The Israel Association of Baseball has finalized and signed a contract with the city of Ra'anana to build a new baseball field in Park Ra'anana. The field will be named after Ezra Schwartz, z"l, who was killed in a terror attack in 2015 while in Israel from the US on a yeshiva program. 

The plan was approved by the Ra'anana city council on July 24.

"This will allow us to have our own full sized field, to host international and European tournaments, to have a field for the National Teams to practice on and to have a field where we could hold Premier League games at night," explains Peter Kurz, IAB President. "This also gives us the opportunity to expand our program in Ra'anana and in the surrounding Sharon region, where we have been quite limited over the last two years after our field was appropriated by the Israel lands authority." 

There will be a big push next year to expand the program in the Sharon area, with outreach to schools, community centers (matnassim) and other after-school programs. 

The location in the western part of the city is excellent for a sports facility, There is good transportation to Park Ra'anana and a train station will soon be built there. In the new facility, to be built as a multi-purpose facility for soccer and baseball, the plan is to have clubhouse facilities and rest rooms, batting cages and bull pens. Under consideration are also a players lounge, clubhouse, and work-out facility for players. The field should be available for use in the fall of 2019.

"The Ra'anana field, along with the field to be built in Bet Shemesh, will provide the IAB with three full-sized, adult facilities with lights, and the possibility of expanding and developing our Premier league to a new professional league," notes Kurz. "In this way, we hope to reach our dual goals of providing a much higher level of baseball in Israel, and also growing to at least 2,500 players playing in the Israeli leagues. Baseball will then become the third largest team sport in Israel."

To show our appreciation for the hard work our coaches put in throughout the year, the IAB held a Coach Appreciation Day on Friday, June 29 at the Baptist Village. Over 25 coaches from around the country participated. "Our coaches are the heart and soul of our organization and work so hard every week of the year to get the players ready for game season, and support their teams throughout the year," says Director of Baseball Operations Justin Peedin. "This was a very small gesture of thank you to them for everything they do." 

The event started with the coaches being divided into two teams representing the Sharon and the rest of Israel. They took to the field for a very friendly game of softball for baseball coaches. Home runs were abundant, with our Director of Baseball Operations crushing one over the fence. Coaches Yonatan Schechter from Ra'anana and Ori Wachspress from Modiin also added to the balls sent out of the park.

Our coaches tried their best to pitch underarm, and threw some strikes as well. Knee braces, ice packs and a lot of puffing and panting were the order of the day. Both teams scored "a lot of runs" and the final score remained a mystery. The coaches all had a great time taking the field for a change instead of calling plays from the side lines.

The very friendly game was followed by a high quality barbecue, expertly prepared and grilled by Sharon Regional Director Mel Levi and sous Chef Justin. The day was a great success and registration for the 2019 even is already open!

For more pictures from the event, click here.

Over 70 players from the Israel baseball Enrichment Program were treated to a special practice run by former Atlanta Braves center fielder Andruw Jones on June 10 at the Baptist Village. Visiting Israel on vacation, Jones, 41, made a special effort to come and coach the local players. He was visiting with friend and sports agent Orlando Cepeda Jr. Currently serving as Special Assistant to the Braves General Manager, Jones focuses on working with kids around the world, and on developing the sport.

Born and raised on the small Caribbean island of Curaçao, Jones was only 16 years old when he signed with the Atlanta Braves organization as a free agent in 1993. He debuted with the Braves in 1996, and in the World Series that year, Jones became the youngest player ever to hit a home run in the postseason, and the second player ever to homer in his first two World Series at bats. He added a long list of achievements in his 11 years with the Braves, including 5-Time All-Star (2000, 2002–03, 2005–06); 10-Time NL Gold Glove Award Winner (1998-2007); leading the majors with 51 home runs in 2005; NL Silver Slugger Award in 2005, NL Hank Aaron Award as the league's best offensive player in 2005; and many more. Between 2008 and 2012 he played for the LA Dodgers, the Texas Rangers, the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees.

Jones also played on the Netherlands national team in 2013 the World Baseball Classic and was a bench coach for Team Netherlands at the 2017 WBC. He fondly recalls that Team Israel 2017 manager Jerry Weinstein was his coach in junior college in 1989-90.

During his trip, he spent time in Jerusalem, the Dead Sea and even at the border with Syria. He and Orlando were excited by the local food, especially the hummus. Jones even hinted that he is looking forward to coming back to Israel.
During the practice, he shared his knowledge and experience, working one-on-one with the players and focusing on the fundamentals. He also answered players’ questions during a Q&A and signed every last autograph.
After the practice, Jones was positive about what he had seen. “There’s talent, I can see the passion in their eyes to get better. They listen and are willing to learn. Some are raw and some have it. It’s about being patient, helping them, and preaching the eight thing so they can understand the game.” He is optimistic about the Israel Baseball trajectory: “If they keep playing, one day there will play a player (from Israel) in the major leagues.”

Once again, the Israel Association of Baseball will be offering 4 weeks of ‎summer vacation baseball this year. All sessions will take place at Kibbutz Gezer:

Week 1: July 1-5‎, 8:30-13:30
Week 2: July 8-12‎, 8:30-13:30
Week 3: August 5-9‎‎, 8:30-13:30
Week 4: August 12-16‎, 8:30-13:30‎

Registration is now open - go to "Summer Training Camps". Early bird specials apply for those who register before June 1, after which the prices will be adjusted. Sibling discounts of 10% apply.

The camps are open to players from minors through juniors (ages 8-16)‎. Players can join for all or any of the weeks. Players will have pool time every day.

The staff will include top ‎coaches from our ‎organization.‎ This is an excellent way for ‎players to increase their skill levels and have a lot of fun in the process. Bring along friends and family, as the camps are a great opportunity for new players to ‎gain baseball knowledge before starting to play for the first time.‎

For more information, email Justin Peedin - justin@baseball.org.il 

 

In early April, former Houston Astros and more importantly, Team Israel WBC pitcher Josh Zeid announced that he was retiring from professional baseball. We chatted with him about his experiences with Team Israel.

Seoul, Korea, March 6, 2017, top of the 10th inning in the World Baseball Classic opening game between Team Israel and top ranked Team Korea in Pool A. Israel pitcher Josh Zeid is sitting to the side of the Team Israel dugout, alone, deep in thought, as his batters tried their best to capitalize on a meager one run lead, in a charged 2-1 game. The run batted in with two outs at the top of the 10th by Scott Burcham had edged them ahead, but the Israel batters couldn’t expand on the lead, leaving Zeid with everything to pitch for in the bottom of the 10th. A win for Israel here significantly increased Israel’s chances of making it to the second round of the tournament.

Anyone attempting to approach Zeid in those moments, would have been repelled by a force field of unadulterated concentration. His task was daunting – holding back the home team that had reached the final round of the previous WBC in 2013. The packed stadium was roaring in unison for their team to win. Zeid had the specter of a loss in the final game of the 2012 WBC qualifier looming in his memory – was the losing pitcher in that game, he took it personally. For Zeid, his part in Team Israel’s redemption at the 2016 qualifiers in Brooklyn was only one piece of the puzzle. Now, at the main event, this was his moment.Josh portrait

With a slender one-run lead in hand at the end of top 10 for Team Israel, the 1.93m Zeid glided onto the mound in the Gocheok Sky Dome. The crowds were screaming for Koren runs, the reverberating din was unstoppable. Zeid was unfazed. “What’s going through my head?” Josh thinks back, “I’ve worked so hard to get back to this position. So many games have been played since I lost the qualifier in 2012 and so much has happened just so I could play on this team again, that I knew this was my game. It didn’t matter if I went over the 50-pitch count, I was going to make the last out.” And he did. 

The first Korean batter up Geonchang Seo lined out to shortstop Burcham for the first out. Jaewon Oh then drew seven pitches from Zeid before the strikeout. Two outs - Dae-Ho Lee faced four pitches for a 2-2 count before swinging and missing for Korea’s third out and a glorious victory for Israel. Zeid released his tension with a now-iconic roar, clenched fist and a run over to Team Israel catcher and close friend Ryan Lavarnway for an ecstatic embrace.
Zeid put up three scoreless innings. The bookies were in dismay – Israel had come into the tournament at 200-1 odds to win. This had all changed with Zeid’s final pitch. The global smirks and titters about Team Israel quickly turned into raised eyebrows and changed tunes. All at once, Israel was a force to be 

reckoned with, and Zeid was a pitcher to take notice of.

He had only pitched 49 pitches, just one under the WBC’s limit, allowing him to pitch 3 days later against Netherlands. And, after an easy win against Chinese Taipei the day before, Team Israel won the Netherlands game too, swept Pool A and sent to Pool B in Tokyo in first place.Josh Nick

It was a triumphant tournament for all the Team Israel players. But after beating Cuba in an astounding first game of Pool B at the Tokyo Dome, Israel couldn’t keep the momentum going, losing to a revenge-seeking Netherlands and then to home team Japan. But its 4 wins placed Israel sixth overall. When the tournament was over, the WBC published it’s 2017 All-World Baseball Classic Team, a virtual roster of the top 12 players in the tournament. On the list were players including Yadier Molina, Eric Hosmer, Carlos Beltran…and Josh Zeid.

“Validation” was the word Josh uses to describe the feeling of being listed among the top 12 players in the world. “My career has been up and down to say the least. I got to live out a dream that millions of boys and men from all over the world have of playing in the Major Leagues. But even though my experience was awesome, I didn’t have the most successful tenure in the big leagues. And since then it’s resulted in losing my job on three separate occasions. But getting named to the All World Team made me feel like the work I’ve put in since I was 5 years old and the support that my parents and family and wife Stephanie have given me, was recognized. It was a moment I’ll never be able to top.”

Sharing the Experience

Josh KoreaOn and off the field, in the club house and wherever Josh went, he didn’t stop smiling and embracing the Team Israel WBC moments. “I loved every second of being on Team Israel. Being on a team of 28 players and coaches who all come from similar backgrounds and beliefs is truly a once in a lifetime experience.”

The Zeid/Lavarnway pitcher/catcher partnership spilled off the field and into their down time, from Brooklyn, to Israel, to Asia. “Meeting and becoming best friends with Ryan Lavarnway has to be one of my top moments,” he says. “The relationship we built off the field in New York during the qualifiers, and in Israel and Korea, led to me being an unbelievably confident pitcher on the mound and maybe doing more than I even knew I was capable of. It turned facing South Korea into a fun game, not stressful, and it made one of the scariest games in the world against Japan, an uphill battle, one that as a pitcher and catcher we were able to navigate pretty well for four innings.” In fact, Zeid threw four scoreless innings against Japan, his fastball hit 96 mph, and Israel held onto a scoreless fifth inning before Japan’s bats came alive for the 8-3 win.Josh

Lavarnway, who was named MVP of Pool A, is enthusiastic about his friend and team mate. “Josh pours so much of himself into everything he does,” he enthuses about Zeid. “He makes you want to give your best in return. His passion is infectious. His baseball talent is obvious. And he is incredibly humble and competitive. He has a beautiful, wonderful family and they mean everything to him. He’s everything you could want in a friend and a teammate.”

Giving and Receiving

As a member of Team Israel 2012, 2016 and 2017, Josh is one of the stalwarts, along with a small group of players - Nick Rickles Shlomo Lipetz, Cody Decker and Nate Freiman. Josh’s part in the 2017 tournament was decisive, but he is quick to note that while he did contribute to the team, the experience benefited him as well. “Being part of Team Israel kept me playing. I didn’t play well in 2012 and parts of 2014, 2015 and even 2016,” Josh acknowledges, “but I refused to give up. I knew that I needed to represent Israel in the WBC and I had to earn my spot. So, I pushed and pushed until I knew I could be an important part of the team. Playing for Team Israel made me a better competitor and fighter in times when I thought I shouldn’t give up playing in between losing in 2012 and the next qualifier in 2016. I am so thankful for the whole team Israel Experience.”

IAB President Peter Kurz, who was also the General Manager of Team Israel in 2012, 2016 and 2017 says, “Zeid has been one of Team Israel’s All-Stars since 2012. With our loss in the final game of the 2012 qualifier weighing heavily on him, he set the tone for the team at the 2016 Brooklyn qualifiers when he gave the players the motivational speech of a lifetime, taking personal responsibility for what happened. He was looking for redemption and swept the whole team up in his fierce determination to win – and it worked.”

Zeid on Israel

Josh camelJosh was born in 1987 in New Haven, Connecticut and grew up in a Jewish family, attended Hebrew school, and had a bar mitzvah. Zeid deepened his connection to Israel when he traveled to Israel in January 2017 with the group of 10 MLB and former MLB players, most of whom were to play in the WBC tournament. Joined by his wife Stephanie, he embraced everything Israel had to offer, from eating steaming hot rugelach straight from the oven in Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehudah market, slathering himself with Dead Sea mud, haggling over souvenirs in the Old City, and signing autographs for hundreds of young Israeli baseball players (and their parents). He describes the trip as an eye opener. “I can’t wait to go back. Israel is a magical place and I can’t wait for baseball to become a national pastime there. My wife and I can’t wait to go back and learn more.”

As for the local baseball program, Josh was excited about what he saw when he and the rest of the players came out to meet the kids at a practice at the Baptist Village in Petah Tikvah. “The passion was outstanding,” he enthuses. “The kids love the game, they just needed more reasons to love the game they do. And hopefully we were able to give that to them.” When asked if he sees himself continuing to be a part of Israel Baseball, Josh modestly replies: “I hope so. If they’ll have me. Just because I’m retiring from professional baseball doesn’t mean I’m retired from baseball…!”

Next Steps

Zeid halloffameWhile Josh hung up his glove as a professional ball player in early April, he’s not leaving baseball behind. “I’m taking my time deciding,” he says. “I’m having fun helping kids play baseball at the local level, but I’ve got other things in the works too. So, the future will be fun.” He’s teamed up with fellow Team Israel player Nate Freiman hosting the live video app talk show “The Launch Angle” on Francred.com. As Zeid chats to Freiman about the topic of the day in the MLB, his Team Israel jersey is hanging up behind him, a continuing nod to his ongoing connection. He wears his connection to the team on his sleeve – his Twitter profile picture shows the clenched fist victory roar at the end of the Israel Korea game, and pinned to the top of his Twitter page is the picture of his Team Israel hat on display in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. 

And as one of the stars in the “Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel” documentary that’s doing the rounds of the Jewish film festivals in the US and will be shown in Israel in May, Zeid has attended many of the screenings and participated in the panel discussions in several theaters around the US, where, he says he’s “sharing the once in a lifetime experience with anyone who will listen.”

“On the field,” say Kurz,” Zeid is an exceptionally talented pitcher as we all witnessed; off the field, he is one of the finest people you will ever meet. We wish him all the very best in the next stage of his career and life, and we look forward to Israel Baseball’s continuing close relationship with him.”

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