Saturday, September 15, 2007

Israel Baseball League players pitching well in the States

Rafael Bergstrom pitching for the Bridgeport Bluefish

Blue Sox pitchers Rafael Bergstrom and Jason Benson were both signed by teams in the Atlantic League after the IBL season ended. Between the two of them they have started four games so far and have done well in each one. Not only is it great to see old league mates do well but it is also validation of the high caliber of baseball that was played in the IBL.

The Atlantic League is a premiere Independent League. Ex major league All Stars Rubin Sierra and Jose Offerman both played in the Atlantic League and they equate the level of play there to be between AA and AAA.

I am a bit ashamed to say I did not think they would do all that well. I can’t say I am shocked but I have been pleasantly surprised. I have followed the games live on radio and studied the stats on the Web, it has been fun.

So here is some basic analysis. The sample size of Rafi and Jason's Atlantic League and even the IBL stats are too small to give serious credence to any deductions derived from the analysis. But it is fun (at least for me) to run some numbers and try to put Rafi and Jason’s work in a broader context.

Rafi plays for the Bridgeport Bluefish and Jason plays for the Lancaster Barnstormers

Jason pitched beautifully in his first start a couple of nights ago. He did not give up a hit until the fifth inning. The only flaw in his performance was his five walks in five and a third innings. Jason does not throw hard (mid 80’s) but has excellent command of multiple pitches and rarely walks batters, so the five walks is atypical for him.

Interesting to note is that neither Rafi nor Jason was the ace of the Blue Sox staff. Juan Feliciano, winner of the best IBL pitcher award, was their ace. Rafi was the number two pitcher and Jason number three. In the IBL Rafi had a 2.44 ERA and Jason had a 4.11 ERA.

Before Rafi pitched a shut out against Modiin in the championship game, I did some analysis that led me to believe that Rafi would not cruise through the game. This is what I saw…

He seemed to become less dominating as the season progressed.
But he proved me wrong, reversed course and pitched a gem to win the IBL championship.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Inaugural season slide show

To view a slide show of the inagural season click here The slide show is best viewed in Internet Explorer.

To download a Power Point version click here. The Power Point version allows the viewer to scroll forward and backwards. Soon I will add comments to the slides. Warning it is over 6 megabytes.

The Inaugural Season

This summer I lived a multi-layered dream. I played professional baseball in Israel, I signed autographs for smiling children and excited adults, I helped to introduce a sport I love to a country I love, and I made friends with ball players from around the world who share my passion for baseball.

I had daily conversations with World Series winning major leaguers, I read about the games daily in both Hebrew and English newspapers, I spent this summer doing what millions fantasize about doing but only a very select few get the chance to do. I lived a dream this summer and while doing so thousands of baseball fans were entertained. It doesn't get much better than that.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a perfect summer. Most of the players were housed and fed at Hakfar Hayarok, a youth village where about 1000 students live and go to school. The facilities were modest at best. The first weeks were rough. There was no place to work out, there was no physiotherapy on campus, the food was inappropriate for the players, the laundry situation was a mess, games were postponed due to fields not being ready, there was no ice for the players, my teammate got hit in the head by a line drive that ended his season, paychecks were postponed for a few days and I played for the Petah Tikva Pioneers which means I felt the pain of losing far too often.

Like I said it wasn't a perfect summer. The players were frustrated. But it did not remain that way. The players and league officials started meeting on a regular basis and changes were made. One by one, things came together and by mid season it was all about playing ball. The frustrations of growing pains were a small price to pay to be part of bringing high caliber baseball to Israel.

I am grateful to have been chosen to be member of a select fraternity that shared this summer breathing life into the dream of bringing professional baseball to Israel.

Judging by the attendance and fan enthusiasm at many of the games there are thousands of grateful fans too and next year there will be more. Wether you hail from or play for Petah Tikva doesn't matter, this summer we were all pioneers.

Now that I am back stateside I keep thinking back on a glorious summer. I see 6'7" Dominican Maximo Nelson in the dugout before the game fooling around with a giggling seven year old bat boy with tzitit hanging from his sides. On the far side of the dugout sits 'Miracle Met' Art Shamsky looking at his lineup card.

I hear a teammate ask if I am finished stretching and ready to have a catch, I see the sun setting at magical Gezer Field while the fans are cheering their beloved Blue Sox. I hear Australian, Dominican, Israeli, American, Japanese and Canadian accents in the dugout, I feel the excitement and tension of being on the mound in a tight game, I see long home runs, diving catches, head first slides and nasty curve balls.

I hear American Israelis explaining to native Israelis the rules and joys of baseball, I see fans davening Mincha (afternoon prayer) by the concession stand, I hear the guys sitting around at night playing cards and talking baseball.

I miss the sound of 'Hatikvah' being played everyday while the Israeli flags waved on the outfield fences. Maybe it was a perfect summer.