Saturday, July 28, 2007
I'm writing from the Petra Gate Hostel in Wadi Mousa, Jordan - the site of our slumber and other overnight activities while we prepare for tomorrow's exploration of the ruins at Petra, recently named one of the 'new' 7 Wonders of the World. It has been a long day which started at 9am in Eilat, crossing the border into Jordan, and driving via taxi to here.
I will share the details of the trip once we return to the Kfar, but for now I wanted to just say how enjoyable the weekend excursion has been up to this point. Eilat is quite a place, Israel's Las Vegas (although gambling was outlawed a few years ago), with beautiful beaches and booming nightlife. Snorkling was the main event of today, which we spent 2 hours doing at the Coral Beach. It was only my second time snorkling, the first being in Key West at the home of Frank McKemie (seems like I always find my way into the kind grasp McKemie hospitality). The scenery underwater was breathtaking - although that could have just been the salt water getting into my snorkle. Kidding aside, the fish and reefs were beautiful and made me wish I had some sort of underwater camera for documentation. Fish that I had only previously seen on National Geographic provided a very unique experience - being able to actually move with them and see them from whatever angle or distance my heart desired was really cool.
More will come later, but for right now sleep is a must - we will get up at sunrise tomorrow and set out for Petra for a full day, to return to Israel tomorrow at 8pm.
Here's to a hopefully good night of sleep, if the wedding-celebratory fireworks outside our window ever cease.
Friday, July 27, 2007
We have a 10am game tomorrow against Petach Tikva, after which myself and 2 teammates will be hopping on an Egged bus down to Eilat, to be followed by a trip into Jordon to see Petra. I'm really looking forward to the trip, as it should afford the opportunity to see and experience even more of the Middle East, as well as contributing to more interesting reading material than that which has lately occupied this little place in cyberspace (but no lack of assonance!).
I caught Hector De Los Santos' home run on video tonight, which I will upload as soon as I can - it was an exciting moment and his first of the season.
Finally - something which I'm quite jazzed about (yep, 6'7" guys have that capability) - the Atlanta Journal Constitution has decided to do a story on yours truly, complete even with excerpts from this very blog. It is an honor to be featured at all, let alone by a publication with the readership of the AJC - hopefully the subject matter won't disappoint.
'Till next time
Catching up on pics-
From a sports store in the Herzila Cineplex (mall + movie theatre): actual baseball hats! The Yankees and Braves were the teams available (yeah ATL)
Bruce Willis in Die Hard 4, complete with Hebrew subtitles
The beautiful Yarkon Field, viewed from center
The aforementioned cineplex
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
My review would simply be this: If you enter the movie knowing that its target audience has never driven a car before, you might enjoy it. The special effects are stunning, and the main actress is very attractive - the two high points for me. However, being the somewhat-critical viewer I am, the holes in the plot and lack of background information almost ruined it for me. There were just too many unexplained occurances and the viewer was given little to no information on why what was going on, was going on.
And there was a 10 minute 'intermission' as the projection room tried to figure out how to get reel #2 onto the projector.
However, as I told Josh, it was time spent better than what our original plan was - on the beach, sweating in the 93 degree heat.
Time for chocolate in Herzilya-
Monday, July 23, 2007
Today was a bit more fun, as we came back from an early deficit to defeat Ra'anana 8-4. Julio Guerrero (Vladamir's brother if I haven't already noted that here) started and went 5 strong innings. Justin Prinstein made his return to the mound after a week of illness and injury, and threw a great 6th inning, paving the way for Rafael Rojano in the 7th to close it down. Bryan Pinchuk knocked his first home run of the year, and Dan Rootenberg also hit one out as both of them are swinging the bat particularly well of late. It seemed that everybody in the lineup was on base at one point or another, so it was a great team win.
For more on the Saturday trip, go here... I just don't think a full recap is going to happen. Sorry to all of those holding their breath
Sunday, July 22, 2007
So... here's where I should be writing about today's trip, but I am allowing laziness (and the 2:33am showing on my clock) to point me in favor of sleep. So, I'll recount tomorrow. G'night-
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Friday, July 20, 2007
Today at Gezer Field the Tigers defeated the Bet Shemesh Blue Sox, 17-6 in an offensive outpouring that saw 8 of the starting 9 collect base hits. Ryoju Kihara, our right-hander from Yokohama, started the game and went three innings, leading the way for Leon Feingold and Ray Rodriguez to finish the job. Ray picked up his first win of the year with another solid performance on the mound, further establishing himself as one of the team's top contributers as he is also our starting 2nd baseman and leadoff hitter.
So, you may be asking yourself, "Mike, it's 11:00pm on Friday night, what are you doing typing on your blog? Shouldn't you be out partaking in the Iraeli nightlife?"
Answer - dehydration. After the game last night, I went for a run here at the Kfar and must have exhausted my body's water supply, because around 5am I woke up with a pounding headache and full-body aches. I barely had enough strength to make it to the bus for today's game, but managed to drag myself to the game and back - for which I'm glad, because it was a glorious victory today at Gezer.
The headache has subsided, but it still hurts to move, so I am taking it easy tonight. Had a good dinner in the cafeteria - apparently they make a nice Shabbat dinner on Friday nights for us, although I've been missing in favor of McKemie accommodations. A nice surprise was the orange flavored juice/soda that was served in pitchers on the tables instead of the now all-too-familiar cherry/cranberry/notsurewhat-berry juice that we usually get from the fountain. Baked chicken, potatoes (greasy variety), watermelon, and my perennial favorite - bread and hummus (seriously). I have taken to hummus like a 3-week old bird to flight. I put it on anything and everything, from chicken schnitzel to bread to rice - can't get enough of it.
So, now I'm ready for more sleep, with some of the Harry Potter movies that I've heard so much about to whisk me off. Hope everyone has a great weekend-
PS - looks like I'll turn over 2000 hits very soon - thanks to everyone for reading - really makes it worthwhile to do this when so many people are keeping up with me!
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Don't fret, my dear readership (man I feel like a big deal saying that). Over the all-star break in a week or so, a few teammates and I will be heading to Eilat and Petra, Jordon to explore the sights. Abundant with historical and archaeological significance, this trip should provide plenty to write about, take pictures of, and later claim to friends that "I was there".
The Tigers are hanging in there at 5-11 on the year. Fortunately for us, the league decided to change the playoff system and now all 6 teams in the league are eligible for postseason play, with the top two teams earning first-round byes. For the sports-uneducated, this means that, for all intents and purposes, it doesn't matter if a team finishes the regular season in 3rd or 6th place - everyone is equal once the regular season ends, except the top two teams, who automatically advance to the second round of playoffs. So, we are focused on staying healthy, improving as a team, and being as good as we can be for the playoffs, and focused less on each individual game. If we win, we are pumped; if we lose, we aren't depressed and we look at where we got better and where to improve.
Tonight we play Ra'anana at the marquee Yarkon Field, and I have been fortunate enough to get another chance on the hill after my last "outing" against Bet Shemesh. Keep your fingers crossed - I am prepared, but every little bit helps
Also, I'd like to give a shout-out to Jeff Baker - rub and rub out, man.
The photographers were amazed by Ty's juggling skills... and I was amazed at the photographers' amazement
The view from Leon's 4th floor studio in Tel Aviv (notice the free advertising for Croat-Kerfeld Homes - Ken and Loren, if you're reading this, you might expect some international orders soon. You're welcome-)
Our own version of Where's Waldo - Where's Ryo? Today, Ryo was found doing a light jog by the river during the 5th inning
The mighty Israeli black ant, capable of towing 5,000 times his body weight in pistachios
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Today, Rafael was again called upon, this time to start the game. He was throwing great until, with an 0-2 count and 2 outs in the inning, he threw an inside fastball and immediately grimaced in pain, grabbing his back. He had to come out of the game with a strained back, and from there the wheels seemed to fall off. Relief pitcher after relief pitcher came in, many being position players, and after the dust settled the Tigers fell victim to Modi'in, 15-1.
However, it was nice to see some of the position players get a taste for pitching and IBL umpiring. See, guys - it's not as easy as it looks; and, we're not just yearning for orange juice when we say that we're getting squeezed out there.
Umpiring here so far has been of the lowest quality that I have seen in some time, especially the consistency of strike zones. In baseball, it is normal and usual for an umpire to have his own strike zone that doesn't exactly agree with the rulebook. 99% of the time, a pitch thrown just below the armpits is called a ball, even though the rulebook says that it should be a strike if over the plate. To compensate, some umpires will give pitchers a few inches on either side of home plate. However, here in Israel, the umpires seem unwilling to give anything off the corners, and also have an even more constricted vertical zone. I would estimate that about a 5 inch depth exists around the knee where strikes will be called over the plate; anywhere else and it is not called. To make things worse, zones have often times changed in the middle of games. Pitches that were being called strikes early in the game are now balls, and vice versa. It changes the game and creates a lot of tension between the men in blue and the men on the field.
Rant over, let's win tomorrow
Friday, July 13, 2007
My pre-train meal - delicious
Luxurious train cabin
Behind the scenes... the computer behind the blog
Sunset chez McKemie
Thursday, July 12, 2007
I didn't have my best stuff today, and lasted only three innings. 2 home runs, 4 walks, and 3 strikeouts later, I was back in the dugout trying to will our team to a come-from-behind victory, a feat we nearly accomplished. My velocity was down and my changeup was inconsistent, so hitters seemed to have a fairly easy time with my best efforts, and the Miracle scored (without seeing the box score yet) 5 runs before I was lifted in favor of Fabian Armenta.
The most disappointing aspect was that I was unable to defend the three run lead that my teammates had put in front of me after the second inning. After a 1-2-3 first inning with a strikeout, I was full of confidence - but my arm (and the Modi'in batters) simply didn't agree.
We fought back and drew to within 2 runs two separate times, but couldn't break through and eventually lost 8-6. Still, the persistence that was shown by our hitters and our defense was remarkable, and the vibe in the dugout was one of confidence. If we carry this spirit through the rest of the season, we should finish among the league's top teams. Even after I came out of the game in the fourth, instead of throwing a tantrum as I used to do in college, instead I was confident that the team would stay in the game and fight back. It was surprising and refreshing, and is probably just a result of getting older and more mature.
Anyways... we play early tomorrow at 10am at the beautiful Yarkon Field against Petach Tikva, and Matt Comiter will be starting on the hill. The team is in good spirits, and it will hopefully be a good start to the weekend.
Which brings me to report that I will likely be joining the McKemie's in Bet Shemesh again this weekend, as an invitation greeted me in my Gmail Inbox tonight. I'm looking forward to the experience and hope to have many stories to recount in the days to come.
We play Modi'in today at 5:00pm, which means that we're on the bus at 2:00... so I need to get going unfortunately. I will be the starting pitcher tonight, my first of the year. I'll be back tonight with more-
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Tomorrow we have a rematch with Tel Aviv at Sportek. Today, my Emory teammate Daniel Kaufman pitched 7 outstanding innings, holding us to 1 hit, a home run by Julio Guerrero. It was a towering, majestic shot over the left-field wall that likely crushed an innocent Israeli's windshield on Rokach Boulevard. He did an entertaining reenactment of his brother Vladamir's Home Run Derby-winning shot, tossing the bat and watching the blast until it cleared the fence before rounding the bases. It was the lone bright spot in an otherwise disappointing evening. We'll be out there tomorrow giving our best, and hopefully we'll avenge the loss.
Monday, July 9, 2007
I sauntered downstairs to retrieve the coffee Ben had prepared and extended morning greetings to Nancy, who responded in kind in Hebrew. The night's sleep apparently had not changed her mind on speaking to me in English, so I was in for another day of listening hard for words I knew, then looking to one of the other McKemies for translation... a process all the more endearing. We then went to one of the family friends' home for a small Shabbat snack and good company. The most delicious cheesecake I have ever eaten was present, as well as a cournicopia of beverages ranging from beer to cactus juice to coffee. A little slice of personal heaven.
Returning to the house around 2pm, the majority opinion was in favor of a nap, and I saw no reason to submit a dissenting argument. Back to bed, laying next to the computer which had been downloading new Star Trek episodes for the past 10 hours - time for some relaxation.
Around 6pm everyone got up and lounged outside, watching Nancy go through her activities of swinging on the hammock and telling me stories in Hebrew. Occasionally I would respond as if I understood with one of the few Hebrew words I do know, and that seemed to egg her on even more - it was fun.
It was at this time that Ben and I decided to hike up the mountain in front of their house up to Beit Gemal. This was a great time, complete with some near-falls and close encounters with Jackals on the way down in the dark. The way up the mountain was not clearly defined - there were many paths, and some would look innocent enough until leading right into a 60 degree incline that turned your two heros right around in favor of an easier path. We made it to the top just in time to catch the sunset, which was breathtaking. I'll refer everyone to my picture link at the top-left of this page for a visual depiction.
After the hike, we ate again, and ate royally. Course after course game out of the kitchen, and after experiencing this weekly Jewish tradition, I'm tempted to move here. We had a soup that had been cooking for an entire day, the best baked chicken I've ever had (never been a fan, until this), beef brisket, rice, and assorted other things that escape me right now. Absolutely incredible.
After the meal, another coffee (I love this place) and a shower to freshen up before setting out for Jerusalem. One of my goals for the night was to buy a pair of the ever-so-popular Crocs sandals. I tend to not go for fads, but I tried Ben's on at the house and immediately decided to make the acquisition. So, Evie and I set out and our first stop once in Jerusalem was a mall - a large and very American-looking mall, so I felt at home - save for being the tallest person in the complex by more than 5 inches. We tried to capture this photographically but it didn't turn out as hoped, and we had more important things to do, like tracking down a pair of these fantastic sandals before stores closed for the night.
Luckily we found a place that was closed but let us in to make a quick pickup of XXL Black Beach Crocs. Now with happy feet, I strided confidently through the mall to the food court, where Evie directed me to a bakery and I bought 3 items that I was expecting to pay about $6 for. It turned out to be only 7 Shekel for everything, and they were all delicious, including one with a sweet-yet-sour cream in the middle that reminded me a bit of the cheesecake earlier in the day.
After perusing through the mall a bit more, we drove to Ben Yehuda Street, site of many a bar/club and hundreds of Israeli young people looking for (and mostly having) a good time. We stopped in at a waffle bar, another thing I was looking forward to at Evie's suggestion. I had mine with maple syrup and whipped cream, and of course a cappuccino. Decadent. We checked out the busy section where everyone seemed to be congregating - clubs, bars, tables outside with hookah partaking - all on a narrow strip that seemed to be the epicenter of the nightlife.
Our next stop was the Old City - we parked close and walked up to find it almost deserted... but it was 1am by now. Evie took me on an excellent guided tour of the area, from the Arab market district to the Western Wall, where I learned a lot of information that I probably should have already known about the source of the Israeli - Muslim conflict. I suppose that I, too, would be quite angry if someone built a building on top of the ruins of mine. It was moving, to see the most significant part of the entire world for so many millions of people, and I spent a long time just staring off into the night at what surrounded me. Again, see the pictures
It's about time to go now, our bus leaves at 4:30 and I still need to shower and dress myself. Hopefully the preceeding wasn't too long or boring; have a good day all-
The seat I chose seemed to be functional enough at first, but I soon found out that the seat backs offered little in the form of insulation from any knee activity from the occupant behind me. Upon looking up, I noticed some condensation forming at the hands of the struggling air conditioner. I didn't think much of it until about 10 minutes later, when an apparent act of God sent torrential indoor rain showers upon myself the players seated around me. Luckily I realized what was going on quickly, and moved out of the way to dry land (bus).
Now, once at the field, it was quite obvious to all of us that our game tonight would not be happening. Multiple pieces of diesel-powered machinery were hard at work adding dirt to the infield and mowing the overgrown grass, yet league officials present insisted to us that the game would go on. So, we warmed up, took batting practice, and prepared as we would any other day... but eventually knew that it would be all for naught, and shut it down.
So, instead, Ty, Amit, and myself caught a ride with Amit's dad to Yarkon Field to catch the Tel Aviv vs. Bet Shemesh game, one that saw the Blue Sox lose their first game thus far. It was fun to spectate again, but we are growing tired of the cancellations and schedule changes. We're ready for Sportek to be ready, and hope to play there Wednesday.
Stories from Jerusalem will come tomorrow... I'm too tired now to go into it - which is to say, that I want to do it justice, as I had an unbelievable time touring around with Evie (Ben's oldest daughter) and buying Crocs.
Friday, July 6, 2007
Being a typically superstitious baseball player wanting to end a losing streak, I decided to mix things up a bit for my pre-game activities. I remained in shorts and undershirt until right before the first pitch, a move that garnered me an additional couple hours of much-needed leg tan. I also unplugged the headphones from my Blackberry to share the music with the rest of the team (well, those who happened to be in my immediate vicinity, as the 8300 does not exactly offer high-fidelity sound).
With the sounds of Daft Punk, T.I., Pink Floyd, and even a little Eminem caressing the inner workings of our ears, the Netanya Tigers felt a dynamic resurgence that carried us through the game with aplomb. Our starting pitcher, Matt Comiter, dealt out the good stuff; our hitters put up 6 runs and we never looked back. Good to get back to the winning ways.
After the game I showered, packed, and took the bus to the central Tel Aviv station, accompanied by an Ethiopian girl named, appropriately enough, Aviv. Once at the station, she directed me to the correct bus to take to the train station, where I took heed of the "All Aboard to Bet Shemesh" call. The trip was much nicer than the bus trek I did a couple of weeks ago, and will remain my transport method of choice.
Now I sit at the house of Ben McKemie and family again, happily full after a delicious Shabbat meal. Earlier, I attended services with Ben at the local synagogue and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Even though many a pair of eyes were aimed in my direction out of curiosity, I eventually felt comfortable with my surroundings and was able to take it all in. I have not been religious for some time now, so I approached it all with a very open mind and really had a good time. I was especially surprised at how casual everything was - there was no formal beginning or end, people came and went during the service, and there was definitely no priest-like leader who was directing the proceedings with any firm direction - everything was very open and friendly.
So, a great day from beginning to end, and I'm very much looking forward to the rest of the weekend here.
Leaving our beloved Kfar Hayarok
My travel buddy
View from the train station - they really go for the New York City comparisons... perhaps a bit too obviously
Me in appropriate headwear
Thursday, July 5, 2007
We also found out that our game tomorrow has been moved to Yarkon Field at 10:00am, with an 8:00am bus departure, ensuring another early night. Luckily, Sportek is scheduled to open Sunday and we will finally be playing at home at normal game times.
Another tough one…
Independence Day did not bring victory for the Tigers today, as we lost 6-1 to the Modi’in Miracle at Gezer Field. Umpires were again in question, as our starting pitcher Justin Prinstein appeared to be making excellent pitches that were not called strikes. As a result, he adjusted and threw more pitches over the middle part of the plate –a few were met with solid wooden contact and the Miracle came out on top. Blaming the umpires, I am not; both teams had to deal with the very tight strike zone. However, it was a factor and we will have to work to deal with it in the future.
After the game a group of us headed down to Tel Aviv for a 4th of July celebration at Mike’s Place, a restaurant and bar on the beachfront. This time, we traveled successfully via public transit, a product of our hours of study of the local bus maps and the presence of a single line that leads downtown. A breathtaking sunset met us as we debussed, and we decided to stop for a photo shoot – some of us are aspiring to become male models upon return to the States.
Thirty Shekels bought a buffet style all-you-can-pile-on-one-plate meal consisting of chicken, steak, pita burgers, fries, and hummus – we were delighted. A couple beers, pool games, and casual conversations later, and we took a taxi home in time for a good night’s rest. Again due to our home field being still under construction, our game is rescheduled for noon, which means a 9:00am bus departure. I’m writing from bed and will post this tomorrow, probably after the game, so by the time this makes it online there will be a game result to post. Hopefully an addition to the win column will be appropriate, bringing us back to .500 on the year.
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
After the meeting we hung out in the library for a bit, then set out for Yarkon Field to practice and watch the game between Tel Aviv and Ra'anana. Instead of simply taking a taxi, as most sensible guys would have done, the six of us decided to try our hand at the local public transit. We boarded the 49 Bus after getting some recommendations from a friendly girl that appeared somewhere between 14 and 23 years of age (we are still struggling with age determination here).
After traveling in the correct direction for a few miles, we exited the freeway and started off in a direction perpendicular to that which we needed. After questioning some of the young English-speaking military women on the bus, we found that we were headed for the center of Petach Tikva, instead of the outskirts where our destination lay. Some unrest in the ranks followed, but after calming the more volatile ones in the group, we decided to hang out in the city for a bit and grab a bite to eat. We succeeded in getting a couple of phone numbers from local young ladies, filled our stomachs, and caught a cab to the field. The game was fun; played catch, checked emails, and even got in a few cuts in the batting cage.
Today we are going to visit Dan Rootenberg's new place in Herzaliya and hang out on the beach. We have a noon game tomorrow, so the bus leaves at 9am - dictating an early night tonight.
One more item of note - today at lunch I received a check denominated in US Dollars to compensate me for playing baseball.
I want to now bask in that fact for a bit...
Sunday, July 1, 2007
The loss was met with disappointment and a bit of disbelief, as well as the aforementioned embarrassment. A professional pitcher should not have that sort of breakdown, and I clearly have some work to do before I get on the mound again. I'm ready and willing to do what it takes though, and I look forward to being a critical part of this team once I find the zone.
Tomorrow we plan on heading to Netanya for the first time to explore the city whose name we bear on our jerseys. A bit of beach time and hopefully some good coffee will greet us there, and in the evening I hope to visit Ben for some good company and food.