POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jul 25, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 10:24 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011
"Perhaps there was room for an interloper, a haole, a redneck Jew-boy such as myself, under this beautiful Hebrew rainbow."
Aaron Pribble came up with that passage from Israel in 2007. Four years later at the Ward Starbucks he has a seemingly unrelated trivia question for me. "The same pitcher won Carl Furutani's last game and Mike Trapasso's first game. Do you know who it is?"
"Let me think ... Aaron Pribble?"
He nods repeatedly as his big smile gets bigger. He's not bragging, he's the kind of guy who would have brought it up if he'd lost both games, or if it had been someone else. He just happens to take note of the interesting things that happen around him and to him. He's observant and insightful.
And that's part of what makes the former University of Hawaii baseball player (1999-2002, played for Les Murakami, Furutani and Trapasso) such a good writer. Pribble's first book, "Pitching in the Promised Land," is ostensibly a look at the Israel Baseball League's one season, straight from the rosin bag-less mound. But there's really much more to it, and although the setting is halfway around the world and Pribble's UH days are rarely mentioned, many aspects are applicable for readers in Hawaii. As Pribble says, "It's a cultural and athletic journey of self discovery for a guy of mixed heritage and background."
Pribble thought he was done with baseball when Furutani told him a league was starting up in Israel. But, Jewish on his mother's side and semi-practicing at best, he was up for some spiritual enlightenment. And who knows? Maybe after a couple of years of rest his left arm could blast past the 90 mph it topped out at in college.
PRIBBLE ENDED UP learning plenty about himself and his heritage, and he was one of the best pitchers in the league -- good enough to receive a nice offer to resume pitching in the U.S. He turned it down to continue teaching history at Mt. Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley, Calif. "The main thing was just being realistic about my abilities at that point. I didn't think I would make it to the majors and didn't want to invest another three or four years to try."
Pribble doesn't regret that decision, but still thinks about it, as well as his teammates and opponents in Israel, including those from the Dominican Republic. Labor strife due to late paychecks helped him realize that for the Dominicans the IBL wasn't just a summer fling for epiphanies and beer money. "I*came to a very important realization that these are their jobs, and they've got mouths to feed," Pribble said. "It made me have more empathy."
There's a lot more as Pribble deftly shifts tone throughout the 238 pages. He moves from grizzled and slightly profane pro baseball vet to erudite master's-degree holder and back again, like a crafty southpaw changing speeds and working corners. He even has a two-way conversation with his sore arm (trust me, it works).
Pribble throws a lot of pitches, but all with command, and it all comes together. After his multi-faceted quest for self-discovery, he returns with plenty for the rest of us, too. "The only news people get in the United States about the Middle East is about war and violence. But there's so much more beneath the surface. A beautiful interesting culture. Not just violence but a beautiful place and a place like no other yet like any other."
"Pitching In The Promised Land" is available at Amazon.com and on Kindle and can be special-ordered via Barnes & Noble. Reach Star-Advertiser sports columnist Dave Reardon at firstname.lastname@example.org.