July 5, 2007
L.A. ‘boys of summer’ take to the diamond in Israel
(Page 2 - Previous Page)"It has always been a dream to play professional baseball, and to be able to do that in a country as amazing as Israel is just an added bonus," said Kopiec, whose parents are traveling to Israel for two weeks to watch their son play.
The IBL play level is said to be comparable to the MLB's Single-A league, with IBL recruits hailing from college varsity teams, the MLB Minor Leagues and various national teams from around the world. While most of the league's players, including the six from Southern California, are Jewish, the league is open to non-Jewish players. IBL players hail from the United States, Canada, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Australia and Europe. In its inaugural season, about 10 percent of players in the league are Israelis. The league's goal is to raise the level of play throughout Israel so at least 25 percent of the league's 120 players are Israeli by its fifth year. Current IBL players will contribute to reaching this goal by working with Israeli youth at IBL camps and clinics.
"My high school coach told me to put a lot of effort into working with the kids because that's how you hand down the game and pass on your knowledge," said Harwood, who attended Sinai Akiba through fourth grade and played high school ball at Brentwood. "He did it with me, and I should really take a lot of care and pass it on to the next level."
The introduction to baseball will not be limited to Israelis who are fortunate enough to afford day camp. In the spirit of tikkun olam, or repairing the world, IBL players will also give out 1,000 bats, 1,000 gloves and 1,000 baseballs to underprivileged children in Israel. As part of the batting 1,000 initiative, they will teach children the game, hand out the baseball equipment for the kids to own, and work with the children throughout the season.
"I am the grandson of two Auschwitz survivors and my grandfather always felt that it was incredibly important for a place like Israel to exist. To be able to live there and give something like baseball to the country is very important to me," added Kopiec, who said the opportunity to bring the sport to Israel is what attracted him to the league in the first place.
Creating a baseball culture in Israel is one of the league's biggest challenges and primary goals. In a country where soccer and basketball dominate athletics, will people jump on the baseball bandwagon?
"I don't know how it will be welcomed over there. It will be interesting to see. We might not get the crowd we are looking for at first, but over time it will stir up interest," Harwood said.
Will Israelis show up to games? Will they root, root, root for their home team? Looks like it. After selling more than 3,000 tickets for the June 24 opening game, the league added additional seating.
To give the game a unique Israeli feel, IBL ballpark seating includes stadium seats, lawn seats, park benches, an al fresco dining area, and even dugout seats. The game will run seven innings, and ties will be decided by a home run derby. Interactive activities will take place on the field before and after each game as well as between innings. The league will host theme nights, like a "wedding day," where the league will provide rabbis and chuppahs for fans who want to get married on the field, and "SpeeDating nights," during which single fans can switch seats every half inning.
With the unique opportunity to combine their elite athletic ability with their passion for Judaism, the So Cal players couldn't be more excited to be a part of this unique sporting experience. "Growing up in a big Zionist household, I was taught to love two things: Israel and baseball," said Eichenstein.
For information on tickets and game schedules, visit http://www.israelbaseballleague.com. Dikla Kadosh contributed to this article
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