The book: “Pitching in the Promised Land: A Story of the First and Only Season in the Israel Baseball League”
The author: Aaron Pribble
The vital stats: University of Nebraska Press, 280 pages, $24.95
The pitch: This first-person account of what it was like to participate in the first (and only) season of a pro baseball league that tried to capture the hearts of those in Israel couldn’t have been written by a better retread prospect not named Jim Morris.
Pribble put in some time in the minor leagues, played overseas and thought he was kiind of done with the game. A 27-year-old history teacher in the Bay Area, he wasn’t even sure he qualified for this IBL thing. He considered himself a “red-neck Jew” with “an average fastball, irregular slider and decent changeup.” But the deeper he got into the strange summer vacation idea, the more confusing it got.
From page 15: “The formula I began to decipher was this: to be a player in the IBL, one’s talents was inversly related to his degre of Jewishness. On the one end, if you weren’t Jewish at all … you had to be very good. On the other hand, if you were Orthodox or, better yet, Israeli, I guessed all you needed was a heartbeat. According to that formulation I placed myself squarely in the middle of the talent pool: a half-assed Jew and half-assed former pro.”
And playing with, and against, guys like a wild catcher from Australia, journeymen from the Dominican Republic (including Vladimir Guerrero’s brother) who lied about their ages and nervous Americans who weren’t sure if they were treading into a volitale situation.
Pribble’s tale starts to unravel like “The Rookie” meets Crash Davis, taking the soul of a book like “The Bullpen Gospels” and finding the nuggets of humanity from “Ball Four.” Through all the bounced paychecks, player rebellion and a love interest that takes place despite all the crazy political atmposphere in the Middle East, Pribble seems to understand the specialness of how this was not just an opportunity for him to understand his quasi-Jewish background (it was from his mom’s side), but also see how cool it was to be part of the bigger picture.
“It was historic,” he writes. “In spite of my proclivity for sarcasm, I knew something genuinely unique was taking place, that he felt alike by players, league officials, families and fans. … An old man held up a sign that read, in descending order: Jews returning to Israel — check; Baseball in the Holy Land — check; World Peace — (blank).”
How it goes down in the scorebook: Much better than the cucumber, pita and cottage cheese breakfast that Pribble and his teammates had to each every morning for breakfast. We’d suggest it as a Bar Mitzvah gift for a kid on a self-discovery journey.