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Take Me Out To The Ball Game!

July 30, 2007
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Through the efforts of American and Israeli sponsors, the IBL held its first draft in New York City in April. Each team has three Israeli players with another 17 international players to round out the squad. Players were signed from the United States, Canada, Dominican Republic, Japan, and Australia, ensuring a high caliber of play. Leading Israeli players include former US college stars Shuki Friedman and Dan Rothem. Former Jewish Major League baseball stars Ken Holtzman (Cubs), Art Shamsky (Mets), and Ron Blomberg (Yankees) were retained as head coaches.

Former US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer is the league commissioner, and former Boston Red Sox General Manager Dan Duquette is the president. Each team will play 45 games over a two-month time span, with an IBL All Star game midway through the season, capped off by a league title game on August 19. The teams are the Petach Tikva Pioneers, Bet Shemesh Blue Sox, Netanya Tigers, Tel Aviv Lightning, Modi’in Miracle, and Ra’anana Express.

Israel’s Baseball History

Baseball began in Israel in earnest in the early 1990s with the Sharon Valley Baseball League under the supervision of Randy Kahn. The Israel Association of Baseball (IAB) began shortly thereafter, and the two leagues merged in 1994. Israel began to send amateur baseball teams abroad to participate in international competition. In 2004, the national team took part in the Olympic qualifying round for Europe and had a winning record while finishing in the middle of the pack.

A number of American Major League baseball players ran clinics and camps in Israel to promote the game here; among them were Tony Fossas (St. Louis Cardinals), Tom Johnson (Minnesota Twins), Jorge Gomez (Tulsa 86ers), and John Somerville, former Georgetown University coach. The Red Sox front office in Boston was gracious enough to meet with an IAB representative in 2002 to suggest ways to promote baseball in Israel. These beginnings gave rise to the sentiment that a professional league was desirable and feasible.

Israeli baseball got a boost when the first three Israelis were awarded collegiate baseball scholarships: Dan Rothem (Tel Aviv), Shuki Friedman (Jerusalem), and Shlomo Lipetz (Tel Aviv). All three young men gave very good performances in the United States, with Friedman being named All-State in Arizona in 2000 as a high school senior. Both Rothem and Friedman played in one of the small college World Series in 2002. It is hoped that many players will relocate to Israel, and that the league will be made up of at least 35% Israelis by its fifth year.

IBL officials are establishing a baseball academy in Israel to offer training to beginners, as well as an advanced skills enhancement course. It is hoped that professional baseball will give Israelis something positive to follow during the difficult times that the country is going through.

The major contributor to this article is the father of one of IBL’s distinguished players, was a four-time Israeli national baseball coach, and won two national championships as head coach of Jerusalem’s senior baseball team. (To listen to the all-American baseball song, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” in Yiddish, go to www.israelbaseballleague.com, “Multimedia/Audio Gallery.”)

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit: Photo by Will King

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