David Schenker is Maccabiah Baseball’s tournament director for the fifth(ish) time. He talks to us about the upcoming tournament and his life in baseball in Israel.
The recently turned 70 David Schenker is operating with the energy and determination of someone half his age as he plans and co-ordinates the upcoming Maccabiah baseball tournament. For as long as the Maccabiah has offered baseball as one of its many sports, Schenker has been in charge as Baseball Tournament Director. This year is no exception as the tournament will begin on July 5 at the Baptist Village in Petah Tikvah.
David, a native of Linden, New Jersey, played ball as a kid. When David started studying at Yeshiva College, where the only sports on offer were wrestling and basketball, he was asked to start a team with practices once a week. “I told them that with only one practice a week we wouldn’t be able to beat the local little league team,” he says laconically. So, from then onward, until he was living in Israel, his connection with baseball was as a spectator only.
David and his family made Aliyah in 1981, and after a few years in Ra’anana, moved to Karnei Shomron. It was there that he started making his real impact on baseball, when the neighbors’ kids started showing an interest in starting a team. “We eventually put together about 6 teams, where each team was made up of different age groups,” he recalls. “10-year-olds were playing on the same team as 15-year olds.”
Along with IAB veterans Leon Klarfeld and Sam Pelter, they formed the first Israel Association of Baseball (IAB) Board of Directors to try to run the fledgling operation. The beginnings were rocky. “We played on lots covered with garbage that I would have to clear up before games,” says Schenker. “We had no funds for equipment, and people we knew who traveled to the US would each come back with a few balls that we could use. It was amazing what we could do with no resources, and from there, we grew.”
Three years after setting up the program, the IAB put together the first national team and flew to Ramstein in Germany to compete in 1989. David accompanied the team as assistant coach. “We played against the Saudi team, which was made up solely of the kids of Americans who were working there. They beat us 51-0!” Since those early days, when winning was a distant dream and players who kept kosher had to bring along their own suitcase of kosher food, the national team program has grown significantly. Teams have racked up far better results, including golds and MVP awards, kosher food is provided, and David has been a fixture, coaching national teams for more years than he can recall.
Meanwhile, the IAB grew into a solid organization that could fund itself and expand. In 2001, baseball was included in the Maccabiah for the first time and David was to be the first Tournament Director. Unfortunately, David explains, it was during the second Intifada, and the participating teams withdrew, so the tournament was cancelled. Instead, the Israel Team traveled to Philadelphia to play at a JCC tournament.
Four years later, and the first Maccabiah baseball tournament finally became a reality, with David at the helm as Tournament Director. “That was the toughest Maccabiah because we had to invent everything,” he says. The tournament, held at the Baptist Village, was between teams from Israel, Canada and the US. The coach of Team USA in 2005 was Jerry Weinstein, who coached Team Israel at the World Baseball Classic qualifiers and tournament in 2016 and 2017.
The 2009 tournament came on the heels of the Israel Baseball League, which had renovated the Sportek, Tel Aviv field, so the tournament was held there. That year, Mexico joined the tournament. Four years later, the tournament returned to the Baptist Village, where Team Israel had a strong showing against the experienced teams from the US and Canada. “That was a really successful tournament,” says David. “We had a strong team and hundreds of spectators every day.”
While the IAB has been going strong for over 30 years, this year’s tournament is once again in the hands of the veterans. Along with David, Leon Klarfeld is the tournament’s Technical Director, and Haim Katz, former IAB President and founding member, is the head scorer. And the tournament could not be in better hands. David is looking forward to the best baseball Maccabiah since 2005. “I’m expecting that it will be run professionally and the teams will play good baseball. I just want everyone to come and have a good time.”
The tournament starts on July 5 at 11:00am at the Baptist Village. Full schedule details on the home page of the IAB website.