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Sunday, May 14, 2006

"If you build what, who will come?"

There is only one thing I miss about living in the states. Maybe by next year that'll change. Saw this article from the NYTIMES.
Israel Dreams Big, as in Big League
By MURRAY CHASS

PEOPLE go to Israel for different reasons. Some go to see historic sites, some go for religious reasons, some go to visit their children and grandchildren. Larry Baras goes to Israel to build a professional baseball league.

Baras, founder and operator of a specialty baking company in Boston, is going to Israel next Thursday for the next step in getting his league ready for what he plans to be its debut next year.

"Hopefully I'm going to select some of the venues," he said in a telephone interview. "As soon as I get some of the venues in place, we'll go after sponsorships and start selling tickets."

The man has an ambitious plan, considering that baseball and Israel usually are not mentioned in the same sentence. But interest in the sport has been growing, and the country has an amateur baseball league and three softball leagues as well as youth leagues.

Given that Israel has no baseball stadiums, Baras's project, especially its estimated time of arrival, may be unrealistic, but a former major league general manager likes the idea so much that he has joined as director of player development.

"I met with Larry and was really impressed with his enthusiasm," Dan Duquette, former general manager of the Boston Red Sox, said yesterday. "The program and the objectives of the league really excited me."

Commissioner Bud Selig is also enthusiastic about the idea. "I am 100 percent not only supportive," he said, "but I have been trying to figure out ways to make it happen. It's a subject very near and dear to my heart."

Duquette, who has created a youth sports academy in the Berkshires in Massachusetts, recalled that when he worked for the Montreal Expos, the owner, Charles Bronfman, talked about "bringing baseball to Israel."

By establishing the league, Baras has another goal: getting Israel into the next World Baseball Classic in 2009.

"We would recruit some Jewish-American major leaguers and minor leaguers," Baras said. He noted that Mike Piazza played for Italy in this year's inaugural classic and said, "They did it with a bit of a stretch. We don't have that stretch. We have the law of return."

Under that concept, any Jew is eligible to become a citizen of Israel. That means an Israeli team could include Kevin Youkilis, Gabe Kapler and Adam Stern of Boston, David Newhan of Baltimore, Shawn Green of Arizona, Brad Ausmus of Houston, Mike Lieberthal of Philadelphia, Jason Marquis of St. Louis, Scott Schoeneweis of Toronto, John Grabow of Pittsburgh and Scott Feldman of Texas.

But first the Israel Baseball League has to come into existence. To achieve that goal, Baras has recruited some impressive non-playing talent.

Besides Duquette, he has Daniel Kurtzer, former United States ambassador to Israel, who is set to be the league's commissioner. As advisers, he has Andrew Zimbalist, the Smith College economist, and Marvin Goldklang, a limited partner in the Yankees and owner of five minor league teams.

"It's a project that is so intriguing to me I have to be involved," Goldklang said. "Whether we can make it happen for 2007 remains to be seen."

In his visit next week, Baras will study soccer stadiums in Israel with the thought of converting them for baseball use for what he expects to be a season of about 48 games with six teams, 20 players to a team.

"From what I have been told," Baras said, "there are some soccer stadiums that seat between 3,000 and 5,000, which is what we're looking for. We're not going to start with Jerusalem and Tel Aviv because they don't have the facilities we're looking for."

Rather, he said, he will look at towns like Bet Shemesh, which is between those two major cities.

"A lot of Americans live there," Baras said. "They have 200-plus kids playing baseball there, and they have a soccer stadium. It's near the main highway, and the train from Jerusalem stops near the stadium, I am told."

Israel may be the land of milk and honey, but it's not a land of baseball players. Where will Baras find them? He plans to model the league on the Italian league, where, he said, 60 percent of the players are from the United States.

Baras, 54, said he would advertise for players in baseball publications and seek minor league players, former players and undrafted college players. Israel has a thriving basketball league populated by many foreign players.

The long-range plan, though, is to grow their own players. Duquette's goal, Baras said, "is to develop players so that by the start of Year 6 at least a quarter of the players will be native Israelis."

Duquette said they will develop players at an academy they will build in Israel. Their timing is good. Israel has just established a sports ministry, and its head has said there will be a new emphasis on sports in the country, especially on sports other than soccer and basketball.

In trying to attract an audience, the Israeli league will also follow the model of the Italian league. There, Baras said, "a lot of the entertainment value transcends the game itself" with pre- and post-game and between-innings entertainment.

"It will be a family-oriented fun venue," he said. "Israeli spectator sports have a male-dominated audience. You seldom see women and children."

Baras, an orthodox Jew, said he came up with the idea for the league last summer.

"My first thought was what can I do to help Israel," he related. "I had reached the stage of my life where I wanted to do something. Being passionate about both Israel and baseball and having familiarity with minor league baseball, specifically unaffiliated baseball, I said, 'Why can't we do that over there?'

"Not only was I met with some skepticism, but I was skeptical," he added. "But as time went on, I realized it could be done."

Now he just has to do it.



Quote is from Field of Dreams (1989)


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The possibility that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just.
– Abraham Lincoln

4 Comments:

At 11:13 AM, May 15, 2006, Blogger westbankmama said...

It sounds great to me. I would hope, though, that the games would not be on Shabbat, and that it remains "family entertainment" - not like the soccer games which I won't let my kids go to - too much violence.

 
At 11:21 AM, May 15, 2006, Blogger Jerusalemcop said...

u and me both. I was talking to a friend about this subject just yesterday. Hopefully, the fact that Baras is religious will make a difference about shabbat.

J.

 
At 1:27 AM, June 11, 2006, Blogger Kippy18 said...

This will be the best thing that could happen to Israeli culture. Religious and not as religious, Jews, Christians enjoying the same thing. Etc etc etc. We all live together. Maybe this can bridge some things.

 
At 2:53 PM, November 06, 2006, Blogger Kippy18 said...

Saw this recently. From NY Daily News 11/5/06
Israel Baseball League--

Baseball on the West Bank?

Former Red Sox and Expos general manager Dan Duquette believes the land of Abraham and David will become the next nation to embrace the game of Ruth and Aaron.

Duquette is the personnel director for the Israel Baseball League, a new professional circuit scheduled to begin play in June.

"Israel is in a key geographic area for the international expansion of baseball," Duquette tells The Score. "If the game takes root there it can expand to Africa and the Middle East."

Soccer and basketball have long been Israel's dominant sports - the nation didn't even have a baseball diamond until 1979 - but thousands of Israeli kids participate in youth softball and baseball leagues. Six IBL teams will play 48-game schedules, and Duquette says Israeli baseball will be comparable to Single-A ball.

That's OK with league founder Larry Baras, a Boston entrepreneur who wants the league to put the emphasis on fan-involvement and entertainment. Baseball, Baras believes, can help build community in a nation with deep-rooted religious and ethnic tensions.

U.S. and Israeli companies have signed on as sponsors and Israeli municipal governments are providing stadiums, Duquette says. The league will initially own the teams but plans to eventually sell shares in the franchises.

"There's a lot of interest in fielding an Israeli team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic," Duquette says. "Jewish players from Major League Baseball - guys like Shawn Green and Mike Lieberthal - could play, just like Mike Piazza played for Italy in this year's WBC."

Duquette expects most of the IBL's players will initially come from the United States.

 

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