Culture, Israel

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Israel Baseball League
3,112 fans from across Israel converged on the Baptist Village outside of Petach Tikva for the opening game of the Israel Baseball League. The baseball was real, the hotdogs were Kosher, and the kids had a great time. All around the diamond, children, many of whom at their first ball game ran around collecting foul balls, and getting anybody wearing a uniform to sign them. These players, many of whom were passed over in the recent draft got to feel like they were in the big leagues, or at least the Cape Cod league.

The game started with the players rubbing off a bit of rust, errors and sloppy play seemed the norm at the beginning, but soon the play ran smooth. There were strikeouts as slick curveballs got the edge of the black, double plays were made to look easy, and the deep outfield fences kept all but one rocket by Ryan Crotin in play.
The teams on the field were as diverse as any pro team in the States. Some of them were college grads passed over in the recent draft, others were in school and choose to play their summer ball over here in Israel rather then hanging out in Kansas or Westchester, and there were a few pro-ball veterans who had finished off their careers and made aliyah. Players were recruited from all over the world, and just as in American baseball, the Latin American players made themselves known. Maximo Nelson, a tall, lanky Dominican player was rumored to throw 96mph heat, though he seemed to struggle a bit with his control. One player told me that the guy had major league stuff, but simply hadn’t broken into the American farm system because the State Department wouldn’t give him a visa.
Aside from the regular ball players, what made these teams specials were the Jewish guys. While they often seemed a bit shorter, these players were perhaps the happiest. Some of them were sabbath observant American kids, with tools, who had never gotten to play competitive ball before, and then there were the Israelis. They were few, but the crowd gave these guys the biggest hand. Having grown up in Israel they somehow managed to learn the game and now were given a stage of their own.
Clive Russell, the director of Major League Baseball’s operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa was on hand at the game, and he seemed quietly impressed. He had been to Israel before, but this game was the best he had ever seen both in terms of talent and as far as the crowd. He was pleased that baseball was on its way here, and gave Israel a solid chance at fielding a team for the next World Baseball Classic, but he said the Israeli league needs to wean itself off its dependency on American ex-patriots. “In Italy,” he told me, “there is a league that plays level A ball, and 80% of the players are home grown.” This league, by comparison only had a smattering of native players, and the fans, well, there were many that couldn’t speak Hebrew, and I doubt anyone didn’t know English.
The league has a lot of upside, and as long as they can keep it profitable it should last. Baseball season is off-season for the country’s main sports obsessions – soccer and basketball, and that means that the games are getting lots of attention on the local sports stations. Surely any kid with half a sense of adventure would choose to travel to Europe to play than get put up in a barn in order to compete in a summer league in Iowa. And with the growing popularity of baseball around the world, a European championship might not be so far in the future.
Meanwhile, play ball!

7 thoughts on “èéé÷ îé àåè èå è'ä áåì âééí

  1. First of all a brilliantly written news piece and quite possibly the best title ever.
    I love baseball because it is all good fun… Question for anyone who knows: Are there any Arab Israelis or Palestinians playing on any of the teams?

  2. Looking at the rosters it would seem there aren’t any, and that doesn’t come as a surprise. All of the Israeli players are either from American families or grew up in Jewish neighborhoods with a heavy American presence. Most Jewish Israelis don’t know the first thing about baseball, and the situation must even be worse in the Arab communities. Just to give you an idea on the state of baseball here. There are two fields that baseball can be played on in the entire country, one other field is being prepared this week and should be ready to go soon. I’ve played some softball in soccer fields before, but there aren’t even those dirt little league diamonds for someone to learn the game at here.

  3. I’m glad to see it start with a crowd. Josh, I know it’s too early to tell, but from jump street, do you think the action was solid enough that baseball will make a dent in the football/basketball love there? As a football fan who’s watched the MetroStars not draw, and the Liberty of the WNBA not draw too well, I’m hopeful but not super optimistic.
    Also, a friend mentioned that some of the teams have major league teams that are partners, and from taking a peak at the site the colors and logos, the Modi’in Miracle hint at a possible Mets connection, the express/athletics, the tigers, the blue sox, and so forth. Anything to that, or am I just making up things as I read?
    Lastly, for all those people that think you should be a sux fan simply because of a oouple of ballplayers, check out how many current and former Yankees higherups (including President Randy Levine and Minority Owner Marvin Goldklang) are involved with helping make the IBL happen. According to the AJL article’s faulty logic, the entire country of Israel (and anyone that supports Israel) should now be Yankees fans… so, should I pick you up some hats on River Ave, or send some Jews for Jeter shirts?

  4. First off, perhaps hte most important person involved in making this league happen on the actual playing side of things is the director of player development, former Red Sox GM, Dan Duquette.
    I haven’t heard anything about major league partnerships, and ay similarities I imagine are just good old coattailing.
    As far as the future, I do wonder. 3112 is a huge attendance number, that definitely beats what the average basketball team in this country draws, even in the top division. But, it was opening day, and people were there because of the novelty. On the other hand, these game are right now mostly being played in the cente of hte country, it could becomea fun event during a summer evening. WHy not take the kids over to see this game, even if it is just seen as somehting wierd at the beginning. Further, the big upside is the tv broadcasts. Many of these games are going to be going live, during prime time on the sports channells. It’s off season right now, and well, these channells need to fill something out in their broadcast time. Let’ see how the ratings for the games goes, that could be the biggest indicator.

  5. I was all psyched that they we coming out to Wahconah Park in Pittsfield Massachusetts, but was told that game was moved. Waiting on the next chance….

  6. I am SICK AND TIRED of the imposition of American culture on Israeli society. Baseball is totally foreign to Israel and it likely won’t catch on, like many other American imports (Mexican food, Starbucks, the Hard Rock Cafe). At best, it will end up liek hockey in Israel.

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