Four Hits for Israel Baseball League

By Nathaniel Popper

Published February 16, 2007, issue of February 16, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

With its inaugural season set to start in June, the fledgling Israel Baseball League has tapped three former Major Leaguers to manage teams and, in a page straight from Hollywood, signed a 45-year-old American to take the field.

The league announced the hiring of three managers: former New York Yankee Ron Blomberg, 58, who made history by becoming baseball’s first designated hitter and later wrote an autobiography titled “Designated Hebrew”; Ken Holtzman, 61, the winningest Jewish pitcher in Major League history, with a lifetime 174-150 record (Sandy Koufax went 165-87), and Art Shamsky, 65, a member of the “Miracle Mets” of 1969 and author of “The Magnificent Seasons: How the Jets, Mets, and Knicks Made Sports History and Uplifted a City and the Country.”

Perhaps the most fitting move for this upstart league, however, was the decision to sign Ari Alexenberg, a 45-year-old pitcher. The IBL is not the Major Leagues but rather a hardscrabble, Disney-ready story of its own. The league is slated to have six teams on opening day, June 24, but it’s currently struggling to make sure it has enough game-ready playing fields. Finding enough fans to fill the stands is another problem.

But for Alexenberg, the league means a chance to get a paycheck for playing the game he loves.

Alexenberg, a New Hampshire resident, grew up in an Orthodox family that moved to Queens, then to New Jersey and finally to Israel. In Queens he spent every free moment playing stickball in neighborhood games with kids from every other religious and ethnic background. He had talent, but to make it in Little League he had to play Saturday — and that he couldn’t do.

Alexenberg’s family moved to Israel when he was 16, but he stayed in America to work on his game. He eventually got a tryout with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who directed him to a semipro team in San Diego. He played a year there and also helped coach the San Diego State college team, which rose to number one in the national rankings. After a few years, though, he gave up. “I was very raw talent,” he said. “Baseball is one of those games — from a sporting perspective — that takes years to hone. I realized that pretty quickly, and that’s why I moved on.”

For the past 20 years, Alexenberg has lived in New England, running various technology ventures. Throughout, he never stopped working on his game, and he has been playing in amateur leagues with college kids.

Last fall, when he first heard about tryouts, he was tempted but didn’t have enough faith in his game. Then a new set of tryouts was announced in the very town in Israel where his parents live, Petah Tikvah. His wife pushed him, and he ended up flying over and becoming one of a dozen players chosen from the 70 who showed up.

The league will run for three months this summer and is giving all its players a plane ticket, housing and a weekly paycheck — and there won’t be any games on the Sabbath.

The team on which Alexenberg will play has not yet been established. League officials will make the division of players once they find 120 who are qualified. Alexenberg is likely to be the oldest player on the diamond, but as a pitcher he sees this working to his advantage.

“I have a good moving fastball, but I really use it to set the batters up. I have a very good change-up,” he said. “To me, it’s really an art form.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.