Earlier versions of this story incorrectly spelled Petah Tikva. This version has been corrected.
Three Hours at an Israeli Baseball Game
Hits and Hot Dogs Under a Lox-Colored Sky
Friday, July 13, 2007; 11:36 AM
PETAH TIKVA, Israel -- "Ladies and gentlemen," the voice over the portable speakers intoned, "please rise for the singing of 'Hatikva.' " About 75 people stood up from plank-board bleachers as Israel's national anthem filled the twilight. Only a few sang the Hebrew words, though, because only a few knew the language.
Minutes later, members of the Raanana Express -- in Oakland A's green and yellow -- sprinted onto their home turf of Yarkon Field. A cheer rippled through the rooting section of American moms and dads here for the summer to watch their sons play in the inaugural 45-game season of Israel's professional baseball league. It was just before 7 p.m.
Over the next three hours on a balmy Mediterranean evening, a crowd of U.S. transplants, Israeli natives, Russian immigrants and proud visiting parents-cum-tourists watched a drama of exported Americana.
The game provided a teachable moment for nostalgic U.S. expats and their kids, who had never lived in the country where the sport came from. And it was played in a venue where a beer and a hot dog could be had, but not an ice-cream bar for dessert. Yarkon is a kosher field.
John Thew, a stout right-hander from Australia, basked in the adulation as he tossed warm-up pitches. He'd need all the help he could get as his Express, one rung from the cellar in the six-team league, faced the Bet Shemesh Blue Sox, a pin-striped juggernaut that had lost once all year.
Thew fired a first-pitch fastball to Sean Slaughter, who fouled it over the low chain-link fence into stands of eucalyptus. Scores of kids in caps emblazoned with Giants, Yankees and Royals insignia scurried after it, giggling and panting. Next pitch, crack! Slaughter, an outfielder from Virginia Beach, slapped a single up the middle. Thew followed with a walk, then a wild pitch.
"Come on, Johnny," a man shouted as Johnny Lopez, a dangerous cleanup hitter, stepped into the batter's box.
First pitch -- high and tight. Second pitch -- smack. It hit Lopez, a product of Homestead, Fla., in the torso. One out, bases loaded. Thew, from the stretch, whack! He pegged the next batter. The crowd gasped, a run scored.
In Hebrew, Bradford Hauser tried to explain the developments to his three children, who had made the hour-long trip from an ultra-Orthodox settlement outside Jerusalem for their first game. The English words "walk," "ball" and "out" punctuated his rapid-fire lesson. The kids asked for lemon Popsicles.
"After a half inning, Bet Shemesh 2, Raanana coming to bat," the announcer said. The Express started off fast -- a single, a walk.
"Come on now, one-two!" a man shouted to Matt Castillo, an outfielder from Phoenix who wears No. 12.
He walked. The lights flashed on, erasing the shadows from the advancing evening.