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Project: Baseball

   

Baseball in Israel is growing. There are nearly 1,000 players in 16 centers and on 80 teams, and these figures are increasing steadily every year. But adequate numbers and fields are in short supply. This is where Jewish National Fund’s Project: Baseball comes in. Project: Baseball is focused on building state-of-the-art baseball and softball fields throughout the country and supporting and teaching baseball and softball to Israeli youth through little leagues, summer camps, and clinics.


Brad Ausmus, manager of Team Israel, with Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Israeli Government Press Office

Baseball in Israel

Though Israel may be better known for its avid soccer fans, it is quickly becoming a baseball-loving country. Over the past few years, baseball’s popularity has grown considerably among players and spectators alike. It was not until 1979 that the first real baseball field in Israel was built. Today, Israel’s baseball federations, the Israel Association of Baseball and the Israel Softball Association, compete against teams from Europe, Asia, North America, and the Middle East. There are scores of leagues throughout Israel, accommodating players of all ages, genders, and denominations.

Despite the increase in baseball’s popularity, there are only a few proper baseball diamonds in Israel, and many games take place on soccer fields.

Why baseball, you ask?
After all, baseball is only a game.

To the uninitiated, that is a true statement. But for those who have come to play it, study it and fantasize about it, it is far more.

For generations, baseball has strengthened communities throughout the world and provided children with important leisure opportunities. It builds sportsmanship, fosters camaraderie, and creates positive attitudes. More than any other sport, it encourages teamwork. A runner on first base cannot advance without the help of a teammate. Project: Baseball will give the children of Israel an opportunity to learn life lessons while building lasting friendships.

The famous columnist George Will once wrote: “Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal.”

israel baseball

JNF and the IAB

Accomplishments to Date

  • Expanding Israel’s first baseball field, located at Kibbutz Gezer, to Major League Baseball outfield dimensions
  • Upgrading the Sportek field outside of Tel Aviv, which caters to local amateur players
  • Renovating the field at the Yarkon Sports Complex in Petach Tikva, which hosted the 2009 and 2013 Maccabi Games
  • Upgrading fields for the inaugural season of the Israel Baseball League (IBL) in 2007
  • Sponsoring clinics with IBL and MLB players for Israeli children
  • Sponsoring the production of “Holy Land Hardball,” a documentary about the IBL’s historic first season.

The Current Need

Fields and Facilities

The lack of dedicated fields and the high cost and poor condition of the existing facilities is impeding the growth of the sport at all levels. JNF is working to build a new Baseball Complex in Beit Shemesh. Similar regional sites where baseball and softball can be the primary owners of a field will help to ensure the best possible conditions for play at all times and offer prime slots for practices and games. These facilities can generate revenue through rentals to other sports and offer Israel opportunities to host international competitions such as European Championships and World Baseball Classic Qualifiers.

Instruction and Coaching

One of the biggest issues facing the growth baseball and softball across Israel is the lack of a clear development plan for young players. The level of instruction varies from one region to another and is based on the abilities of the coaches in that area. Many coaches are parents who lack any sort of formal training. Recently, a system has been put in place headed by national coordinators who have developed a curriculum to train both coaches and players. Regional coordinators would form a development committee to ensure similar training plans take place across regions and that coaches pass this training onto their players.

There is still a shortage of full-time instructors who make their living coaching softball and baseball. Coaches must receive certification and the programs are exceedingly demanding in terms of both time and expense. It is difficult for someone who has a full-time job and who coaches a youth team to find the necessary time to dedicate to the existing courses. The same problem is apparent with umpires in Israel. There is a severe shortage and their training and experience vary from region to region. The baseball and softball associations (IAB and ISA) must invest in resources that make training courses more accessible to potential coaches, make instructional hours convenient and subsidize the cost. 

Equipment

While the associations maintain the minimum required equipment to facilitate their respective leagues, it falls on the individual coaches to provide much of the equipment for their teams. This is a large expense. Additionally, local sporting goods stores do not carry baseball/softball equipment, so players seeking to buy additional equipment cannot do so in Israel and must purchase online and pay customs fees.

The lack of equipment has numerous negative effects on the development of the game, including limiting coaches’ ability to properly train the players, discourages the players from joining because they lack their own equipment and prevents parents from actively participating in their children’s newfound interest. A solution has to be found to provide equipment to all teams and players throughout the state to help grow the sport.

Get involved and Donate to Project: Baseball. For naming opportunities call your local office at 888-JNF-0099.

 

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