Monday, April 28, 2008

Why are so many bloggers & sports reporters suddenly writing about the Israel Baseball League as if it's brand new or just getting into full swing?

Something wacky’s going on with the sportsbloggers and news mavens of Israel. Close to a year after the debut of the Israel Baseball League, and more than eight months after the first harbingers of its imminent collapse, every major news organization in the world has basically ignored or given short shrift to a scandalous sports story of international proportions that has unspooled under their noses— yet suddenly, amateur and professional bloggers alike are writing lyrically about the failed Israel Baseball League as if it’s just thrown out its first pitch or is launching into a new phase of nostalgic wonderfulness.

What gives?

The latest is shows up on the Sam Ser blogsite, an archive of feature stories written by a guy who introduces himself as “a news editor and features writer for The Jerusalem Post, where I have worked since 2000.

“My articles have explored issues of Israeli security and strategy, from the effectiveness of targeted killings against Hamas to the Iranian threat and the Second Lebanon War; cultural exposes on the Israeli mafia; the growth of Israel’s economy; anti-Semitism and interfaith relations; environmental policy vis-à-vis water, alternative energy and greenhouse gas emissions; editorials on current events, and much more."

Today, Sam reprints his piece called “Take Me Out to Ballgame,” which, if you read the small print, was originally published (in the Jerusalem Post magazine) on June 28, 2007:

“They came in carpools from Ra’anana. They came in
 convertibles from Beersheba. They took public buses 
from Jerusalem and got off on the highway at rush 
hour, walking a mile in a heat wave without a word of

"How long had they been waiting for this?

"Standing patiently in a single line at the gate, but
 hopping up and down with excitement, they turned to
the people around them and beamed in unison. Everyone
 knew how momentous this was. Once inside, they rushed
 to stands that offered memorabilia of teams which had 
never played a single game - and practically cleaned
 them out.

"Some jogged off to a clear patch of grass, a safe 
distance away from the crowd, and started playing
 catch. As if they were preparing to take the field
 themselves, they pounded their fists into leather 
mitts that had last seen action in another time. In
another country. In another life.

"Officially, they came to see the Petah Tikva Pioneers
 ‘host’ the Modi’in Miracle in the first game of the 
first season of the first professional baseball league
in Israel. Declaredly, they had come to support and 
celebrate the arrival of the sport they never forgot
 to the country they always loved.

"But really, deep down, they had all come for one
 simple pleasure: To feel like a kid again.

"The Israel Baseball League, the creation of American
 Jewish businessmen and Jews connected to Major League
 Baseball, is different... from 
the American original... The games go seven innings instead of
 nine, with ties decided by a home run derby instead of
 extra innings. There are no multimillion dollar prima
donnas here - the players will make $2,000 for a
 45-game season, plus modest expenses - and most of the
120 players are North American Jews. Only a dozen are 
Israeli (immigrants or children of immigrants,
 actually), while several have come from the Dominican
 Republic, and a few hail from other countries.

"One thing pleasantly lacking from Sunday’s ceremonies
 was any sense of pretense, from the players and the 
fans alike…"

And so it goes. Read the entire Jerusalem Post story and a layer of the IBL comes to life. But then click here and read Our Man Elli in Israel’s exposé of that first season that was first published here exactly two months later.

And then go to our Baseball in Israel archive site and dig into the epilogue, in which the people running the league hightailed it out of town leaving behind a million and half dollars of debts, and a lot of angry vendors and players and ordinary Israelis, left holding the bag while hiding behind a wall of silence that no mainstream journalist-- especially not the hometown kahunas at the Jerusalem Post-- has bothered to scale.

Reprinted ten months after the fact, Sam Ser’s lengthy post is a nice book proposal. But with its somewhat prescient apologies for Larry Baras and his organization, we wonder exactly why it’s appeared now, amid rumors of the baseball clinics or exhibition games that Baras and his cronies are planning as an offering to the Israeli people, like John Gotti’s Fourth of July fireworks displays or Thanksgiving turkeys thrown from the back of Nicky Barnes’ truck in Harlem.

Nice writing, Sam Ser. But why didn't you follow up? Now, if you’re really an editor, assign someone at the hometown paper to cover the biggest international sports story of 2008. There’s your book. Our book.

(Sam Ser's site says he'll be speaking May 4th at the Temple Shir Shalom and May 5th at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield, Michigan; May 7th at the Ezra Bessaroth synagogue in Seattle and May 9th in Phoenix.)

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