As head coach of the Israel Senior National Team, in the run-up to the qualifying tournaments for the 2020 Olympics Games in Tokyo, Eric Holtz has a lot of work ahead of him getting the team ready for one of the greatest challenges any Israeli baseball team has faced. He’s not daunted. The White Plains, New York native takes it in his stride. He’s currently on a visit to Israel where he is coaching the National Team.

Eric led the Senior National Team to a second-place finish in the 2017 B Pool of the European Championships in Serbia. Now, with the addition of 14 new olim from the US, and a higher level of local baseball in Israel, he’s looking to move the team further ahead with a win in the B-Pool in July, and a high placing in the A-Pool in September, which will earn Team Israel a spot in the Olympic Qualifiers.

He’s clear on how Team Israel will make it to the Olympic Games. “I don't want to sound cliché, but our pitchers need to dominate on the mound, we have to defend the ball, and score runs in bunches,” he notes. “The game doesn't change ever, only the level of play in the speed of the game that changes.”

His deep connection to Israel goes back many years. He was bar mitzvahed in 1978 at the Western Wall. He played in the now defunct Israel Baseball League (IBL) in 2007 as a 41-year-old rookie player/coach. Six years later, he was back as the coach of the 2013 Team USA Maccabiah baseball team. His current position as head coach of the Senior National Team has created an even deeper bond with Israel Baseball, one he juggles with his full-time job as owner and operator of the Game on 13 baseball academy in New York. “It gives me an incredible sense of pride to be involved with both the board of the Israel Association of Baseball and the fine young men that I have the opportunity to work with as well as coach,” he enthuses. “I am thrilled to keep roots in Israel through baseball and help build the sport that I love so very much, and I am very optimistic.”

On arriving in Israel, Eric was ready to get to work. “I look forward to being able to work with some of the up-and-coming, aspiring baseball players during my time in Israel,” he says. His focus will not only be on the Senior National Team while he’s in Israel. “In addition to seeing, scouting and evaluating the players for the Senior National Team and I am also truly looking forward to working with the younger teams to see what the future holds for the 12, 14, 16, and 18 and under national teams as well.”

He has already proven himself to be an inspirational coach and mentor to scores of Israeli baseball players. His sage advice to them: “Work hard to challenge yourself every day. If things are coming too easily, then you have to make your workouts harder play against better competition and figure out what you can do to get better every day. This is not only about aspiring baseball players, but this is about life and my approach and outlook on life. If you aren’t getting better, then your competition is. I've got a wake up every day and figure out what I can do to get myself better which in turn helps my team get better. Don't rest, figure out how to push yourself one aspect of your life every day. Get bigger, stronger, faster. Spend time in the gym. Ask questions of your coaches, go onto YouTube and see what else you can be doing to get better.”

Once the Olympic effort is over, Eric will continue being a valuable member of the Israel Baseball family. “I am incredibly excited that the IAB has already requested that I stay on and try and help develop the game way after the Olympics is over,” he notes. “I'm looking forward to an incredibly bright future.”

Israel baseball is only three months away from vying for a coveted spot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. If successful, it will be the only team that Israel will ever have entered into the Olympic games. But the road to Tokyo is long, and Israel Association of Baseball President Peter Kurz, who is the team’s general manager, has a lot on his plate. He spoke to us about this exciting journey.

How is Team Israel shaping up as we approach the summer tournament?
I am quite confident that if we don’t have any further injuries (unfortunately our potential first baseman and closer had surgery for a torn hamstring) we will definitely be a competitive team. The B Pool tournament (of the European Championships) in July is shaping up to have a higher competitive level than half of the A Pool in September, with Ireland, Greece, Serbia and Russia having very strong squads. It won’t be easy to win this division, but we have also improved with our new immigrants from the US adding a much higher level of play that is pulling up the whole team. Add to that our younger Sabra ex-sportaim, who are now playing in American Junior Colleges and in Japan and are vastly improved, and we have a much stronger team than the team that came in second to Austria two years ago at the B Pool of the European Championships. I am very satisfied with our pitching staff and I feel confident that we have legitimate relief pitchers who can step in for our starters and be even more stingy. The guys are excited and Eric Holtz, the manager, will have a strong, committed and broad roster of players to choose from. This is the first tournament that I have been involved in where there will be real competition to see who will be on the roster. The advantage is that we will have four tournaments this summer and everyone will be in the mix.

How are the fundraising efforts going?
Unfortunately, they are not going as well as I had hoped. We are three months from the tournament and do not yet have the funds to send a complete team. I am thankful for the generosity of those who have already donated, but upset that I still need to deal with this issue and solicit help. I know that as the team wins and advances, it will be easier getting financial help, but if we cannot send the squad that we need to win, how will we advance? I am now in discussions regarding a number of fundraisers in the US in May, but we are still actively soliciting donations and anyone reading this who wants to donate can send funds via https://www.jewcer.org/project/israelbaseballolympics/

How do you think the US players who have made Aliyah to be on Team Israel will contribute?
As of now they are certainly raising the playing level with their professionalism, making the bar that much higher and requiring the other players to improve their play as well. I think it also exemplifies the possibilities for future collaboration between native Israelis and the American Jewish community, and how cooperation in the realm of sports can enable Team Israel to compete at international levels. The Jewish nation is only about 15 million people world-wide, more or less, and if we can compete as an international baseball powerhouse, together, under the Israeli flag, the old adage of Jews not being quality sportsman will be wiped away.

What do you think about the level of the Israeli-born players who are on Team Israel?
They are vastly improved. Let’s not forget, ALL the players on Team Israel are Israeli, but some are Sabras, some are veterans of European championships, and some are new Olim. The level of play of the entire team has increased rapidly and our young Israelis, led by Dean Kremer playing for the Orioles, but also Tal Erel and Asaf Lowengart in USA JuCos and Noam Calissar, now playing in Japan (and all ex-IDF sportaim), have improved ten-fold. In the local Israeli leagues, we also have some new players who are on the expanded roster, and most of our veteran players, both in Israel and the US, are back and in better playing shape than ever.

How do you think Israel baseball will benefit from the efforts being put into sending a team to the Olympics?
There is no doubt that the Olympics are the pinnacle of sports viewership in Israel. An Israeli baseball team, competing in the Olympics, will have the entire country riveted to their TV sets watching and learning the game, just as Maccabi Tel Aviv increased the exposure of basketball to the Israeli public in the 1970s. My goal is to have 2,500 baseball players in Israel by 2021, and with the potential exposure of the Olympics and the WBC, along with the opening of new fields in Ra’anana and Bet Shemesh, Israel Baseball will be on the “mappa” of the Israeli, and international, sports scenes.

If you had to choose between watching a Mets game or a Team Israel game, what would it be? (Kurz is a rabid Mets fan.)
No contest. The Mets play 162 games a year, but my dream is to see Team Israel play 30 games this summer and advance in 2020 to the Tokyo Olympics!

The Capital City Reds is a summer team for players from colleges located in Ottawa, Canada’s capital. The team recruits players from throughout the United States and Canada, as well as from other parts of the world, including Central America. For the first time, the Reds have recruited a player from Israel – David Ibn Ezra.

David is currently serving in the Israel Defense Forces as a sportsman for baseball. He started playing baseball at the age of 11 for the Tel Aviv Comrades, and has played for many years on national teams. Today, he plays in the Israel Baseball Premier League for the Jerusalem Lions.

The head coach for the Reds was alerted to David after seeing his recruiting video on YouTube. “He contacted me and told me that he was impressed with me,” David recalls. “After asking some questions and consulting with the leadership of Israel Baseball and national team coaches, I decided to join the team.”

The team plays in the best summer leagues in New York – PGCBL and NYCBL. In addition, they play again local Canadian teams.David

With his current commitments to the IDF and to the Israel Baseball Senior National Team, David had to find a way to play with the Reds during their season. “The Reds have a two-month season, from the end of May till the end of June,” he explains. “In order to be part of the Israel Senior National Team that’s playing in the European Championships at the beginning of July, and as a result my army limitations, I decided to participate for half the season, with permission from the team coach. There are 50 games in the season, so in half I season I will get to play a significant number of games. While I am there, I will live with a host family.” In order to play with the team, David will receive special leave from the army, supported by the Israel Association of Baseball.

This opportunity will be a great boost for David in the future: “I finish my army service this November and my plan is to play collage ball in the US afterwards, just as other Israel Baseball army sportsmen have when they finished the army. It’s a great opportunity for me to learn from experienced coaches and players and to play on a very high level every day. I believe that the professional experience I gain with the Reds will prepare me well to assist the Israel Senior National Team as it works towards reaching the Olympics in 2020. I will also be exposed to college coaches and get help from the Reds in finding a college. Many players have been able to get collage scholarships via the Reds. The professional staff of the IAB and the coaches have supported me and helped me understand the importance of this opportunity.”

In a Facebook post, the Reds wrote about David: “The Capital City Reds have always liked recruiting players from all over the world and this time we are going to Israel for the first time! Please welcome OF David Ibn Ezra to the squad! At a young age he already has International experience having played on the Israeli National team.”

“David is an excellent example of a successful baseball army sportsman,” notes Peter Kurz, President of the IAB. “He has always been a player with a high level of commitment and puts in a lot of hard work developing his skills. He also always contributes to the IAB as a player and a coach. I am confident that he will enrich the Capital City Reds and will be a great ambassador for Israel Baseball abroad.”

Come out and watch the opening game of the Spring seaons of the Premier League. For the first time, Misgav will have a team in the league and they are going to take on Tel Aviv on March 10 at the Baptist Village at 19:15. A team of announcers will be calling the game live. You can also follow the action on GameChanger.

The Premier League is in action every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday through June. For the schedule, click here. Come and support your team. 

Seeing the Israeli flag waving over the baseball diamond at the Tokyo Olympics is a dream for every Jewish baseball fan. The Israel Association of Baseball has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help us send Team Israel to three tournaments we have to win in order to be able to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. With your help, we can raise the finds that will enable us to compete to reach the Olympic Games.

These tournaments are being played around Europe at different stages of 2019. We have to win these tournaments to earn a coveted spot at the Olympic Games.

We need to raise the funds that will help 25 players and coaching staff get to the tournaments. Our expenses include: Air travel and local transportation, accommodation, food, uniforms and equipment, and pre-tournament practice and training expenses including field rentals.

Team Israel includes 10 professional American Jewish players who have made Aliyah to be part of Team Israel for the Olympics.

The incredible success of Team Israel in the 2017 World Baseball Classic is still clear in our memories. Seeing an Israeli team on the global stage of the Olympic Games will be a dream for every Jewish baseball fan. Our local players were inspired and enriched by seeing Team Israel on a global stage, and it motivated them to become even better players themselves.

Seeing an Israeli team at the Olympic Games will be as emotional and exciting an event as we have ever seen in Israel baseball. But we cannot do this without your help. By contributing to our crowdfunding campaign with a tax-free donation, you can share in this fantastic journey and in the future success of Team Israel Baseball at the 2020 Olympic Games.

Click here to donate - https://www.jewcer.org/project/israelbaseballolympics/

 

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