August 30, 2007
The Boychicks of Summer
How high hopes for Israel baseball went foul
(Page 2 - Previous Page)At first, the ballparks also did not have proper equipment, from little things like pitchers' rosin bags, to important items like screens at the bases during batting practice, to crucial equipment like batting cages, which protect those not on the field from getting hurt during pregame batting practice. This lack of protection almost resulted in a fatal disaster.
On July 11 at Gezer, Raynaldo Cruz, a 24-year-old star outfielder from the Dominican Republic playing for the Petah Tikva Pioneers, committed a cardinal sin and turned his back on batting practice. Standing near his dugout situated very close to the field, he was struck in the back of the head by a line drive off the bat of Modi'in's Adalberto Paulino.
Cruz was knocked cold for a couple of minutes and lay on the ground shaking, which gave the surrounding players a fright. There was a 20-minute wait for an ambulance to arrive before Cruz was taken to Assaf Harofeh Hospital, where he stayed for two weeks, was released and then went back in complaining of dizzy spells. Cruz's season was done, but he was alive.
"Gezer is a particular problem - we probably should have anticipated more safety requirements at Gezer," Kurtzer said. "Secondly, the players themselves have been too lax all season, not wearing batting helmets and not paying attention on the field during practice. So the horse escapes, the barn door gets closed. We did institute some better safety procedures at Gezer."
The players were also vociferous in their criticism of the umpiring. In one famous incident that was subsequently posted on YouTube, one of the league's best players, Ryan Crotin, argued about an umpire's call, got thrown out of the game, refused to leave the batter's box and his team was declared to have lost on forfeit (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCQlhxyZizA).
"There [have] been a couple of problems with the umpires here," said one player on his independent blog. "They don't know some of the rules. They don't know correct umpire positioning. They have inconsistent strike zones at times. They have a bad habit of ejecting players for no specific reason. And most importantly, some of them have trouble taking control of the game."
Because of all this happening the first three weeks of the season, the league worked hard at spin control. In a July 13 letter from Martin Berger, president and COO of the IBL, the players were told that everything was fine.
"Things over here continue to be strong," Berger wrote from the United States. "We are meeting with investors every day, and we have a meeting with Major League Baseball affiliates this week. The buzz is fantastic."
Three days later was payday, and miscommunication between the league and players resulted in smaller paychecks than were expected. Players - led by those from the Dominican Republic, who were much more in need of the money to send to their families back home - threatened to strike 22 days into the new league.
In rushed the league's commissioner, who scrambled up to Kfar Yarok to stem the rebellion. Around noon, a meeting was held on an outdoor basketball court with the player's improvised union, led by 45-year-old Alan Gardner, centerfielder for the Blue Sox and a practicing New York lawyer.
"It was funny, because the IBL was close to striking - it was surreal," said a player in attendance. "Some of the players took video of the makeshift meeting, because we all thought it was so funny."
Not to the league it wasn't. Kurtzer - a savvy veteran of tough Middle East political negotiations - told the players that there had been a misunderstanding, but that he would not negotiate under threat and, according to players who were there, that he would cancel the league if they struck. Kurtzer denied the threat.
"I didn't say that," Kurtzer said. "I said, 'I'll talk to you all day, and we'll fix the problem, but I'm not going to be here with you saying if you're not happy, you're going out on strike.' I said, 'If you want to go out on strike that's your choice, I can't stop you.'"
Kurtzer explained the mixup, saying, "The problem at the beginning of the season was that they didn't understand that we overpaid them the first time, and therefore we adjusted it the second, and our communications broke down. In other words, after two weeks, they were supposed to get a week's pay, and then have that week delay, as in most businesses.
"After two weeks, we paid them for two weeks, so after the second two weeks, we paid them for one week, and we were gong to start the delay," he continued. "And they said, 'Hey, wait a minute, we worked two weeks,' and threatened a strike. It was explained to them, and they understood it."
At a subsequent payday, the money was again late. The players, having heard rumors about the league's financial difficulties, were upset that the league was not more forthcoming.
"I believe that they knew seven or 10 days ahead of time that it was going to be late," Jarmakowicz said. "Don't just have us show up, keep telling us you're going to pay us and then when we get there, when you knew 90 percent chance that it wasn't going to come through, tell us, 'Hey, we're really trying to get you paid, it could be up to a week late. We're gonna push it back. We're gonna try and give you 100, 200 shekels to try to get you by, just work with us.'
"I'm more than willing to work with anybody 100 percent," he said. "I understand financial backing, new league, things are going to happen. I'm OK with that. But be up front with me, be honest with me, don't BS me around."