In 1972 I was 11 years old and lived in Israel. There was no baseball in Israel back then but I would take my glove and a tennis ball and throw endlessly against a stone wall in front of our house. I would pretend to be a Major Leaguer pitcher and the erratic bounces off the uneven wall were hits that I fielded. In those days the Jerusalem Post would publish the Major League standings once a week, delayed a couple days of course. I would go out early in the morning to beat my Dad to the newspaper which was delivered to our front stairs. I would glance at the standings outside and then bring him the paper. I loved baseball.
In 1972 Ken Holtzman was an elite Major League pitcher. He won nineteen games for the Oakland A’s that year and helped his team win the World Series by pitching them to victories in game one and four against the Cincinnati Reds. Kenny did not know me then but we were connected. I was a southpaw like Kenny, Jewish like Kenny and loved baseball like Kenny.
In 1972 the Olympics were held in Munich Germany. It was a big event in Israel, it was on TV and in my youthful naiveté I thought the Israeli athletes were sure to bring home some gold. When the Palestinian terror faction, Black September, shot dead two members of Israel’s Olympic team and took nine other team members hostage, I was heart-broken. Watching the masked terrorists on TV hour after hour and feeling the tension the adults around me were enduring, was disconcerting and haunting. Somehow I just felt that the athletes would be OK, they would survive. I was on the couch about 10 feet away from my mother when she answered the phone, suddenly she burst into tears, my world stood still, she sobbed, "they murdered all of the athletes." That moment sucked the naiveté of my youth from my core and replaced it with a gut punch whose impact will stick with me the rest of my life.
Back in the USA, upon hearing the news of the massacre Kenny and his Jewish teammate Mike Epstein walked around town for hours in shock. That day Kenny was scheduled to pitch against the second place White Sox. In an act that Kenny described as “the appropriate thing to do” he walked to the mound that day wearing a black arm band to honor and mourn the murdered Israeli’s. He wore it for all nine innings that he pitched and he beat the White Sox 9-1.
Kenny and I lived in parallel worlds. Worlds that were deeply connected yet were never to connect. In an unlikely twist the creation of the IBL altered the paths of our lives. On Monday Kenny will be leaving Missouri and I New Hampshire. We will journey thousands of miles away from our homes and converge at a another home that we share. Home plate in the Jewish Home land.