Whenever we spoke, Howard Osterer shared with me his two great passions: Israel and baseball.
He made Aliyah just a few years ago in his mid-fifties, hoping to be a tour guide. A career educator, he loved taking visitors around Israel, demonstrating a particular passion for archaeological sites.
He relished the challenge of having the uninitiated see only a pile of rubble and then, by sharing his knowledge, make the stones come alive for them, helping the ruins tell a story to thoroughly modern people about our ancient and enduring ties to this land.
In his spare time, Howie coached, umpired and organized as Jerusalem’s Regional Director for the Israel Association of Baseball.
Howie was a romantic. Even though he knew that to many, baseball in Israel made as much sense as fly-fishing in the desert, he believed in baseball’s redemptive magic, much as he believed in Zionism’s redemptive power.
Armed with the passion, the sense of tradition, the importance of a collective spirit, of teamwork, along with the value of each individual’s contribution, gave baseball life in Israel.
Howie was one of those old-fashioned believers in sports as a character- builder. He loved to see his teams perform well, but even more he loved to see the kids show heart.
Moments when the players worked together, when they stayed in the game despite tough breaks, when they hustled, delighted him. He wanted each kid to win, but, more importantly, he wanted each kid to play well, to do his best, and to have fun.
Whenever I would drive him back from a game, he would say, with his earnest, sincere, clipped Canadian accent, “It’s a good group they got there, good boys, eh?” As a real educator, who taught in Ottawa for decades, he was constantly looking out for “the kids.”
Morally grounded, he wanted kids to have a strong sense of right and wrong too.
And, forever optimistic, he was always looking out for lost souls, for kids who might be having trouble, whom he believed could be healed with some baseball Rx.
As a good old-school Canadian, Howie was unfailingly gracious and almost compulsively polite.
Every time I drove him, any time I showed him the most basic, easiest kindness, in came the earnest email, thanking me for what I had done, no matter how trivial, and adding a nice, specific compliment about “my boys.”
Howie’s Holy Grail, if you will, was a baseball field in Jerusalem. He was indefatigable in pursuit of this goal, constantly updating me about his progress in seeking out a site, in lobbying the municipality, in planning a fundraising campaign. He wanted it “for the kids,” the young men and occasional young women he loved watching in action on the field.
It bothered him that “the kids” had to drive 45 minutes to the Gezer field, or an hour and ten minutes to Baptist Village, often on a school night, simply to play the game that he loved.
He felt especially strongly that his adopted city of Jerusalem, the capital of the state Theodor Herzl dreamed of, was somehow incomplete without a proper, well-tended, field of dreams. Somehow, the very anomaly of an all-American playing field in the center of the Jewish State appealed to his open, eclectic, Canadian soul.
On Tuesday night, while dressed in his full umpire’s regalia, in the middle of a baseball game between two teams of 16-year-olds at the Gezer field, Osterer motioned for timeout from behind home plate and moments later collapsed.
A couple of on on-site doctors attempted unsuccessfully to revive him before the ambulances arrived. After what was deemed a stroke, Howie passed away, just short of 60 years old. He leaves behind two aging parents whom he loved dearly, beloved siblings, five children, six grandchildren, and a broad extended Israel baseball family in mourning.
“Howie was a huge part of our Israel Baseball family,” said Israel Association of Baseball Nate Fish to The Jerusalem Post
. “No one cared more about the kids.
And no one made a greater effort to create a sense of community through baseball. He touched thousands of people through his work in baseball in Jerusalem. He will be missed, and not easily replaced.”
Witnessing this calamity traumatized the kids who were there, all of whom knew and loved Howie as that happy-go-lucky Canadian bloke, the baseball evangelist of the Promised Land.
I hope those kids realize how much each one of them contributed to Howie’s life, delighting him simply by mastering and enjoying the game he loved, in the land he loved.
When he umpired, coaches frequently called him – and the other umps – “blue,” sometimes affectionately, sometimes in frustration.
In truth, my friend, Howie Osterer, a real baseball Zionist, should have been called “Blue and White.”
He shall be deeply missed. May his family and loved ones be comforted with the mourners of Zion.