I moved over the weekend, pandering to my inner indie kid by relocating to Wicker Park. Everything went more or less smoothly. Mother nature did her best to keep the temperature in the low 80s on Saturday, saving my four-man moving crew from heat stroke, and it’s nice to have neighbors who, if they’re going to turn their music on too loud, at least are playing something in my iTunes library.
The “less” part of “more or less” is my cable company. I’ll save you my Comcast horror story, but suffice it to say that (1) any industry in which you basically have to keep yelling and whining and threatening until you get what you want has a seriously flawed customer service model; (2) I’m writing this from the friendly Intrenet cafe down the block.
Anyway, as a consequence of dealing with my truncated channel lineup, I came across the local PBS affiliate, which was playing — of all things — the opening day broadcast of the Israel Baseball League. Expecting to be bored after the first half-inning and switch over to Prime Minister’s Questions, I instead got drawn in and watched the entire 7-inning (ties broken by a home run derby!) broadcast.
The quality of play was about what you would expect. Rany Jazayerli pegged it as equivalent to mid-level collegiate ball. Clay Davenport ran some numbers and found that the IBL, on its best days, is about on par with the GCL, noting that Sandy Koufax, who was drafted by the Modi’in Miracle as a publicity stunt, “might be the best pitcher in the league”. Just when you started thinking “hey, these guys can play a little bit!”, the second baseman and shortstop collided on a groundball, or the hitter lost his grip on his bat in mid-swing, or you found out that the relief pitcher was the son of a Univeristy of Chicago professor. Those sorts of things don’t usually happen in a professional baseball league.
Actually, the quality of play wasn’t poor so much as it was uneven, some of which can be forgiven because the teams have had less than a week to train together (Petah Tikva manager Ken Holtzman, looking like a father whose son had just struck to end a little league game, claimed that his team in fact had all of half an hour of practice time prior to Opening Day). There were a few players on each side that looked like legitimate prospects, mostly guys from mid-major or Division-II or Canadian college baseball programs that had been overlooked in the June draft.
And that’s where I think this league can have a little bit of a niche. It can serve as a “second chance” league for college players who got missed in June, and also perhaps for players from the European continent. Of course, the existing independent leagues can serve that function to some extent already, but the IBL has the potential to do so more effectively. It’s going to get a fair amount of exposure, and it avoids the “beer league” factor that you might get with the Northern League or something — pretty much everyone in the league is age 25 or under. Further, it shows quite a bit of character to be willing to pack your bags and travel half way around the world and exert some leadership ability over a group of guys who are every bit as uncertain about what they’re doing as you are. The two or three players who emerge as stars in this league each year are really going to have earned it, and I suspect that’s going to get them a look-see back in the States.
And another thing is that the IBL looks pretty nice. Barring one wardrobe malfunction — the 6′5″, 150 pound Dominican pitcher who looked like he’d had Ralph Nader tailor his uniform — the product on the field looked good, as did the television broadcast, complete with announcers who have already adopted American cliches. And it helps that Israel has that Mediterranean climate thing going on. Ignore that Star of David flag in center field, and you might think that you were in California.