Team Israel Bulgaria 2019

The qualifying rounds for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics began last week in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria, with the opening of the European Championship B Pool.   Every player on the team has to be an Israeli citizen. 12 Jewish American baseball players, including 6 players from the Team Israel WBC team, made Aliyah last year and became Israeli citizens. This team is a cocktail blend of native Israeli ballplayers who developed in the IAB program and American professional ball players. 

The other teams - Bulgaria, Greece, Ireland, Serbia and Russia - also had an abundance of American’s on their squads and the games were very well played.  Israel defeated each of them in the first round of action, soundly making its mark as the best team in the tournament.  The finals between Israel and Russia was a nail biter till the last out.  The Team Israel starting pitcher, Joey Wagman, was literally knocked out, as a batted ball hit him squarely on the back, and Israel found itself down 3-2 in the 8th inning.  Simon Rosenbaum tied it up with a home run that inning, and 2 passed balls brought in the winning runs, as Israel held on to win 5-3. 

Blake Gailen was the well-deserved MVP for Team Israel with a .571 batting average, ably helped by Mitch Glasser, Zach Penprase, Rob Paller, and Rosenbaum, as well as pitchers Gabe Cramer, Corey Baker, Matt Soren, and Jonathan DeMarte.  The Israeli-born ballplayers, Tal Erel, Asaf Lowengart, Noam Calisar, Ophir Katz, Shlomo Lipetz, Alon Leichman, and Dan Rothem, all products of the IAB development program, played key roles in all the victories and were the most delirious after the game, having collectively suffered through at least 100 tournaments before reaching this level.

Next, Israel will face Lithuania in the playoffs to see who moves up to Pool A.

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The Senior National Team will play its first game in the Confederation of European Baseball’s (CEB) European Championships B Pool tomorrow in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria against Team Greece tomorrow, July 1, 2019. This is the first step towards qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.

Winning the tournament in Blagoevgrad will move Team Israel forward to a playoff against the winner of the second Pool B pool, and the winner of that series will move up to Pool A, to be played in early September. The top five teams from the A Pool will advance to the Olympics qualifiers to be played in Parma, Italy in late September.

Included in the 24-man roster are Blake Gailen, playing AAA with the Dodgers; Corey Baker, a retired AAA player; Zach Penprase, a retired A player, and long-time Independent Ball player; Matt Soren and Jeremy Wolf, retired A players; Jonathan DeMarte, Rob Paller, Mitch Glasser, current Independent players; ex-college D1 players Shlomo Lipetz, Alon Leichman, Dean Pelman, Ryan Willen, Eric Brodkowitz, Simon Rosenbaum, and Dan Rothem; current college players, Danny Grillo, Tal Erel, Asaf Lowengart; and Japanese league player Noam Calisar. Team Israel's head coach is Eric Holtz.

Ophir Katz, Calisar, Erel, Lowengart, Leichman, Lipetz and Rothem started their baseball careers in Israel baseball and have all gained international experience to boost the team.

Peter Kurz, IAB president and general manager of Team Israel, says, “This team represents the best of Israel Baseball, with players who have vast experience both on the professional stage as well as in colleges. With Team Israel’s great 6th place finish in the 2018 WBC tournament, after beating some of the top teams in the world, still fresh in their minds, their motivation is at an all-time high to represent Israel on this international stage and to go all the way to Tokyo in 2020.”

The IAB will also be sending an Under 18 team to a CEB European Championship tournament for the first time. The team will be playing in Sundbyberg, Sweden from July 8 to qualify for a place in next year’s U18 tournament. The team has a strong core of players who have come up through the Israel Baseball Academy.

Tal And Assaf

Tal Erel, 23, and Assaf Lowengart, 21, grew up in Israel Baseball. After finishing his service in the IDF, Tal went to college in Florida to play baseball, and Assaf is currently completing his service as an IDF baseball sportsman, and just returned from a college stint the US. Now they’re back and will be representing Israel in the B Pool of the European Championships in Bulgaria next week, where the team will start its journey towards reaching the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. We caught up with the two of them.

Tal, tell us about your experiences as an Israeli player in college in the US
As an Israeli player, you are there as a double representative. First, you represent yourself as a player, a person and second, as an Israeli. Many people ask me about Israel and about baseball in Israel. You have to prove yourself there in order to play. Practices are six hours every day and there are five games a week. In addition, you also have to focus on academics to get your degree.

Assaf, what have you been doing over the past few months?
I reached an agreement with the IDF to get special leave that I am owed as a sportsman in the army for the fall season, and for the spring semester I received a service postponement, so I became a civilian for this period.
In the past year, I played at San Joaquin Delta College in California. I also worked out with the team, and I studied over two semesters to start my BA. The practices are very intense, in addition to the games and working out in the gym as a team. During the season, there are around 40-50 games, three games a week on average. My team finished in fourth place in California.
I’ve now returned to finish the rest of my army service. I will be released by October this year and I will return to college for the start of the 2019 fall semester. Assaf Delta

What was your experience of being a sportsman in the army?
Assaf: I had a very positive experience. I was given the rare opportunity to represent the State of Israel as a baseball player outside Israel’s borders while at the same time I represented the country as a soldier sportsman. There aren’t many IDF sportsmen, so to be part of this small group that is awarded this status makes me proud. I was also able to play abroad with local teams in several countries, including Czech Republic and Germany.

What are your plans now?
Assaf: After I am released from the army, I plan on returning to finish the second year of my degree and to transfer to a university with a four year program to finish my degree. I am in a junior college, which enables me to play for two years. When I finish my degree, I will continue with my baseball career.
Tal: In the short term, I am transferring to Lynn University in Florida. My goal is to win a championship with the university and to get my BA and MBA there. In the long term, I want to take all I have learned from everyone I’ve met and return to Israel to develop baseball here so that others can enjoy it as much as I have.

How do you feel about the European Championships?
Tal: Two years ago, I was injured, and I couldn’t play. Four years ago, I played in a position I don’t usually play in. This time, after many years, the time has come for me to prove myself, but ultimately, the team goal is to win the tournament.
Assaf: I am very excited. It’s been a long time since I’ve played with Team Israel and I can’t wait to get back into the blue and white uniform and represent Israel. Every moment I practice I imagine myself playing for Team Israel, so you could say that I have been planning for this tournament for eight years, since I first played for a national team. From the first time I played for Team Israel I didn’t want to stop, and I have wanted to represent Israel ever since. Tal1

What do you think about the players on Team Israel?
Assaf: I think this team has everything we need. The new players will give the team a great boost and I hope this will give us the push we need to finally win the championship. The player I most look forward to playing with in the tournament is (Team Israel veteran) Dan Rothem.
Tal: We all have the same goal – to win. We are all playing for Israel. We failed three times already to move up to Pool A, but this time I’m confident that we’ll succeed. I am most excited about playing with Alon Leichman. The last time we played together was six years ago in Slovenia. We have a great relationship that will prove itself on the field.

What are you most looking forward to in the tournament?
Tal: To win!
Assaf: I’m looking forward to singing Hatikvah before the first game, and then everything will be back to normal. It’s the same game as always. The pitcher is 60 feet and 6 inches from you, just as on any field.

Tal, you’ve been playing with Asaf for many years. What do you most admire about him?
I’ve been playing with Asaf for nearly 10 years, and we practice together as often as possible. Asaf played with me in Tel Aviv until I moved to the Premier League. Since then he started playing on the Ra’anana Raiders PL team, and we compete with each other, which results in healthy competition and improves us as players. Asaf doesn’t give up on me or on himself, and pushes both of us to improve as much as possible. But on thing he does give up on is collecting the balls in the batting cage…!

Assaf, what do you most admire about Tal?
Tal is older than me, so I always had to push myself to reach his level, and this helped me most to develop. I was always the youngest player on the national teams and so I always felt that I had a lot to prove. Tal and I have grown up since then and we started to compete with each other more. This pushes us to improve and brings out the best in both of us.

PL Champs 2019

The Tel Aviv Comrades clinched their second national Juveniles championship in a row, beating the Yad Binyamin Wolves 8-0 on Friday at the Baptist Village. They had beaten the Ra’anana Raiders 2 the previous week to win the Jackson Cup for the top team in the Sharon region.
The Lev Hasharon Nationals 1 won the Cadets league, beating Modiin Navy 7-1 on Friday at Kibbutz Gezer. This is the first championship title to go to Lev Hasharon. The team didn’t drop a game all season, and didn’t disappoint in the final.
The Ra’anana Raiders Juniors took their championship against the Jerusalem Lions in a decisive 17-3 victory on Friday at the Baptist Village. The Raiders started strong and didn’t let up until they had taken back the trophy they’d last won in 2015.
Ra’anana was also dominant in the Premier League, winning the spring season championship after taking Game 3 of the series 8-5 on Thursday at the Baptist Village against a formidable opponent, the Tel Aviv Comrades. Ben Flesher pitched a complete game for the win.
Wishing all our players, coaches and umpires a restful and enjoyable summer vacation.

Juniors Semis 2019

The Juniors played their semi-final games on Friday, setting up an exciting championship game this coming Friday afternoon at the Baptist Village.

The Jerusalem Lions advanced to the championship game. Led by a stellar pitching performance by Akiva Moss, and a balanced offensive attack, they defeated Modiin 7-5.In defeating Modiin, Jerusalem knocked out the defending champions and will be playing for their third championship in four years.

The Ra’anana Raiders upset the number 1 seed Beit Shemesh Comets in a 19-6 rout in Gezer. The Ra’anana bats were on fire throughout, as they slugged ten home runs, including three from Kai Friesem and two each from Shaked Baruch and Betzalel Kupietzky. Ido Peled started for Ra'anana and pitched four strong innings, allowing three runs while striking out six. Ra’anana advanced to their first championship since their 2015 victory, and will take on Jerusalem in the finals this Friday.

Come out for an exciting game where two former champions will slug it out for the coveted Juniors trophy.

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