(page 2 of 2)
Still, IAB secretary general Peter Kurz is optimistic about baseball’s chances here. He notes that since the Israel Baseball League’s one season, the number of kids playing baseball in Israel has grown 30 percent, to approximately 1,000. Kurz expects the growth to accelerate should Team Israel qualify for the WBC.
“The only reason we’re playing in this tournament is to promote baseball in Israel,” he said. “The only reason the WBC invited us to compete in this tournament is all the hard work our senior national team has done over the past 20 years.”
The WBC bid is not the first time Israel has fielded a national team in international competition. It regularly sends teams to tournaments in Europe and the United States, and recently Israel hosted the qualifying tournament for the European Championship, where it placed second.
Kurz also is counting on a proposed baseball stadium in the Tel Aviv suburb of Raanana to jump-start the sport’s popularity in Israel. The $4 million project would include a gym, “a clubhouse, a place where guys want to come. You’ve got to have a place where guys can hang out, talk to each other, learn,” he said.
Unlike Kurz, Robbins doesn’t see success in the WBC as a catalyst for growth here. Rather he envisions a program that would bring baseball to schools through a team of coaches. The league will “start to snowball” if a couple thousand children nationwide get a taste of baseball, he said.
“It’s getting out there and showing those kids how fun it is,” Robbins said. “You’re not going to do it by having them see the game. They have to feel what it’s like to catch a ball, to hit a ball.”
Watching games can help, though, said Arye Zacks, who coaches two teams in central Israel’s Modiin, because it exposes young fans to the array of possible scenarios in baseball.
“There’s a lot of baseball situations that the kids don’t recognize because it hasn’t happened to them in a game before,” he said. “A kid growing up surrounded by baseball, they’re familiar with it because they’ve seen so many games on TV.”
But for all the talk of televised games, professional facilities and international championships, Pythons coach Yaniv Rosenfeld said his top priority is what he calls “Zionist baseball,” giving as many Israeli kids as possible a chance to play.
Turning to the field again, Rosenfeld shouts at his pitcher, “Ktzat ricuz!” A little concentration! “It’s all about pitching the strikes!”
Behind him, waiting on the bench, Tal said, “I love this game. I love to bat and the team’s unity.”