Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Addendum: The San Diego Jewish World: "
New Israel Baseball League president vows to pay its debts and forge a 12-team future"

San Diego Jewish World
7 August 2008

THE JEWISH CITIZEN


New Israel Baseball League president vows to pay its debts and forge a 12-team future


By Donald H. Harrison



SAN DIEGO—With new financial backing and the promise to pay off its creditors in Israel, the Israel Baseball League is planning a best-of-seven exhibition series at the Baptist Village near Petach Tikvah on August 14 that will match Israeli baseball players against former IBL All-Stars from other parts of the world, according to David Solomont, the league’s new president and major shareholder.



Solomont, a Massachusetts-based venture capitalist who describes himself as a big Boston Red Sox fan, said he has been pulling together investors who will pay off the IBL’s outstanding debts while at the same time paving the way for winter ball in Israel’s Negev Desert and the resumption of six-team summer play in 2009. 



The American investor said he could have suggested to the previous group of owners of the Israel Baseball League that they simply declare bankruptcy and then he could have started a new league fresh. However, he said, he felt the right thing to do was to pay off the debts that were accumulated by the group headed by Larry Baras.


Originally the IBL capitalized with one million dollars, which Solomont said was insufficient given all the baseball infrastructure that needed to be developed in Israel, unexpected expenditures on a variety of items including such government fees as the Value Added Tax, and the slippage of the dollar against the Israeli shekel.



Solomont praised Baras as a visionary, who like those involved in many kinds of start-up enterprises, had inufficient inforrmation about the real costs. He said $2 million in capitalization would have been more prudent and would have avoided some of the problems that the League now faces in paying off creditors. As a new owner, he said, he believes he must exercise “due diligence” in examining claims made by creditors, some of which are questionable, he said.



At the same time, he said in a telephone interview, to bring in new investment into the League, he cannot solely pay off old debts, but also must begin spending money to assure future programming and revenues.


Among Israel Baseball League’s creditors is the agricultural school at Kfar Hayarok (“The Green Village”), to the north of Tel Aviv, where in the summer of 2007, approximately 100 players and coaches, representing all six teams of the IBL, were lodged.



As San Diego Jewish World had extensively covered the IBL in 2007 (using daily summaries as well as feature stories by our correspondent, Dr. Yoni Peres, whose veterinary practice is associated with the school), we were contacted by Kobi Naveh, the chief executive officer of the school, where 1,200 students live and attend classes except in the summer.



Naveh wrote the following letter (which we have edited for translation errors) to San Diego Jewish World last month:



“On June 2007, Israel Baseball League’s representatives had visited us in order to examine an option for accommodating a group of professional American baseball teams in Hakfar Hayarok. The initiative came from Larry Baras. Last year, the first baseball tournament was held in Israel.



“After visiting the place, Larry Baras agreed that 100 baseball players would be hosted (including full accommodation) in Hakfar Hayarok’s dormitories.

“During July-August 2007, the games were held in different places in the country and received a lot of publicity in the media and a lot has been written about the establishment of Israel’s baseball league and the continuation of the games in summer 2008.



“At the end of the hosting period, Larry Baras met us at Hakfar Hayarok’s management office. He informed us that some of the League investors’ money had not reached him and therefore he was returning to the U.S. to raise the money as promised. He left us a cheque for the remaining debt dated September 9, 2007.



“A few days before the payment date, we were informed that there was still no money in the league’s account and we were told to wait until we received a confirmation from Larry to deposit the cheque.



“The debt that has been left is more than $170,000. We have held talks with Larry and have been corresponding via email but the debt has not been paid yet.



“Hakfar Hayarok hosts groups during the summer in the dormitories in order to raise funds for the students in the dormitories. The children living in Hakfar Hayarok are from age 5 to 18 and come from impoverished and low social-economic backgrounds. The money we are trying to raise for them is critically important for their wellbeing and education. The fact that this debt has not been paid already caused great damage to these children.



“We will be deeply grateful for any help in this matter.”



The letter prompted us at San Diego Jewish World to send-off emails to two different addresses to Larry Baras. He responded that he would be back in touch with us this week. However, the telephone call that came on Tuesday, August 5, was from Solomont, the new owner, who said that Baras now is out of the picture. 



Solomont said that he has been putting a new management team in place. Dan Duquette, who had served in general manager positions for both the Boston Red Sox and for the Montreal Expos, was named the IBL’s head of baseball operations, and sports promoter and venture capitalist Gary Woolf was named as an IBL director. Another key appointment was of attorney Martin Berger, who will look after the IBL’s interests in the United States. Director of Israel operations is Ami Baran, an Israeli track and field star, in the javelin event, who has coached Israeli teams both in track and in softball.



Solomont said that he had not yet sent any money to Hakfar Hayarok but planned to make a good faith payment of $10,000 U.S. this week or next, and would subsequently seek a meeting with the school’s director on his next trip to Israel. 

“Hakfar Hayarok will get taken care of, per what they believe they are owed,” Solomont told San Diego Jewish World. He said payment to the school might have been quicker but for two glitches that were not the school’s fault. The first was that the paperwork left to him didn’t reflect requested additional services that the IBL received after the contract was signed. Secondly, he said, he at first had difficulty reconciling the numbers because he had been doing the calculations in dollars, while the contract called for payment in shekalim. The Israeli currency has been growing stronger against the U.S. dollar in the last year.



Solomont said he similarly will review invoices submitted by other creditors, and will work his way through those debts.



“All these organizations ought to be rallying behind the IBL to see what we can all do to make it a success,” he said.



He said in its infant 2007 season, IBL brought 1,000 visitors to Israel, who pumped money into the economy. The League also was a factor in a decision by the Jewish National Fund to build more baseball fields around the country, he said.



The teams in 2007 bore such names as the Bet Shemesh Blue Sox, the Modi’in Miracle, the Ra’anana Express, Netanya Tigers, Petach Tikvah Pioneers and the Tel Aviv Lightning.



They took turns as home teams at three fields all in the greater Tel Aviv area. One was at Baptist Village near the Yarkon River, another was at Kibbutz Gezer, and the third was at the Sportek facility in Tel Aviv.



“Next year in Jerusalem,” said Solomont, explaining that one of the team’s names will be changed in Summer 2009 to—what else?— “Jerusalem Gold.”



He said the league plans to sell at least two of the six team franchises initially, and after this process is implemented and refined, to sell the others. He said he hopes that eventually there will be 12 teams in the Israel Baseball League.



As for winter baseball in the Negev, Solomont said there is no better location for it, given the large number of flights both from Asia and Europe directly to Israel. From the standpoint of winter baseball, said Solomont, Israel could become the “Dominican Republic of the Middle East.”



Harrison may be contacted at editor@sandiegojewishworld.com

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