The speech, which apparently was accompanied by a slide show, recounts his experience with the Israel Baseball League from the time he first heard of the plan, to the final out of the season.
And what a great story Ben tells! Whoever says the Israel Baseball League isn’t fodder for a book need only read Ben’s story, combine it with Our Man Elli In Israel’s reporting and slap a cover on them!
We’d reprint the whole thing, but it’s sixteen pages long! And we began to print some highlights, but there are too many.
So here is the link to Ben’s speech, and here are three excerpts from his “Speech delivered at Hurlbut Church, Chautauqua, NY 07/27/08 for the Jewish community's celebration of Israel's 60th birthday”:
The Strangest Game I Ever Played InSo one night we were facing the Modi'in Miracle's stud Maximo Nelson and countered with our own pitching ace, another Dominican, Esquire Pie. Now Maximo stood about 6 foot 9 inches tall and I was PERSONALLY behind a radar gun when he was clocked throwing 96 mph. On our side, Pie was no slouch either (PIC17). He had the single most devastating pitch in the league: the split-finger circle change-up, which basically looked like the ball disappeared as it was coming at you. This pitch was only possible because Pie had freakishly big hands.
On this night, no one was going to touch either pitcher. And both pitchers brought no-hitters into the 4th inning. We somehow strung together a few bloop hits and ended Maximo's bid at his no-hitter, but Pie behind his unhittable pitch recorded the first no hitter in league history.
But there was no celebration because we were tied 0-0 after 7 innings, and we were about to have the first game-deciding home run derby in professional baseball history. After our first baseman "Stay Hot" Scott Feller hit 3 homers in the final round, we started jumping up and down to celebrate the UNUSUAL win.
But, alas, things got EVEN weirder.
As we were leaving the field, the Miracle's coach Art Shamsky (who by the way has a World series ring with the '69 Miracle Mets) filed a protest claiming that "Stay Hot" Scott had used an illegal bat made of artificial wood. We left the field not knowing who had won.
Days later, Ambassador Kurtzer awarded us the victory stating that although the bat was technically illegal, it had been ok'ed before the game by the home-plate umpire, so our victory stood.
Throughout the summer, this same umpire proved over and over again that his incompetency went far beyond an inability to recognize bats. And what made his situation doubly unfortunate was that he happened to be a German umpire in a largely Jewish league. I've decided not to tell you what his nickname was.
And that my friends is the story of the SINGLE strangest game I've ever played in.
Bats and BallsAs the season started winding down, we ran into some interesting dilemmas, most of which stemmed from the financial burden of administering the league.
For one, we were losing a lot of baseballs and wooden bats. And for young Israeli children who barely knew the rules of the game, half the draw was asking us for the remains of broken bats and screaming at us from the bleachers, "Hey you, give me ball."
Apparently, English manners get lost in translation. Our bat-girl, Tali had acquired a collection of about 40 balls that we asked her to donate back to the cause at the end of the season. Eventually the financial situation became so desperate that the league started doling out a 50 sheckle fine to any player seen throwing balls over the fence to fans.
After buying a couple thousand more baseballs, Director of U.S. Operations Martin Berger told us that if we lose these balls, we're done, and the season's over.
Equally as desperate was the bat situation. When we got to Israel, we all knew right away that there weren't enough of our breakable wooden bats to last the summer. An average of two bats per player just wasn't going to cut it. Eventually we were forced to share bats. Now sharing a bat for a baseball player is kind of like asking a Jew to share a plate of food at break fast. You JUST don't do it. And god forbid you BROKE someone else's bat!! That would be the equivalent of setting the break fast table on fire.
It was getting desperate, but then like manna out of the sky, the league bought replacement bats, purchased at reduced price. That was a glorious day, or so we thought. We were all really excited and we could not believe how light the wood was...so light in fact that every one of those bats shattered or was thrown in the trash by the end of the week. I've never seen bats that were so incapable of receiving contact. In fact, my team broke three of ours in the batting cage before our first game with them.
By the end of the season, the only bats remaining were ones that had been shipped from home.
Another issue was that the league ran out of money to 1) pay the television station that had been broadcasting our sunday night games and 2) pay the park employees who cut the grass at Sportek. So these workers did what all contract employees do in this situation: they just stopped showing up for work.
The same problem also happened to the league physical trainers, but my favorite bald, tattooed, Israeli male therapist/masseuse named Tiger just couldn't turn his back on 120 aching athletes.
"STRIKE!"Now would be an appropriate time to mention that the primary reason the Dominicans came to Israel was to send money home to their families. And what an eye-opening experience this was for me considering I wasn't destitute and was just some American out of college having a good time. The Dominicans really needed the money and when the league defaulted on player salaries, it was a huge issue for the Dominicans.
Twice during the season, we threatened to strike until we were paid. This is probably the closest I will ever get to begin part of a socialist workers revolt.
The first time our labor union convened at the Kfar behind Bet Shemesh player Alan Gardner who also happened to be a lawyer. Some of us carried camcorders to document the historic moment.
Commissioner/Ambassador Kurtzer showed up and basically threatened to end the season unless we put on our uniforms.
Once we figured out that the IBL hadn't exactly stiffed us, but more or less, just failed to communicate to us, their payment plan, we laced up our cleats and were back to being good soldiers.
But the second time we threatened to strike, it really was plain and simply that the league didn't have the cash. At this point, Chief Operating Officer Martin Berger came down to the D.R., the spot where the Dominicans played their afternoon dominos, and basically begged them not to strike, promising payment as soon as possible.
ClosingIn closing, did the first season of the IBL advance U.S.-Israeli relations? No. Not at all. Did the IBL ease some of the tensions in the Arab-Israeli conflict? Not even close. But, the IBL did ultimately do what it had set out to do: offer a connection between American and Israeli culture. The message of the IBL was this: baseball is America's game and we want to share it with you. The previous two summers in Israel had been engulfed in violence. But, during the summer of '07, the IBL tried to symbolize the opposite: a fun, peaceful respite from the hustle and bustle of daily Israeli life…
And maybe it would useful to see the IBL in the same light as we see Israel: a project with a tumultuous beginning that has innumerable reasons for us to support it. So, we've arrived at the 60th birthday of Israel and what a glorious anniversary it is. And now you're wondering how on earth you're going to show your solidarity this year.
Well, I have an idea. Instead of donating a tree (and as a sidenote you should know that Israel is the only country in the world that has more trees now than it did 60 years ago?!), so instead of donating a tree, buy a plane ticket, and go to Tel Aviv to catch a ball game and a kosher dog. The plan is for games to start in a couple of weeks and I hear there are still some good seats available. Thank you.
Believe it or not, these excerpts are just a hint at the colorful riches in Ben’s story.
Check it out!