Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Another Israel baseball survivor voices 'no regrets'

"It was an
just to be there.
It was a
good decision."

Are the men behind the Israel Baseball League, who left fans and vendors hanging with a million dollars in debts and dreams of a second season up in smoke, shelling out money for a revisionist public relations campaign at this late date? It’s got us wondering, as the second high-profile veteran of the scandalized sole IBL season hits the local papers and worldwide web to sing the praises of his season in the Holy Land.

The latest is Josh Matlow, who, as the Barrie Examiner of Ontario, Canada reports, “left the IBL last season in favour of another league: the IBL.”

That first IBL is Ontario’s Intercounty Baseball League, where Matlow had played two seasons with the Barrie Baycats – and where, as we reported, he plays once again after a sidetrip to the Tel Aviv Lighnting of Israel’s IBL.

In another lengthy feature story rivaling the Connecticut Post’s take on Rafael Bergstrom of Bridgeport Bluefish (another “Double B”) over the weekend, the paper reports that the 23-year-outfielder is “glad to be back” in Canada, but has “no regrets” about 2007:

“Matlow never planned to play baseball on the other side of the world, didn't even want to at first. But everything happens for a reason in the opinion of this ballplayer.

"When the Israel Baseball League formed last season, two of Matlow's longtime friends, former Oshawa Dodgers Ian Okorofsky and Dan Drori, pleaded with their pal to weigh his options. They were off to Israel and wanted him to come with them.

"’They almost begged me,’ Matlow said. ‘But I wasn't into it at all. I was happy playing here.’

"Apprehensively, Matlow fired an e-mail to the president of the upstart league, just to gauge some interest.

"’I got a contract the next day,’ said the Richmond Hill native, who only started playing ball competitively in high school. ‘I guess he'd heard of me. It kind of fell into my lap, so I said, “why not? When are you ever going to do something like this again?”

‘Being Jewish, Matlow said the opportunity made perfect sense. Being a ball player, he also had an idea of what to expect upon his arrival in the Holy Land.

"’At first, it was looked upon as a joke,’ Matlow said. ‘Baseball in Israel is like hockey in Ethiopia. It just doesn't mix.’

“However, according to Matlow, in its first full season, the league - which is now under new ownership and a new name (Editor’s note: That’s not correct) - was a success in many ways, for various reasons.

"’’A lot of Israelis are Americans that have moved to Israel to try to become more Jewish, so it became pretty big, especially for the Americans,’ Matlow said. ‘And the other Israelis caught onto it, too. It wasn't huge, but it was also the first year. It was enough that you were recognized when you went out.’

Matlow made his mark playing for the Tel Aviv Lighting - one of six teams in the league. Batting .381 at one point, he was named an all-star.

But he figures he was slightly overshadowed by his roommate Ryan Crotin, a former Dodger who was also an all-star in Israel last season, and a fan faourite.

"’Families would invite him to Shabbat (a Jewish tradition) dinners on Fridays. He became a part of their lives,’ Matlow said. ‘I lived through him. He's that big monster, that gentle giant that everyone loves. It was really touching.’

“…Despite the preconceived notions some might have of Israel being a dangerous place, Matlow said that's simply media hype.

"’There's places in New York you don't go to, there's places in Toronto you don't go to and there's places in Israel you don't go to,’ he said. ‘Whatever you see is what's perceived by the media. That's all it is. I went there, and not a problem in the world.

"’To be honest with you, it was the most gorgeous country. It's just a perfect, perfect country,’ he added. ‘Perfect beaches, the water was like bath water ... always sunny, never rained.’

“Matlow has no regrets.

"'It was an unbelievable experience, just to be there. It was a good decision.’”

Read the entire article here, at our Baseball in Israel archive page.

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