Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Pro Baseball Comes to Israel. Can the Messiah be Far Behind?


American Jews "making aliyah" (emigrating) to Israel in the past have faced only one glaring loss from the life they left behind, only one thing truly lacking in their new lives in the Holy Land. American pizza and American hamburgers are commonplace, Chinese and Mexican restaurants can be found with just a little effort, but until now there has been no professional baseball.

(There is no American football either, but that in the view of this writer is a relatively minor inconvenience. Basketball, in contrast, is a popular spectator sport in Israel. Israel's professional basketball teams play in the European leagues, and many past or future NBA players have made a stop in Israel for a few years of their careers.)

A friend, Jay Shapiro, who has lived in Israel since the early 1960's, describes how one day he was walking along a hedge that lined a park when he heard from the other side a distinctive, truly unique sound, greatly loved and sorely missed--the crack of a wooden bat against a hardball. He immediately found his way into the park and talked his way into the pickup game he found there. Amateur softball is fairly common among American immigrants, especially at Fourth of July picnics. Despite these substitutes, the experience of sitting in a pro ballpark, watching a game, has until now required a trip back to the States. For those who truly appreciate baseball, the absence of pro baseball in Israel has been virtually a spiritual shortcoming, evidence that the Messiah indeed has not yet arrived.

Well, perhaps the coming of the Messiah is imminent. JTA reports that professional baseball has arrived in Israel, in the form of a six-team league playing a 45 game schedule. Managers of the new teams include former major leaguers Ken Holtzman, Ron Blomberg and Art Shamsky, the latter a veteran of the 1969 World Champion "Miracle Mets." As befitting a former Met, Shamsky has already learned how to say "You're blind, ump," and "Why don't you open your eyes, ump," in Hebrew. Of course, the Bronx cheer needs no translation.

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