Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Opening Night

Hello my sisters and brothers with different mothers. It’s story time once again. Aren’t you lucky? Let’s start with this tasty one. The evening before opening night my buddy Cameron and I found ourselves at an outdoor amphitheater in our “home village”. Who was playing? None other than Achilios—a rock cover band featuring local teenagers. This was a huge affair with lighting, a giant sound system, a fog machine, ticket-takers and the whole nine yards. Achilios was actually great instrumentally. The same cannot be said about their singing. Can you imagine “Knocking on heaven’s door” and “Californication” sung in middle-eastern accents? It was impossible to hold back the laughter.

Later that night a few of us went to an amazing outdoor beach-side bar. The Mediterranean water, which glowed blue florescence, was literally lapping up against this place. When we walked up, all the locals were dressed in the latest European fashions and I was donning khaki shorts and a polo. My teammate Steve walks right in front of the swarm surrounding the bouncer and says in English, “can we come in?” Just like that, all four of us were in front of a gorgeous bar to our left and outdoor swings to our right under the mild Tel Aviv night sky with an orange moon descending on the horizon (excuse the haughty length of this sentence). Slightly dumbfounded we later tried to piece together how we’d gotten in. As it turns out, Israelis LOVE Americans. Maybe because we protect them, maybe because we pour money into their economy, maybe because we’re just that cool, whatever the case may be, getting into a bar like this has never happened to me before. What’s more, when you’re out on the town, the locals are so very friendly and willing to engage in conversation. If you don’t believe me—guys, when’s the last time WOMEN have offered to buy YOU shots at a bar? Yeah, exactly.

Moving on, opening night at the diamond was something else. My team, the Ra’anana Express wasn’t playing but everyone associated the league was there as good-will ambassadors. There were well over 3000 people in attendance and standing-room only for the first pro game in Israel. Those most excited were the American citizens living in Israel who hadn’t seen baseball in years. For a while, I was sitting behind this English guy who couldn’t understand the concept of balls and strikes. I overheard him say, “I just don’t understand. In cricket if the batter watches the ball go past him, the game is over!” Another highlight was me looking foolish (shocking) by attempting to start “the wave”. I haven’t lost hope that this trend can and will traverse the Atlantic. Perhaps the most memorable part of the night were the autographs. The little kids were far more concerned with John Hancocks than the game itself. I must have signed 100 shirts, hats, programs, balls, arms, and shoes. One pour kid went to desperate measures by giving me a piece of concrete to sign. Some of these kids were really enamored by us “professionals”. One kid said, “I love this. In America you have to wait on long lines for autographs. Here it’s so easy.” Later that night we all went back and watched the game on “Israeli ESPN”. Some games are being televised back in the states—check your local listings. The camera crew did an unbelievable job considering they’d never tracked baseballs before.

As for the Ra’anana Express, we are currently struggling a little bit…and by struggling I mean leading the league in walks by our pitchers, strikeouts by out batters, and errors by our fielders. This lethal combination has lead to a one and four record. But let me give you a little better idea of what’s going on. The way the schedules have worked out, we have faced a #1 starter basically every game. We’ve faced Maximo Nelson (what a name) twice. Ol’ Maximo is a 6’9” Dominican who was once the third-rated prospect in the Yankees organization is only playing here because he lost his U.S. work visa for unspecified reasons. Ol’ Maxey brings it up around 93ish and will be playing in Japan next year. I am happily sitting at 2 for 9 on the season. My 0-1 (with a walk) day against Maximo today was a moral victory considering there is no batting practice in Israel (because there are no batting nets to accommodate such a thing). To give a non-baseball analogy, this is like going into a piano recital cold without practicing. But honestly, que sera sera. This is all for fun and right now it really is.

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