HOME RUN? MAZEL TOV! Catcher Charlie Cutler, second baseman Josh Satin, and pitcher Josh Zeid chat in the dugout.
Throughout dinner, the players at Shawn Green's table hang on his every word. At one point, Green proclaims that Lipetz will be on the Late Show With David Letterman if Israel wins. Guys nod. "If your name was Jim," says Doc, looking at Lipetz, "who cares! But a guy with a beard and a name like yours, coming in from the pen?" He holds his palms to the heavens. Lipetz, for once, looks sheepish. But he's a master of deflecting grandiosity: "So muttonchops won't work?"
Most of the complimentary yarmulkes are still by the ballroom door when dinner ends. Nearby stands Adam Greenberg, nervously tapping his foot. He's waiting for a uniform—the official uniform. Coach Ausmus just told him he's on the team.
Scouting reports float around the next morning: as expected, Spain is the second-best team on paper, behind "the Jews" (as a Spaniard in the hotel lobby refers to them). South Africa has four or five guys with minor-league experience. France is the weakest. Israel may not be the only team with ringers, but they're confident. On his blog, which he's constantly updating, Fish, who studied creative writing at the New School in New York, imagines opening night of the qualifiers: "Jews—nay, all mankind—will dance in the streets. Children will sing. Birds will fly high in the sky. And, if only for a moment, all human and plant and animal life on earth will exist in perfect harmony."
Fish, however, didn't make the final roster. Ausmus brought him into his hotel room and told the artist-blogger-coach that his new job would be bullpen catcher. "The 29th man on a 28-man team," Fish says with a sigh. But he doesn't let that dampen his enthusiasm. "The list I'm sending the gear guy in New York is, like, $5,000 worth of stuff," he says. It includes a special glove—the team has plenty of normal ones, but Fish likes flourishes—embroidered with the Israeli flag.
A bomb-sniffing dog inspects the team bus before Israel faces South Africa. There aren't any specific threats, and no one on the team mentions Israeli sports history—or international politics—but the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre has left its mark. When Kurz coached Israeli Little League during the first Gulf War, players brought gas masks to practice, many of them scrawled with the names of their favorite MLB teams. Kurz recommends that players avoid wearing Team Israel gear around town, just to be safe. A team coordinator sent an e-mail that ended with the request: "Someone please help Joc with this." Adam Greenberg doesn't need reminding. He pretty much only wears shirts advertising his new nutrition business, LuRong Living, which sells a deer-antler product that's supposed to aid muscle recovery.
A group of fans are walking around the bleachers in shirts that say TEMPLE BETH KODESH: "BE COOL, JOIN OUR SHUL." Nearby, an Orthodox Jew is blowing a shofar—the ram's-horn trumpet historically used as a battle signal. "It's the little we can do for our brothers!" he says. Spectators are still buying shawarma and falafel when Nate Freiman hits a home run in the top of the first. "Hava Nagila" plays between innings, and a few immigrant Jews ask their neighbors to explain the rules of the game: "So, there are three of the outings each inning?" One, from Israel, who works as an engineer in Boca Raton, admits that this is his first-ever baseball game, saying, "We are a country of brain, not sport."
In the eighth inning, with a 2–0 lead, Charlie Cutler—a longtime minor-league catcher ("Call me Cut," he jokes)—hits a three-run double into the right-field corner. There's cocktail clinking in the VIP box, where Kurz and Shamsky watch raptly. Freiman homers again in the ninth, clearing the way for Lipetz, who's been warming up with Fish in the bullpen. He'll close out the game with Israel up 7–0.
The crowd goes wild with flags and horns as Lipetz takes what an Israeli booster calls "the pile of dirt": LET'S go, SHLO-mo. "He looks like a bear on the mound," Kurz says. A man in the stands agrees: "That's what an Israeli pitcher looks like." Lightning strikes in the distance.