It was "an omen from G-d," said Manager Art Shamsky, after
his team made history by winning Israel's first-ever professional baseball
game. A good time was had by all.
The atmosphere at the Israel Baseball League's (IBL) opening game was
a combination of down-to-earth fun and "Are we really making history
here?" musings, as over 3,000 people came out to Petach Tikva on
Sunday to gleefully escort professional baseball into Israel.
The Modiin Miracle beat the Petach Tikva Pioneers, 9-1.
The season involves six teams playing 45 games each, with an All-Star
and championship game scheduled, respectively, for mid- and end-season.
Games are seven innings in duration, and if tied after seven innings,
are decided by a Home Run Derby. The players, earning only $2,000 each
for the 8-week season, appear to be happy for the opportunity to play
pro ball in Israel.
The opening game itself appeared to be just a side show for many, with
fans strolling around or picnicking behind the stands, talking to players
and other visitors, and lazily taking in the experience of taking part
in history being made.
Fifth-inning mincha replaces the seventh-inning stretch
Or is it? As pitchers threw, batters hit, fielders caught, and runners
dashed, the unanswered question in the minds of all was, "Will baseball
really catch on in Israel?"
At present, baseball in Israel appears to be like a young rookie with
all the tools necessary to make it in the big leagues. Most notable among
these is a strong fan pool comprising American olim (new immigrants),
many of whom say they grew up on baseball, and a young "farm system"
in the form of some 70 teams in the 20-year-old Israel Association of
Baseball. But will the game's slow, considered pace attract fans in sufficient
numbers to make it a commercially viable enterprise?
Indications vary. One of the Israeli cameramen filming the game, asked
how he was enjoying the job, blurted out, "It's boring!" An
Israeli high schooler who apparently caught a love of the game from his
two years in "shlichut" in Texas, says he has not been able
to convince his friends to come on out to a game - though he has not yet
But the excitement of most of the crowd at the opener told a different
story. Young and old, religious and not, American and other - almost everyone
exuded excitement and anticipation. An Israeli reporter from Globes was
interested in almost every aspect, from why a hitter who had singled to
the outfield rounded first base from the outside instead of running straight
to the bag, up to the extent that hitters controlled where they hit the
Holtzman, Shamsky, and Blomberg
Petach Tikvah manager Ken Holtzman - a former Chicago and Oakland pitcher
with more wins (174) than any other Jewish pitcher in the majors, including
two no-hitters - took the loss in stride. "As a hard competitor for
many years," he told Arutz-7 afterwards, "of course it's no
fun to lose, especially the way we did. But having said that, I'm very
glad that this league has begun here in Israel, and is on its way. I personally
am happy to have a role in bringing baseball here... If they had asked
me to help start a new league in, say, I don't know, South Africa, I wouldn't
have agreed; but to do it in Israel is a great opportunity. We don't play
on Shabbos - hey, I'm Jewish - and I'm looking forward."
He'll have another chance tonight, when his team faces Modiin yet again.
Modiin manager Art Shamsky - who batted .300 for the 1969 World Champion
Mets and once hit four consecutive home runs - was pleased with his team's
performance. "It looks like there's no reason we can't go 45-0 this
year," he told them. Asked what he felt about having won the first
professional baseball game in the Holy Land, he told Arutz-7, "It's
an omen from G-d." He did not elaborate.
Meanwhile, another IBL manager seemed to be the most lively of all. Former
Yankee Ron Blomberg - the first-ever Designated Hitter who wrote a book
about his life in baseball and as a Jew entitled "Designated Hebrew"
- entertained many of his former and possibly future fans before the game
with his catchy enthusiasm. "I'm a very proud Jew from the south,"
he said, "from Atlanta, Georgia, and I want to be a part of baseball
in Israel; I wouldn't go anywhere else... I love the idea of starting
a league here. I guess I just like being first - the first draft choice
[in the 1967 amateur draft], the first Designated Hitter, and now this.
Wearing a baseball uniform with my name across the back in Hebrew - what
an opportunity! I guess the Man up there is looking after me."
When asked if he plans to promote Israel when he returns home after the
season, he replied enthusiastically. "Oh, absolutely," he said,
"especially in my YMHA baseball camp. I can tell you that this league
is not just an Israeli thing, but all over, everyone is talking it up.
It's a big hit all over."
Among the IBL players is Aryeh Rosenbaum, a pitcher on Blomberg's Beit
Shemesh Blue Sox. A member of the Bnei Yeshurun synagogue in Teaneck,
New Jersey, Rosenbaum studied after high school at Yeshivat Shaalvim for
a year and a half before returning to Yeshiva University, where he played
on the college baseball team. "But now that I am playing in this
league," he said, "I am no longer eligible for college ball,
so I lose two years of college play - but there's no question that it
was worth it." Thinking seriously of making Aliyah, Aryeh admits
he didn't have the best record on the YU team - "we didn't have such
a great record" - but "I guess I had a good tryout, so I made
Other religiously-observant players in the league are Dovid Green of
New York, a 2nd baseman on the Pioneers, Joey Sherman from Brookline,
Mass., a pitcher on the Tel Aviv Lightning, and others.
Israel is well-represented in the new league, with 13 players from Kibbutz
Gezer, Kfar Saba, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ramat Gan and Givatayim. The Dominican
Republic does even better, however, with 14. Others hail from the Ukraine,
Columbia, Japan, Canada, and of course from the United States. Players
from additional countries are expected to be added over the coming months.
The players signed all have significant baseball pedigrees, being alums
from the Minor Leagues, national teams, college varsity teams, and other
major baseball programs.
Young Israeli autograph seeker
As one would expect, the majority of this season's players will be of
Jewish extraction, though that is not a prerequisite of the league. Heavy
scouting and recruiting of the best Jewish players around the globe takes
place under the supervision of the IBL's Director of Player Personnel,
The IBL Executives
The Commissioner of the Israel Baseball League is the Honorable Daniel
C. Kurtzer, former United States Ambassador to Israel and Egypt. The league's
Director of Baseball Operations is Dan Duquette, former General Manager
of the Boston Red Sox and the Montreal Expos. Among the members of its
Executive Board Committee are Marvin Goldklang, minority owner of the
New York Yankees and owner/operator of nine minor league teams, Professor
Andrew Zimbalist, the pre-eminent sports economist in the United States;
and Marty Appel, former Yankee publicist. The league's Advisory Board
includes the likes of Bud Selig, Commissioner of Major League Baseball;
Wendy Selig-Prieb, the former president of the Milwaukee Brewers; Randy
Levine, President of the New York Yankees; and other luminaries from the
sports, academic, professional and business world.
What can baseball do for Israel? Most people say it can do a lot, actually
- such as promote competitive and physical sports for youngsters, increase
Aliyah possibilities from North America, help smoothen Aliyah for those
who are already here, bring some joy to a country beset by war and tensions,
and promote teamwork, precision and calmness on the Israeli sports scene.
Others are not so sure. "Do we really need to import the big-bucks,
beer-chugging, hero-worshipping culture of American baseball into the
Holy Land?" asks one observer. "This is simply a Greek-like
fan-culture with little redeeming value. Did we yearn to leave the Exile
for 2,000 years merely so we could build a copy of it here in Israel?
It's very nice that the league doesn't play on Shabbat, but I'm afraid
that during the week, children will grow up idolizing players, as they
do in the U.S. at great cost in time and money, instead of going out to
play themselves or otherwise occupy themselves constructively."
In either event, a better translation of English terms into Hebrew is
necessary, and would add to the catchiness of the game. For instance,
an outfielder cannot be called the tedious "sachkan chatzer chitzoni"
(player of the outer field), but rather something lighter such as "chutz-nik."
Similarly, an infield fly simply cannot be "high ball in the inner
field," but must be more along the lines of "me'ofef pnim."
STANDINGS as of 23 Tammuz 5767, 09 July 07
|Bet Shemesh Blue Sox
|Tel Aviv Lightning
|Petach Tikva Pioneers
Adapted from an article on the Arutz Sheva website by Hillel Fendel
(© Copyright IsraelNationalNews.com) and from text on the IBL website
Photos by Ezra HaLevi of Arutz Sheva.