Followers of the Sharon High baseball team over the past few years recognize the names Jake Fishman and David Zabinsky for their excellence during their Eagle careers, but their exploits away from the diamond, producing entertaining videos, have attracted the attention of hundreds of thousands of others worldwide.
Fishman, 18, the ace left-handed pitcher and stalwart hitter on this past year’s Sharon team, has garnered over 184,000 YouTube views over the past year narrating Pokemon games.
Zabinsky, a fearsome hitter and shortstop on the 2011 Eagles squad who turned 20 last month, has earned nearly as many views for two videos of his gesticulations while umpiring Sharon Little League games.
The former teammates (2010-11), both of whom now play college baseball, have each recently reached milestones: Fishman’s YouTube channel, BugCatcherJLF, recently eclipsed 1,000 subscribers, and a major Japanese TV station asked Zabinsky to air the videos, dubbed ‘Harry Highpants’, later this fall.
Fishman said, “The most enjoyable part about it is having people comment on the videos, saying how much they like them. And when other [prominent] YouTubers recognize me, and say, ‘You make great videos’ – that feels really good.”
Of his videos being aired in the Far East, Zabinsky said, “I was quite surprised when TV ASAHI e-mailed me. I wasn’t aware my videos had international appeal. I'm happy that people from all over will enjoy them; it’s a really cool feeling.”
Fishman says that he became introduced to Pokemon when he was five and was copying the actions of his brother, Nate, who is five years his elder. “As kids, we played all the time; that’s basically what we did,” Jake Fishman said.
After a decline in interest in Pokemon as a pre-teen, Fishman says that his desire to play the game resurged during high school. Although he watched some Pokemon videos online, he did not think of producing films featuring himself until his junior year.
Buoyed by his friends’ support of his idea, Fishman released his first video last year, which, in his words, “went around the school [SHS] pretty quickly.” From there, he was off and running.
During each video, which is 18-20 minutes in length, Fishman plays a Pokemon video game and shares his analysis of the events in an amusing fashion.
“[I like] making people laugh and keeping them entertained,” Fishman said. “People wouldn’t come back to my videos if they didn’t like them. But people have come back and subscribed.”
“Jake's videos are hilarious,” said Zabinsky. “Even if you don't know a thing about Pokemon, Jake's videos are still wildly entertaining.”
A significant boost for BugCatcherJLF occurred last fall, when a non-Pokemon video attracted much attention. Fishman entered a contest held by a YouTuber with millions of subscribers. The contest was to make a video that featured “Welcome to Beast” being shouted in the most humorous setting.
Last fall, during a senior lunch at Sharon High, with the permission of Sharon High Principal Dr. Jose Libano and School Resource Officer Michael Hocking, Fishman executed his entry.
Fishman hopped onto his table and blew a foghorn, attracting the attention of his peers. He then screamed “Welcome to Beast” and proceeded to tear off his pants and break out into dance on the table in his boxers, eliciting boisterous laughter from his classmates.
Libano and Hocking, feigning anger, promptly escorted Fishman from the cafeteria. As Fishman departed, he turned around and thrust his fist into the air, producing another round of raucous cheers from the seniors.
“His ‘Welcome to Beast’ video was wicked funny because it was just something we would expect from him,” said Kevin McLaughlin, SHS ’13, who played baseball with Fishman for three seasons.
Fishman says that he has become increasingly comfortable on camera. “When you first start out, you’re kind of shy. You’re kind of sitting in front of the mic, [thinking], ‘What do I say now?’ But once you get more comfortable, you get better at commentating, and you’re more open,” he said.
Nathan Pedersen, who captained this past spring’s Eagles baseball team along with Fishman, said, “As he started to make videos, I saw that he was making progress. With how funny he is with the jokes he makes, they were actually pretty interesting.”
Fishman says that as he began producing episodes more consistently, he was surprised with the difficulty to garner viewers. “At first, I thought it was going to be kind of easy to get views and have subscribers.
“It quickly hit me that it’s really hard to do that; when you’re smaller, it’s harder to get noticed. But once I stuck with it, they started to come naturally,” he added.
Viewers of Fishman’s videos are scattered throughout the globe. The average subscriber is around Fishman’s age, began playing Pokemon when he did, and remain enthusiastic about the game.
“It might not all be about the Pokemon; it’s also about my personality and what I talk about when I play, how I react to [events in the game] – different things like that,” Fishman said.
Fishman says that although others on YouTube produce similar videos, the face camera on his videos adds to the production value. “Most people don’t usually have that. You get to see my personality, my facial expressions – more emotions,” he said.
Cindy Layton, Fishman’s mother, says that his on-camera achievements are not surprising. “Jake has a very outgoing personality, so this is the kind of thing that’s right up his alley,” Layton said.
Kevin McLaughlin, Sharon High ’13, says that Fishman always livened up the atmosphere at Eagles baseball practices. “He was a bit more serious while doing drills (as we all were), but when we were just hanging out in the outfield or by the cage, he was always making classic Fishman comments,” McLaughlin said.
In addition to Fishman’s regular Pokemon gameplay videos, two Pokemon-related productions have been particularly noteworthy. One focused on ‘patching’ a game, while the other laid out new rules of a modified Pokemon game.
Explaining the former video, Fishman said, “People make hacks of the games - they edit the games, make them different, change things. But you need to patch the game to make those changes. So I was showing people how to make those changes.”
The alternative gameplay, called the Everlock, was used by two YouTubers who have multiple thousands of subscribers, with Fishman being credited for the idea. (Fishman noted that the idea was originated in school by Nickie Cheung, SHS ’13.)
As for Fishman’s on-air name, a BugCatcher is a type of character in Pokemon, and JLF is his initials. “I stuck them together and thought it sounded pretty good,” he said.
Does Pokemon still hold the interest of young adults? Zabinsky says yes. “Admittedly, I do know a thing or two about Pokemon. Constant three-hour bus rides for baseball games this summer was enough boredom for me to resume playing again after my ten-year hiatus,” he said.
Over the summer months, BugCatcherJLF has racked up views and subscribers at the fastest rate in its history. “The consistency [of posting videos] is one part of it. But as you grow bigger, more people get to see it; it’s in the ‘Suggested Videos’ more often and higher in the search bar,” Fishman said.
Fishman, who has accumulated over 1,150 subscribers as of Sunday, says that his channel totaling 1,000 in August was gratifying. “It felt pretty good - definitely a big accomplishment. It’s weird to think about how many people 1,000 actually is – you could fill up a really big room,” he said, with a laugh.
Fishman’s accomplishments with BugCatcherJLF and on the baseball field for Sharon High each stem from burning passions, Layton says.
“They’re both the kinds of things that he totally immerses himself in, so when you do that, dedicate yourself to something – then of course you’re going to have success,” Layton said.
Fishman, who longtime Sharon varsity baseball coach and Mass. Baseball Coaches Assn. Hall-of-Famer Joel Peckham called one of the best pitchers he has ever coached, will attend Union College in the fall and pitch for the baseball team.
The runner-up for 2013 Hockomock League MVP says that his experiences producing the 150+ Pokemon videos – each episode requires about an hour of editing and rendering – has led him to pursue a minor in Digital Media.
“I definitely know how to use a lot more programs than I did in the past, for image editing and video editing. It’s good for when I go to college and jobs in the future that I can use these programs pretty well,” Fishman said.
Fishman says that future endeavors with BugCatcherJLF are incumbent upon his availability in college.
Zabinsky, who trains with Fishman in the baseball offseason,
said, “Jake is a great kid. He's a tremendously hard worker and an
amazing talent. He's going to have great [continued] success on his YouTube
channel and even more success on the Union mound."
Zabinsky says that he thought of the ‘Harry Highpants’ idea last summer to lighten the mood for young ballplayers who put too much pressure on themselves and to spice up the games for himself.
The Sharon resident serves as the home plate umpire at Little League baseball games through the Sharon Youth Baseball & Softball Association (SYBSA), providing him the venue to debut ‘Harry’.
In the video, which words cannot do justice, Zabinsky pulls his umpire pants up to mid-chest; barks commands in a shrill, animal-like voice; tosses the ball feebly to the pitcher; trips and falls over home plate while returning to his position; and thrusts his hands wildly into the air, looking like a moose, in signaling strike three.
“In all my years of playing and being around baseball, I have never seen anything quite like these videos,” said Stephen Pike, a Stonehill College pitcher, Stoughton resident, and former AAU teammate of Zabinsky. “David clearly brings excitement and humor to every game he suits up for.”
The video, which lasts 1:25, has racked up over 126,000 hits since it was posted last fall. Boston Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli shared the video on his Twitter account, posting, “This is what we need.”
Zabinsky was contacted in August by Yositaka Komatsuzaki, the director of a morning program on TV ASAHI, a self-described “major” television station in Japan, regarding airing the ‘Harry’ video this fall.
Komatsuzaki told Zabinsky in an e-mail (said in context), “Your video is so good! I believe this broadcasting will bring many Japanese joyful time and your video more promote.
As to why he feels that his audience will enjoy the video, Komatsuzaki wrote to Sharon Patch, “Most popular sport in Japanese baseball is. Those who enjoy baseball for holidays are many. One of the topics of the people, but it is the home-plate umpire. Not only judge of plate umpire, movement and personality has become a funny story.
“I have never seen in Japan plate umpire video of [somebody] more unusual. I think every one of his moves is interesthing and, in a mystery to me,” Komatsuzaki added.
Gilad Haas, SHS ’11, who videotaped the ‘Harry’ games and is majoring in film at Emerson College, says that the most amusing facet of ‘Harry’ is his spontaneity.
“When David first told me that he was going to do something like this, I knew it would be funny. It's not something that can be scripted; rather, it solely relies on David's ability to take a boring Little League baseball game and turn it into a spectacle,” Haas said.
“The aspect that I enjoy most about his videos is that he is out there having fun,” said Jake Fishman, who played with Zabinsky for two seasons in Sharon. “He loves to entertain and he loves baseball, and he managed to combine the two.”
Neal Beberman, the director of umpires for SYBSA, says that he finds ‘Harry’ amusing yet appropriate. “He did it [in a way] that it did not take away any aspect of the game itself. I think the kids and coaches enjoy it. David is a great kid, and he does it with class and doesn't make a mockery of the game,” Beberman said.
Zabinsky released another edition of ‘Harry’ last month, which has tallied over 34,000 views as of this past Tuesday. The rising Bowdoin College junior, a righthanded pitcher on the baseball team, who also pitched for the Brockton Rox this past summer, says that he hopes that ‘Harry’ helps young ballplayers have more fun on the field.
“I would see kids strike out and get tongue lashings from their coaches and walk to the dugout with their heads down,” Zabinsky said. “These were 8, 9, and 10 year olds getting down on themselves while playing baseball.
“I wanted to show them that the game I love is fun, and shouldn't be taken too seriously. So if a kid struck out, a crazy, flailing, screaming umpire wouldn't be bad consolation,” he added.
Haas says that Zabinsky, who was voted “Class Clown” by his graduating class at Sharon High, is a talented performer. "I think the fact that he can keep a straight face when he does these things is what makes everyone laugh.
“When we were seniors in high school, we made a short film for a class, and at one point, David had to do mock job interviews. I let him do that completely unscripted, so it was all improv. To this day, I still show people that video because it's just so funny,” Haas added.
Mitch Kaufman, who graduated with Zabinsky, called his former classmate “a collection of many opposite personalities rolled into one giant, wild, wrecking ball. I enjoy watching the receptiveness and reaction levels of the surrounding citizens,” Kaufman said.
Zabinsky is so entertaining as ‘Harry’ and off-camera because he is not afraid to embarrass himself, says Fishman. “He is willing to do anything he thinks will be funny with no regard to others’ opinions, and he has the confidence to pull it off,” Fishman said.
“I don't care if people are laughing at me or with me,” said Zabinsky. “What’s important is that people are laughing.”
Haas says that Zabinsky’s top attribute as a performer is his intelligence. “He understands the situation better than anyone else around him, and therefore can determine the direction in which it will go. He knows where the boundaries are and where he can and cannot cross,” Haas said.
‘Harry’ is even more hilarious to those who know Zabinsky personally, says Haas. “Most of the viewers don't know that he's such a smart kid and accomplished baseball player,” he said.
Pike says that he thinks that Zabinsky should pursue a career in acting because of a tremendous sense of creativity, a knack for thinking on the spot, and an ability to adapt into numerous roles.
Haas added, “If I could give him any advice, it would be to do more [videos in the future].”
As for forthcoming endeavors, Zabinsky, who is spending the current fall semester in Madrid, says that he plans on filming more non-umpiring videos and is in the process of writing a screenplay for a potential feature film.
that he has “a little bit” of a friendly rivalry with Zabinsky regarding viral popularity.
As for having more views (currently) than his fellow former Sharon baseball
captain, Fishman said with, fittingly enough, a laugh, “It feels pretty good.”