The Little League World Series ended on Sunday with the group from Huntington Beach, Calif., beating their counterparts from Hamamatsu City, Japan, 2-1, for the championship. Teams from around the world participated in the annual spectacle in Williamsport, Pa., but Israel was not among them, since they would have been required to play on Saturdays.
That’s not to say that there’s no youth baseball program in the Holy Land. In fact, the Israeli national 14-and-under team won a championship of their own when they took top honors last month in the Tuscany Series, a European tournament held in Arezzo, Italy.
The second baseman on that team was Josh Lipsey, 12, who usually lives in Livingston with his parents, Bill and Amy. However, the family spent a year living in Israel, which gave Josh this unique opportunity.
Josh, who played Little League in New Jersey before he became age-ineligible, joined the local Israeli Little League in the town of Ra’anana there on the suggestion of a friend. He later tried out for the national team and won the second base role.
There was one other American on the team; the rest were from families who had made aliya. And while most of the other players spoke Hebrew as their daily language, they were all fluent in English; the coaches, however, spoke to them in Hebrew as well.
As a veteran of six years of American Little League, Josh was able to offer an expert assessment of the quality of youth baseball in Israel.
“The team I played on was about the same” level of ability as others he has been a member of, but overall, Little League in America is “a lot better” than in Israel, he said in a phone conversation from Livingston, where the family’s been since their return a few weeks ago. “There were two fields that were almost professional grade, and the other ones needed a lot of care.”
Spending the year in Ra’anana “was just a decision that my wife and I made as an experience that we felt was important and could benefit everyone,” said Bill Lipsey, who is a former president of Congregation Agudath Israel of West Essex in Caldwell. He coached in Livingston, but was just a fan in Israel, which he said had yet to be infected by “Little League parent syndrome.”
“It’s a little more laid back,” he said. “Baseball is relatively a new sport in Israel although because there’s so many American olim, baseball has become bigger.”
More than 30 teams are scattered throughout the country. Lipsey attributed the interest in renewed attempts to build a professional presence in Israel; the first attempt failed after a single season in 2007.
“The parents are excited and proud of their children,” said Lipsey, “the same way American parents are.”
The Israeli national team participated in the Arezzo tournament — held July 27-Aug. 1 —with five other teams representing Czech Republic, Germany, France, and two squads from Italy. Josh and his teammates won four of their five games in the preliminary round to move on to the finals, which they won in come-from-behind fashion, scoring five times in the final inning for a 6-3 victory and the championship.
This marked the first time a team from Israel won the tournament.
“It was a great honor to be on the Israeli national team,” Josh said.