Israeli baseball league looking for U.S. players

Updated: December 29, 2006, 2:44 PM ET
Associated Press

MIAMI -- Ivan Gluck is a utility man who can pitch and play first base, third and the outfield. But at 67, the Holocaust survivor would settle for being a waterboy in Israel's fledging baseball league.

"I'm not looking for stardom," he said. "I just want to make the team."

The enthusiastic but unsuccessful Gluck was one of 65 hopefuls at Friday's tryout for the Israel Baseball League, which is welcoming Jews and gentiles alike in hopes of exporting America's pastime to Israel and turning the violence-torn Jewish state -- a country with only one full-size diamond -- into the next great baseball power.

"Hopefully, the region will be stable so we can play ball in the summertime," said player development director Dan Duquette, a former general manager for the Boston Red Sox and Montreal Expos. "But you know, baseball could very well be a unifying force for the country. And wouldn't that be something if it was?"

The league has attracted castoffs from major league teams, former college and high school players who never got a shot at the pros, and ordinary fans with a dream.

Rabbi Yaakov Green, 26, did not get the chance to play in his college years, and got cut again during Friday's tryouts, but he was grateful just for the opportunity.

"I never thought I was going to play on this kind of level or get a chance to play on this kind of level," he said.

Duquette has spent the past few months scouting players in Israel and Massachusetts and plans to hold additional tryouts before the six-team league opens its season on June 24. The teams will be the Bet Shemesh Blue Sox, Netanya Tigers, Petach Tikva Pioneers, Jerusalem/Gezer Lions, Haifa/Nahariya Stingrays and Tel Aviv Lightning.

"This is what Israelis need. Israelis need family time, time away from the stress," said operations director Martin Berger, a Miami lawyer.

Officials also said they hope to compete in the 2009 World Baseball Classic with Jewish major and minor league players such as Jason Marquis of the Chicago Cubs and Boston's Kevin Youkilis.

Berger said the league will also bring equipment to Israel, build baseball fields, improve the few smaller diamonds and offer youth training.

"Baseball, to us, is the great American game and there's so many Americans in Israel and there's so many great supporters of Israel in America," Berger said. "It's just a logical thing to do."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press