Local supporters seek to put Israel on global baseball map
As the days count down to the qualifying round for the 2013 World Baseball Classic, supporters of Israel’s possible entry gathered at the City Winery in Manhattan on July 22 to raise funds, share a drink and a meal, and shmooze about the international pastime.
The Israeli national team has enlisted several former Major Leaguers — including Brad Ausmus, Shawn Green, Gabe Kapler, and Scott Schoeneweis — to coach and play in a qualifying double-elimination tournament against squads from South Africa, France, and Spain. The competition will be held in Jupiter, Fla., Sept. 19-23. The dates for the qualifier were specifically picked to avoid conflicting with Yom Kippur, which begins Sept. 25.
Since the games occur during the regular season, such active Jewish Major Leaguers as Ike Davis, Ryan Braun, Ian Kinsler, and Kevin Youkilis will not be able to participate, although some Jewish minor leaguers might be selected. If Israel manages to secure a spot for the WBC, which will be held during spring training, the Major Leaguers would be able to play; several have expressed an interest in representing the Jewish state.
Any player eligible to be a citizen under Israeli law would qualify for the team, said Peter Kurz, secretary general of the Israel Association of Baseball; the halachic standard of matrilineal descent does not apply.
Former West Orange resident Jeffrey Rosen, who owns the Maccabi Haifa Heat basketball team, is an active fund-raiser for Team Israel. He told NJ Jewish News his company, Triangle Financial Services, which includes a sports agency, has “a deal going where we have a matching program with the JNF, so our group…is responsible for raising about $50,000 toward the Israeli baseball team.”
Rosen said Marvin Goldklang, chair of the Goldklang Group, a sports entertainment consulting and management firm based in Florham Park, has made a similar commitment.
Having Jewish Major Leaguers on Team Israel “would be a glorious moment,” said Rosen, but, he acknowledged, “it’s a long, uphill battle to get there because we’re working with minor leaguers and our Israeli players. So I think we’re in an underdog role, but we have a fighting chance. If we make the cut, it could be really exciting.”
He also has an ulterior motive for supporting the venture: bringing professional baseball back to Israel. “That’s really why I’m doing this,” said Rosen, who was a major investor in the original Israel Baseball League, which folded after its lone season in 2007. “When you have a good idea, it maybe takes a long time.
“My goal — and I think it’s a goal the IAB embraces — is to build a professional field, a ‘field of dreams,’ in Ra’anana,” he said. The field would be used by amateur players and would also serve as “our base for professional baseball.” Rosen said he estimates the project would “probably take a couple million dollars to get it done” and is still years away.
Mark Rattner and his sons, David and Eric, all have strong ties to baseball in Israel: During the IBL season, Eric was a catcher on the Tel Aviv Lightning while David served as head of IBL operations. Mark Rattner, president of the Central Jersey Board of Jewish National Fund and the JNF lay leader coordinating the organization’s efforts to assist the development of baseball in Israel, has been involved since the league’s nascent days. He was excited about the prospect of Israel appearing on an international stage if the team can advance to the WBC. “They’ll be facing South Africa, France, and Spain…. I don’t know if [those countries] have the same resources as far as being able to tap into players.”
During dinner, Kurz, who also serves as general manager for Team Israel, told the group of about 70 supporters that the WBC is an important step in advancing baseball in Israel. “It would strengthen awareness and popularity of the game, which is still foreign to Israelis; it would offer global coverage and positive press for Israel; and it would build bridges between Jewish-American fans and Israelis,” he said.
Organizers for the event were hoping to raise $400,000 to cover travel and training expense for the team, which will consist of 28 players. A similar event was held in Chicago on July 25.
Former Mets favorite Art Shamsky — who managed the Modi’in Miracle franchise in the IBL — encouraged the audience to give generously. The international competition offered “a wonderful opportunity for Israel to get involved in baseball, [and] it will be a wonderful experience for you to say you were a part of it,” Shamsky said.
Ausmus, who will serve as field manager, sent a video message thanking the group for its support and comparing the legends of baseball — Ruth, Mays, and Koufax — with those of the Torah — Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Israeli singer David Broza provided entertainment, including a Hebrew rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”