw pretty well, I thought. We don't know who will be getting the opening day start - it's probably going to be between me, Mike Kerfeld, and Rafael Rojano, from Columbia. Looks like we have a pretty solid squad, and I'm definitely thinking we're one of the favorites for the championship this year. The field at Petach Tikva is great! The field at Tel Aviv's Sportek, however, needs work.

Must run - going with a teammate to check out the local town of Ramat Hasharon on our new bicycles we bought yesterday. Shalom!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

We're here!!! The Tigers have landed.

I tried writing an update yesterday as soon as we arrived here at Kfar Harayok, but the computer apparently ate it. So now you get the updated version, added for last night's festivities!

The travel itself was long, but not too bad. It was about 7.5 hours from New York's JFK airport to Zurich, and then 3.5 hours from Zurich into Tel Aviv. Between the flights (especially with an hour+ delay leaving JFK due to air traffic), airplane seats, and time change, I thought I'd be in for a tough trip, but I was pleasantly surprised. The IBL had booked us on Swiss Air rather than El Al (apparently the Israeli airline wasn't willing to negotiate the prices down at all so they lost out on over 100 tickets!), and the seats were actually comfortable and spacious. In addition, Swiss Air has built-in entertainment handsets, which when combined with the exit row/bulkhead seating, allowed me to spend most of my time either sleeping or playing games like minigolf and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? For the record, I made it to the million dollar question once, and I would have beaten the game a few times if it weren't the British version, with thoroughly random questions I had no way of knowing. I actually got the 100 pound question wrong a couple of times - very unlike me, as I love trivia games.

I was traveling from NY with a group of maybe 20 IBLers, many of whom I had met earlier at our local IBL practices or from my time playing ball in the NYC area, but there were about half I did not know and we spent some of our down time on the flight or between them meeting each other. It was pretty easy to see who the IBL players were; most ballplayers tend to stand out in a crowd. Besides, most of us were wearing some sort of baseball paraphernalia, and a few of us signed autographs when asked by curious passengers with what group we were traveling.

So we arrived in Tel Aviv - and the airport is beautiful!!! I'm used to massive stone structures designed for unaesthetic mass people-moving in LaGuardia and JFK - but the Ben Gurion airport is beautiful and clean, with a waterfall falling into a pool in the center of a brightly-lit courtyard, and high-end shops and boutiques all around. We passed through customs mostly uneventfully (I say 'mostly' because one of us was pulled aside for questioning and had to meet up with us later) and met up with some of the IBL personnel who loaded us onto buses and brought us to Kfar Hayarok.

Kfar Hayarok is basically a cross between a boarding school and a kibbutz, maybe 10 minutes away from Tel Aviv proper. I've been here for about 24 hours already, met some fun people, and realized I’m going to have to get a refrigerator. The rooms here are very sparsely furnished, with 3 or 4 players to a room and all with 'twin-sized' beds, which are the smallest commercially-available size. Being 6'6", my legs sort of hang off the edge of the bed unless I curl up in a ball to sleep - such is life! I wasn't expecting the Ritz, and it's certainly worth it to be here and part of this IBL experience.

The weather has been gorgeous and looks like it will continue to be - might as well enjoy the weather and local sights before we need to turn our attention to more pressing matters - like watching Netanya win the IBL championship. :)

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Getting Ready for Opening Day

Hey everyone!

I just did an interview with Orthodox Union Radio - take a listen to for the audio!

In the meantime, I've been pretty busy with tying up all sorts of loose ends before we fly out in two weeks. (Two weeks! Can't BELIEVE how fast the time has flown!) Work clients have to have their issues resolved, my cell phone service has to be suspended, my roommates need to be instructed on how to pay bills (and feed my fish) in my absence, I need to stay in shape and continue to work out, and I need to pack! I know I'm going to wind up bringing twenty pairs of socks and three pair of underwear; I just get forgetful like that... If anyone out there has any recommendations for what to bring other than the basics, I'm all ears.

We have a practice tomorrow morning with the local IBLers, our next-to-last Wednesday practice. I've really enjoyed them, and I feel they've helped me a lot - especially with my batting stroke - so I feel confident going into this season about my chances to stay healthy and succeed. Looking forward to leading Netanya into the playoffs!