The Boychicks of Summer
The stated idea was to generate enthusiasm and fan interest by promising, among other things, a range of marketing gimmicks borrowed from minor league ballparks in the states: karaoke night, speed-dating night, sack racing, sumo wrestling competitions and even ballpark weddings. To further build anticipation, the league’s Web site prominently displayed a countdown clock giving days, minutes and hours until opening day.
But while the marketing might have worked among the Jews in the United States and the English-speaking Anglo community in Israel, the league barely registered with Israelis, who were largely ignored in the marketing plans – and insulted to boot.
David Rosenthal, a sports reporter for Walla!, the biggest Israeli Web portal, posted a story four days before opening day that was critical of the way the six-team league was being sold exclusively to an overseas audience. “Excuse me, what about us?” read the headline.
Still, for those Anglo fans who did come out, it was a joy, whether hearing “Hatikva” sung before each game – without taking off their hats – eating kosher hot dogs, getting close to the players or hearing a call for afternoon prayers being announced in the middle of the fifth inning.
But what they didn’t know was what was going on in the dugout. Many of the players – 120 recruited from around the world – had previously played some professional baseball, a half-dozen even at the Triple-A level, a rung below the major leagues. As such, they were expecting a more professional environment and were greatly disappointed.
The housing accommodations were called a hostel, an army barrack, even a homeless shelter. Air conditioning wasn’t working in a half-dozen rooms the first week, in the midst of a brutal heat wave. There was no arrangement for laundry service, and the food was so bad, players said, that they eventually lost an average of seven to 10 pounds or more.
“I’ve lost almost 17 pounds since I’ve been here,” said Scott Jarmakowicz, a catcher for the Bet Shemesh Blue Sox. “Over half my paycheck, at least half, has gone to food. It’s not sustainable eating the same schnitzel and boiled eggs three times a day. I’m a catcher, and it takes its toll. I’m sure I would have lost some weight, but not 17 pounds.”
But that wasn’t even the main gripe. Players just wanted to play baseball and were expecting the necessities that accompany any sport. But when they arrived at their dorm facilities at Kfar Hayarok, just north of Tel Aviv, there was no ice to soothe sore muscles nor a weight room facility – absolute staples for athletes in any sport.
The league made provisions for ice to be bought, until an ice machine was obtained a couple of weeks into the season, and arrangements were made for players to use nearby gyms. Most of the players were willing to look past the peripheral deficiencies in order to play baseball – a love they all shared and a dream they all nourished. But here, too, they were working under a severe handicap.
Things looked so much better before the season started. See Carin Davis’ story