Listen to the interview now and/or read the shorter version below.
Justin “Boomer” Prinstein has been involved in baseball overseas since he first came to Europe in 2006 as an import pitcher. The former George Washington University pitcher spent his junior and senior years in the shadows of some of his more sought after teammates. In fact, half of his team from his junior year were drafted. He was a bit undersized (5’11”) and his high 80’s fastball was figured to be maxed out as far as scouts were concerned.
In 2007, a year after graduation, the assistant coach at GW brought it to Boomer’s attention that overseas would be a good option for him. Boomer’s mind frame back then was to just “keep playing somewhere and something good will happen”, after witnessing players close to his level at pro workouts get signed and work their way up to the AAA level.
With the help of his former coach, Boomer sent his resume out to numerous clubs in Europe and received a number of offers. He decided to accept an offer from a Belgium club because financially it was the better offer and it was close to the Netherlands and the Dutch Major League, his longer term goal.
Keep playing somewhere and something good will happen – Boomer Prinstein
At this point of his life, Boomer had never travelled outside of North America and did not know what to expect. In fact, little was communicated between him and the club as this pre-dates Facebook, Skype and any other form of popular communication available today. The club, who will be left un-named, was also a little uninformed of Boomer’s background and the baseball culture he came from.
“I thought you were taller,” were the first words that Boomer heard from the club representative who picked him up from the airport. This was the first red flag that this club may not be for him.
Boomer immediately had trouble fitting in. Coming from a strict practice and workout regiment at GW, he was not used to drinking beer after practice. His decision not to drink beer after practice and to further work on his game on his own came across as anti-social. When in fact, in Boomer’s head, this was his first professional baseball job and he wanted to be disciplined and stay in top game shape for his new employer.
In Boomer’s first start he threw a no-hitter and in his second start he threw a one-hitter. However his performances always seemed to be received with back-handed compliments. He soon found himself fired for reasons he is still unclear today but believed to be a combination of not fitting in and the fact that he was dating a Belgium girl who was the former girlfriend of their first baseman….. from many years earlier of which he was unaware.
So he was stuck in Belgium, living with his now ex-manager, with two weeks to figure out what he was going to do. He did not want to give up on playing overseas. Luckily, fortune for the first time since coming overseas was on his side when a family he had met invited him to live with them until he figured out what to do. Meanwhile, he connected with the team he threw a no-hitter against and they offered him a job. However, his former team would not release the rights to allow him to play in Belgium and Boomer again was back to the drawing board. He remained with that team and helped coach at their practices until he could figure out what to do.
Boomer then followed up on a pre-Belgium offer to play in an upstart professional league in Israel to see if there was still an offer on the table. Since the league was set to begin at the end of June and it was only the end of May, they welcomed Boomer on board and he was soon thereafter on a flight to Israel.
Boomer said the culture shock of playing baseball in Europe was nothing compared to playing in the middle east. The experience of playing in the middle of the desert in the middle of summer with a temperature of 100 degrees at game time was challenging in itself as he found out after one game when he was hospitalized from dehydration.
If you want to talk culture shock for playing baseball, this one takes the cake.
There were also numerous problems and issues within the organizational side of the league which did not make the adjustment any easier. As Boomer put it, they had 6 games a week, all players lived in army barracks, often with guys not even on the same team, with 3 to 4 to a room and one key. The food was bad, they had transportation issues and many other problems that made playing professional baseball in Israel not even close to what he had hoped for.
On the flipside, the league was full of talent from around the world. There were top notch players from North America, Australia, Latin America, Asia, you name it.
“Playing D1 and playing against some of the top teams in the country, it was like that. You had this extremely high level of baseball and then you had these fields that were being made literally while you were playing on them,” said Boomer of the weird component of high level professional baseball in a very unprofessional league.
The experience in a whole was a positive one for Boomer as he made countless new baseball friends and acquaintances from all over the world, something that he would draw on for years to come. His best memories are of meeting Ty Eriksen, a now long term friend and business partner, as well as his Australian roommates in Israel, Crabb and Rees, who were “as much a part of his story and struggle” than anyone.
Needless to say, the league only lasted the one year and Boomer found himself back home contemplating what to do next. He had been through a pretty challenging experience in both Europe and now Israel and had settled into the regular 9-5 job working as a paralegal, something he soon discovered that he disliked doing.
Playing D1 and playing against some of the top teams in the country, it was like that. You had this extremely high level of baseball and then you had these fields that were being made literally while you were playing on them.
It was late November when Boomer got a phone call from Crabb asking him to come play with his club in the South Australian Baseball League. Recalling only the positives of playing overseas, Boomer didn’t hesitate to leave his job and jump on a plane to Australia.
It wouldn’t be long before his overseas baseball headaches returned. On route to Australia, he was stopped in Hong Kong for not having a proper visa to travel to Australia, something he did not realize was necessary to have. He had to pay $250 right there in the airport for the visa in order to continue onward.
This, as any pro baseball player not in the MLB would testify to, is a large sum of money for most aspiring professional baseball players. If that wasn’t bad enough, he arrived in Adelaide 45 hours later and was handed an uniform in the car and was rushed to his first game on the spot! He was informed at that point that he had to play in a game that day as it was the last before the Christmas break and the last possibility to qualify him to play for the rest of the season. All he needed was one at bat! A sleepy Boomer managed a broken bat bloop single and then slept on the floor of the dugout for the remainder of the game.
Listen to the first half of his story in more detail on IBC Episode #58 and stay tuned for part two to see how Boomer’s journey would continue on for another 9 years of success in baseball overseas with less and less bumps!