‘Real’ American baseball has come to Israel, thanks to American Jewish businessmen connected to Major League Baseball.
You can read about it in the link above. For me it brings back memories from 25 years ago, when I coached a baseball team on my kibbutz.
The kids enjoyed playing a game called hakafot which was similar to baseball in that it involved hitting a ball with a stick and running, at which point the relationship ended. But American baseball games were televised by a Christian missionary TV station in Lebanon, and my son was immediately hooked.
I don’t know why. My son came on aliyah when he was 2-1/2 years old. None of the Israeli-born kids were particularly interested in the games on TV (at first). But somehow my son knew. It was in his genes.
“Pop. We need to have a baseball team. Get us equipment and uniforms.” The uniforms were the easy part (for me, anyway). My wife sewed them. All of them. She worked in the kibbutz matpara, where she sewed clothes for kids anyway. What were a few uniforms? Hats, too. She cut out felt numbers and letters, and sewed them on. The Glil-Yam Pirates.
We found an organization called something like the “American-Israeli Baseball Association” run by a pair of former Texans who were working tirelessly to bring the sport to Israeli kids. They organized a league, lent us some equipment and supplied us with several coaches, some of whom even knew a few words of Hebrew. But mostly I had to teach the kids the rules of the game, and basic skills.
“But I was a terrible ballplayer,” I said to my wife. “I made fifteen uniforms,” she pointed out, “you will bloody well make little Mickey Mantles out of them.”
It was interesting. Stuff that American kids seem to know at birth had to be explained from scratch. “If I hit the ball, do I have to run?” I was asked. And more than once, a solid hit was followed by a dash down the third base line. And skills like throwing and catching needed to be developed (on the other hand, they could kick like hell).
One particular game stands out. It was against a team from a religious kibbutz. They were all American-born, and it was a rout. We were short an umpire, and I graciously allowed one of the adults that came with the visiting team to fill in. Apparently it wasn’t enough for him that his players were all ten times better than ours, but he was the most biased ump I’d ever seen. If you’re reading this, whoever you are, be ashamed.
We won a few (one when another religious team forfeited a game because they refused to play us because there were two girls on our team), and lost more. Then there was the left-wing kibbutz where every time we visited, some of the bats would go missing.
Our kids took naturally to trash-talking. One of the girls liked to yell “cholera!” every time an opposing batter would swing.
The Pirates grew up and went into the army. Some went to university, some got married and some have kids of their own.
Israel now has real baseball, with some of the players from the Dominican Republic. I wonder what the Glil-Yam Pirates think of it?