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Author: Aaron Pribble (Twitter; Facebook)

Published: 2011 (website)

Pages: 280

Price: $16.47 ($24.95) at Amazon.com

Our rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Reviewed by Stuart M. Katz for Jewish Baseball News

Overview

The Israel Baseball League (“IBL”) played its inaugural season in the summer of 2007.  During an eight-week, 45 game season, six teams – including the champion Bet Shemesh Blue Sox – played at three makeshift ballparks in the Holy Land.  Team managers included former major-leaguers Art Shamsky, Ken Holtzman and Ron Blomberg. Israel’s foray into professional baseball unfortunately was short-lived, and 2007 was its only season due to financial difficulties.

Aaron Pribble, a California high-school teacher in the off-season, with years of minor league and international baseball experience, led the Tel Aviv Lightning to a 26-14 second place finish with his league best 1.94 ERA.  Pribble also kept a journal during the season, forming the basis for this book, subtitled “A Story of the First and Only Season in the Israel Baseball League.”

Pitching in the Promised Land provides a first-hand account of the fits and starts that accompanied the improbable venture of bringing high-level professional baseball to a country much more interested in soccer and basketball.  Players from nine countries appeared on IBL rosters in 2007.  These included former minor leaguers, college standouts, and experienced international professional players, each with colorful traits and personal stories.

Pribble mixes play-by-play commentary of games with observations about the near-absurdity of playing conditions and creative rule modifications – like 7-inning games with tie-breakers – to illustrate the ups and downs of the IBL.  He also delves into the politics of the region, both with personal observations throughout the book, and with excerpts from New York Times reports on events simultaneously occurring in Israel.

What’s Jewish about it

Pribble describes himself as “a sort of redneck Jew-boy.”  With a Jewish mother and a Christian father, he considers himself Jewish, even if he “couldn’t recite the Hanukkah prayer from memory and didn’t go to temple for Yom Kippur.”  Pribble’s strong Jewish identity resonates, as he recalls a prior Birthright trip to Israel, and realizes that playing in the inaugural IBL season “was going to be as much about discovering who I was as a Jew as it was about exploring who I was as a baseball player.”  Throughout the book, Pribble provides a great deal of local flavor, describing the relationships between the Israeli and non-Israeli players and the influence of Israeli culture on the league.  His story includes road trips to politically sensitive areas of the country and a summer romance with a Yemenite sabra.  Pribble has strong feelings about Arab-Israeli relations, as evidenced by his decision to wear “a small pin with an Israeli and Palestinian flag joined at the staff” to the IBL’s post-season celebratory dinner – The Schnitzel Awards.

My take

Pitching in the Promised Land reminded me that I am long overdue for a visit to Israel. I have not been there since 1984 and can only imagine how much has changed.  Pribble’s account of the 2007 season provides a stark contrast to the daily major-league baseball drama that we read about.  He cleverly intersperses references to films like Bull Durham and The Rookie with his descriptions of Israeli breakfast fare and playing baseball in the shadows of King Solomon’s tomb.  While his political observations and opinions may seem a tad misplaced in a story about ballplayers playing under less than ideal conditions for pittance salaries, there is no denying that nearly everything that happens in Israel is influenced by the nation’s unique location, small size and complex history.  Pribble doesn’t necessarily tell us whether or not any of those influences contributed to the quick demise of the IBL, but knowing that I won’t be able to take my kids to see an IBL game on my next visit to Israel makes me a little sad.

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Stuart M. Katz is a die-hard Yankees fan. An attorney at Cohen and Wolf in Bridgeport, Conn., he chairs the firm’s Employment & Labor Group and represents employers as well as executives.
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