Barrie, Ontario, Canada
Matlow makes round-trip; Baycats outfielder
glad to be back in IBL fold after season in Israel
POSTED BY IAN SHANTZ
Josh Matlow left the IBL last season in favour of another league: the IBL.
After signing with the Intercounty Baseball League's Barrie Baycats in 2005 and spending two seasons here, the 23-year-old outfielder left Barrie to join the Israel Baseball League.
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 - 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."
Matlow said the league was made up of about 20 per cent Jewish athletes, with the rest coming from the U.S., Dominican Republic, Mexico, Japan and Europe. He was among 10 or so Canadians playing. He said there was plenty of talent throughout the league, noting Vladimir Guerrero's brother, Julio, played, along with a current centre fielder for the Chicago Cubs.
"There were kids that just came out of 'AA' and 'AAA' that were unbelievable," he said.
The only difference in the Israel league's rules was that games were seven innings instead of nine, Matlow said. And if the game was tied after seven, a homerun derby was held in place of extra innings.
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."
After the season ended in Israel, Matlow made the jaunt to Australia, where he played in the Southern Australian Baseball League. From there, he was offered a contract in Holland, but decided against it, in favour of returning home to focus on his schooling. He's finishing up a health and physical education degree at Buffalo's Canisius College.
The move home has allowed Matlow to rejoin the Baycats, something he said he's longed for.
"I'm home. I'm comfortable with the Baycats. I couldn't wait to come back and play with them," he said. "I'm just happy to be home, back playing for the team where it all started."
Barrie manager Angus Roy said he's happy to have Matlow back in a Baycats uniform.
"He's had opportunities elsewhere, and our organization's not about holding people back," Roy said. "We're actually about promoting that type of stuff and allowing guys to have opportunities.
"I'm expecting a lot from Josh this season."
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