For Jewish ballplayer, one last magical summer
PITCHING IN THE PROMISED LAND: A STORY OF THE FIRST AND ONLY SEASON IN THE ISRAEL BASEBALL LEAGUE
by Aaron Pribble. University of Nebraska Press, 2011. 280 pages, $24.95
For one brief shining moment, it was known as…
Well, depending on who you ask, the Israel Baseball League was either a miracle, a disgrace, an opportunity, or a pleasant diversion.
The dubious enterprise — the brainchild of Boston businessman Larry Baras — lasted just one year (2007), but it gave players like Aaron Pribble a chance for relative fame and miniscule fortune as the pioneers of pro ball in the Holy Land.
Baras’ labor of love was well-intentioned but poorly executed, primarily in the area of infrastructure. There were few venues that were in even moderately decent shape for baseball purposes; the living accommodations were not much better; and a paycheck was a sometimes thing. At the outset, Israeli airport security would not even let balls and bats through customs.
Still, Pribble — a high school teacher from San Francisco who played with the Tel Aviv Lightning — writes warmly about the experience, mixing his on-field accomplishments — he led the league in earned run average and won the Commissioner’s Award for Sportsmanship and Character — with exploring the land of his ancient ancestors and meeting the locals.
One of the key points in Pitching is Pribble’s relationship with Judaism. Insulted that he was classified as “non-Jewish” when he arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport because he couldn’t answer some routine questions, he gradually “reconnects” over the course of the baseball season.
Mideast politics also play a role in the story as Pribble discusses the plight of the Palestinians with Israeli and American teammates and sets out on his own road of discovery which includes a perhaps ill-advised trip to Ramallah.
Pitching in the Promised Land is reminiscent of a summer camp journal, which is how the creative process started, according to the author. There’s a definite “boys will be boys” mindset as some of the players take the IBL as a lark, perhaps a last fling before heading into adulthood (although a handful were already securely fixed into middle age). For others, however, especially the Dominican contingent, this was a serious job and a means to send much-needed money home to their families.
As of this writing, Israel has been invited to participate in a qualifying round for the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Don’t be surprised if Pribble and some of his friends make a return trip to play for the squad. Perhaps there’ll be another book in it.