Israeli Baseball Season Opens in Two Weeks

A Major League Baseball manager, a businessman and a Jewish organization team up to make a dream come true: Opening Day for Israeli baseball.

Hana Levi Julian ,

In exactly two weeks, an Israeli-American dream will become a reality as the first pitch of the season is thrown on Opening Day for the Israel Baseball League.


Shortly afterward, the baseball camp season will also get underway, with special clinics and tutoring sessions offered for budding baseball stars at fields in three areas: Raanana, Kibbutz Gezer, and Tel Aviv.  The Israel Baseball League (IBL) and the Israel Association of Baseball (IAB) have joined forces with the Dan Duquette Baseball Academy to offer the camps for budding baseball players, from ages 8 to 15, in three one-week sessions in July.


Several road show clinics and special tutoring sessions will also be held around the country, providing much-needed relief from the stress of living in the center of a security whirlwind.


The first real stress-buster, of course, will be held on 8 Tammuz, June 24, at 6:00 p.m. at a Petach Tikvah stadium, the league's opening game between the Modi'in Miracle and the Petach Tikvah Pioneers. 


The final draft of the debut season, intended as a tribute only, was 71-year-old baseball legend Sandy Koufax, who was tapped for the Modi'in Miracle. It is not expected that Mr. Koufax will attend the game.


Although it has been 41 years since he has thrown a pitch on a professional mound, many American-Israelis remember him fondly - not so much for his perfect game and no-hitters, but mainly for his refusal to play a World Series game in deference to observing Yom Kippur, despite intense pressure to do so.


Former Boston Red Sox manager Dan Duquette and businessman Larry Baras decided to team up more than a year ago to create a professional baseball team here in Israel, with the hopes that it might morph into a national baseball league.


Visions of peanuts, popcorn and kosher hot dogs danced in the heads of those who heard about the plan. Would-be players flocked to the fields when they heard tryouts were being held. After a year-long process, all that now remains to be done is to fill the bleachers and "Play ball!"


This is not the first time baseball has come to the Holy LandThe first baseball ever to hit ground in Israel was thrown on July 4, 1927, at the Sephardic Orphanage in Jerusalem.  According to the Israel Baseball League website, the governess of the orphanage on that day handed out baseballs to the children – who immediately started kicking them around the field, thinking they were some new kind of soccer ball.


Today, there are two associations for fans of North American ball games, one for softball and the other for baseball.  Almost 3,000 players take to the fields around the country, including children and adults, some of whom play internationally.


The lack of decent baseball fields, equipment and know-how held back the development of America’s favorite sport here in the Middle East, however – until the Boston-based group stepped in. The group spearheaded the formation of the Israel Baseball League in July 2005, to be headed by Mr. Duquette and Mr. Baras. 


By March 2006, the Jewish National Fund agreed to support the venture, and within four months, 165 would-be players were standing in the field and on the mound for the first baseball camp ever to be held in the Holy Land.  


In the past year, professional players from nine different countries, as well as a dozen native sons, have been drafted for this summer’s premier season.  Most, but not all, are Jewish.


In this first year, there will be six teams: the Modi’in Miracle, Beit Shemesh Blue Sox, Netanya Tigers, Petach Tikvah Pioneers, Ra’anana Express and Tel Aviv Lightning.


The IBL games will last seven innings, as opposed to the traditional American nine-inning games, with a home run derby to be held as a tie-breaker instead of going into extra innings as the U.S. leagues do.