Sunday, August 3, 2008

IAB's Katz: Israel's baseball future is bright (and no, he's not talking about the Dominican Republic of the Middle East Baseball League)

Who says there’s no baseball in Israel?

Our Man Elli happened to run into Haim Katz, head of the Israel Association of Baseball (the governing body that must give permission for the Israel Baseball League to play), at Ben Gurion International Airport outside Tel Aviv this past week, where Elli was picking up his visiting sister and Katz was freshly home from the baseball tournament in Pittsburgh we told you about a couple of Sundays ago.

Elli, of course, dropped his visitor's luggage and ran like OJ through the terminal to buttonhole Katz and pepper him with Qs about the Israel Baseball League. Katz, exhausted from the trip, told Elli to call him tonight—- which he did.

Elli wanted to know about the IBL’s upcoming “show” that’s supposed to begin in Baptist Village on August 14th. Katz was willing to talk about it. But first, he wanted to talk about something far more glorious, and something that says far more about the future of Israel than the “festival” that’s not been advertised nor begun to sell tickets.

It was the all-Israeli baseball team he’d brought to Pennsylvania for the tournament called ”For The Love of The Game” (would that be an apt name for the IBL’s Festival next week?), and in a slap with a wet whitefish to those who say there are no native Israeli love of the game, the team was made up entirely of Israeli high schoolers.

They did go one and fourteen, but ech! Katz loved it!

“There were no standings in the tournament,” Katz told Elli tonight. “It’s called ‘For the Love of the Game,’ so the main purpose was to play as much baseball as possible, and to give our kids experience so they could play at a higher level of baseball in the future. Most of them will be playing next year on the Maccabiah team (July 12-23, 2009).

“They played 15 games in five days, and they played very well in one of the games they lost-- to a team from Maryland, composed of freshman college players from Division One and Division Three. And we lost 4-2. We played an incredible game, excellent defense, against really good pitchers.

“We had a few base runners, we just couldn’t get them in!

“A few games we played really well. Then we ran out of pitching. Our team was much younger than other teams we played. I’m very proud of them.”

The games were played in Freeport, about 30 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, featuring forty teams from around the world. The Israeli team consisted of eighteen kids. They played four games a day.

“The atmosphere was incredible,” Katz told Our Man Elli. “We were the superstars of the tournament! We were featured daily in the local papers there-- they ran a centerfold spread about us. I’d go to a gas station to buy water, people would come up to me: ‘Oh you’re from Israel, it’s fantastic you’re here.’ In terms of PR, and the feelings you have-– it never felt so great being an Israeli.”

Katz also praised the Jewish community of Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, which hosted the team. “The Jewish community in Pittsburgh went out of their way, in every way, to host us.”

Meanwhile, the juvenile Israeli team, made up of 10- to 12-year-olds, played in three small tournaments in Italy this weekend. They did very well, although they lost the final today 10-1, to a team from Czech Republic they’d beaten 10-0 in the first game of the round-robin tournament.

All told, the juvenile team won 7, lost 3 and tied 1.

Sez Haim Katz: “These kids will be playing in the Maccabiah Games in 2013.”

When Elli asked him to assess the over picture of youth baseball in Israel, Katz said, “Things are pretty rosy. We’re increasing the number of players, we are getting into more places, and more kids are getting involved. And we’re getting more cooperation from municipal authorities and from schools. In general it’s pretty positive.”

He credits the rise in baseball popularity to more exposure to baseball. “The IBL contributed somewhat, and there’s more baseball on cable TV, which exposes the people to it. Israel is becoming more and more Americanized and we’re capitalizing on it. People are looking for different things to do, this is one of them.”

What did Haim Katz have to say about the IBL's planned baseball "show" festival? And what did he have to say about Tabloid Baby? Stay tuned...

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