The Glil-Yam Pirates

‘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?

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One Response to “The Glil-Yam Pirates”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    As an American child I lived for baseball and dreamed to be a major- leaguer. But somewhere in my teens I just left it. And one of the bonuses of Israel, I thought then, was getting away from the endless sports obsessions of American life.
    So that now when the game is introduced here I have less than delirious feelings about it. Of course it is important that Israel prove itself to be competent in every possible positive human activity. On the other hand it seems to me that there is something about the very nature of baseball, at least as it was then, that will make it very difficult for Israelis to learn to love it. The slowness of the game, and those long pauses between pitches and plays. Also I wonder where little Israel with so small a population and so far from the centers of real ballplaying will possibly arrive to a level worth playing at.
    I hope I am wrong, and I may well be.
    But for me it will never be the late nineteen forties and the nineteen fifties in America again.