POSTED: June 7th 2009

MLB reaches out to Israeli baseball

Pat Doyle from MLB explains some pitching techniques / Image: IAB
Pat Doyle from MLB explains some pitching techniques / Image: IAB

KEIR RADNEDGE & LAURA WALDEN / Sports Features Communications

TAMPA: Major League Baseball sees potential in Israeli baseball and a chance for their national team to gain a place at the European Championships within the next years.

Pat Doyle, MLB's global coordinator for the envoy coach program, has just been in Israel for a second time working with the Israel Association of Baseball’s (IAB) players and coaches and promoting the sport in general. He was accompanied by Richard Kania, a traveling Confederation European Baseball (CEB) envoy coach from the Czech Republic.

Doyle sees a marked improvement in the level of the game from last year as he works to further evolve the sport at a grassroots level.

He said: "The men's national team didn't quite make it in Croatia last year but is making big strides. I've seen some good young players who are potentially going to be very good coaches with a real love and motivation. There are five or six players playing college baseball which will raise their playing level and pay dividends for the national team.

"We want to grow the game of baseball, help increase the level and expertise of coaches and solidify baseball development programs from strategic planning through implementation to helping clubs do things more efficiently and effectively."

MLB finds fertile ground

The program focuses on the 13-19 age bracket and started with elite camps in 1999 with the local federations’ top 15-18 year old players.

The US embassy in Tel Aviv was also involved with his training program and stepped to the plate to offer assistance with accommodations for coach Doyle.

The Israeli attraction for MLB’s outreach envoy program is that the structure is well developed and people have embraced the game wholeheartedly. Currently there are 70 teams playing in Israel and the youth program is spreading.Doyle added: "They have gotten youth involvement at a higher level.”

He also believes in frequent visits, saying: "We need to go back and keep working with the people who work day in and day out after we leave, so they know they have our support and we can give them guidance to the do the job, because they know the ins and outs and deal with the frustrations."

New pro league in the works

The IAB has entered into an agreement with the Field of Dreams LLC to work on the development of a new Professional Baseball League in Israel. The man behind Field of Dreams is Marv Goldklang, part-owner of the New York Yankees and principal owner of four minor league professional baseball teams in the United States.

He is flanked by Jeff Rosen - owner of the Maccabi Haifa Heat Professional Basketball Club of the Israeli Premier League and chairman of Triangle Financial Services - together with other prominent individuals involved in MLB.

“The IAB is very excited about working with Marv Goldklang and his partners,” said Haim Katz, IAB chairman. “Marv has more than 25 years of experience with Major League-affiliated professional baseball leagues, and with independent professional leagues as well.

“We feel the concepts that he promotes in sports, including unique entertainment features designed to appeal even to non-baseball fans, can revolutionize not only baseball in Israel, but other sports as well.

“Jeff Rosen, a prominent American businessman, is committed to promoting sports in Israel and has a proven record of success by taking the Maccabi Heat basketball team in just one year from the doldrums of the lower league to prime time recognition in the Israel premier basketball league.”

Plans to get the league up and running within the next two years are on the cards and will do much to the enhance the growth and excitement about the game in Israel.

Ofakim kids get a taste of baseball

Along the same lines an IAB clinic was held in the city of Ofakim with around 250 youngsters from the fourth and fifth grades being introduced to baseball for the first time. The children received lessons on batting, fielding and base running pointers from eight of the IAB’s top coaches.

“We have hit a grand slam,” says IAB president Haim Katz. “The combination of the city completely behind this program with support from the baseball association and their Project 2000 partner, can only lead to new opportunities for the youth of Ofakim.”

It was a welcome event and a fun day with the mayor, Tzvika Greenwald, thanking the coaches in his office and with a large banner out in the street to greet them as they entered the city.

Pitch In for Baseball aid

David Rhode and Mark Soloman of the humanitarian development organization Pitch In for Baseball have made significant equipment donations to sustain the recruitment work and development in Israel.

Katz said: “The local and national government have given us moral support, but the financial resources to train coaches and run the clinics have all come from the Israel Association of Baseball’s internal resources and its generous friends abroad.”

Featured sport at Maccabiah Games

Baseball is on the program of the 18th Maccabiah Games with the opening game being featured at the event and with Los Angeles Dodgers owner and ceo, Jamie McCourt, attending in support. The Maccabiah Games takes place from July 13-23. The Los Angeles Dodgers will step in with souvenirs to help create a typical baseball park atmosphere.

Baseball as a metaphor for life

Baseball prides itself on being a sport which transcends boundaries and as being a "friendly team sport" which is not combative but is highly competitive. This is one of the reasons for the growing interest and popularity in the Middle East. Iraq has established a federation and Saudi Arabia is looking at introducing the sport in the school system in 2010.

For younger generations it is a fresh new western game that is fun to learn, engaging and gives kids the chance to “put their game face on.”

Olympic bid is crucial

Katz, commentiong on the IBAF’s campaign to return to the Olympic program, said: “We feel like the rug was pulled out from under us when baseball was removed from the 2012 games.  We have been working systematically to improve our training with our younger players with the hope to build up a cadre of young ball players who could be competitive if not by 2012 then in 2016.

“The Olympic games are a beacon to guide our athletes to greater heights and keep their focus on improving their game.  It will be very difficult to replace this beacon if the light goes out for 2016.  The negative impact will ripple down to trying to recruit our younger players as well as procuring funds for development of baseball in Israel.”

The IBAF is competing with six other sports - golf, karate, roller sports, rugby union, squash and softball - to gain a place on the 2016 Olympic programme. The vote will be held in Copenhagen in October of this year. The IOC could elect to add one, two or none to the core sports already on the Games roster.

Picture (above right): Ofakim's clinic proves a success with the youngsters / Image: IAB

Keywords · IBAF · baseball · Major League Baseball · Pat Doyle · Israel Association of Baseball · Marv Goldklang · Haim Katz

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Laura Walden ()

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