(photo credit: Efrat Sa'ar)
The Israel Softball Association's men's and women's fast-pitch regular seasons get under way on Friday when rivals Galil Twisters and Shimshon Hi-Tech facing each other at Baptist Village.
The 2006 season is being dedicated to Ruth Duffy, the ISA's long-time head scorekeeper who recently passed away.
The men's league has been divided into two divisions. The upper-level A division will be composed of four teams, and the B division will have five. After the season, the top B team will move up to A. No team will be relegated from A.
Reigning national champion Ziontours returns with yet another strong team. All-star pitcher Yoni Weiss from Eilat joined a solid combination of veteran players, such as Mike Doktofsky and Blair Portnoy, and young guns from Kibbutz Gezer: Gil Seigel, Benny Ruggil, Aviv Yakov and brothers Tom & Dan Haskell.
After winning the 2005 Fall Tournament, Penticon coach Bob Kessler's team of veterans looks to be in contention for the 2006 title. Led by outstanding pitcher Ami Baran, Penticon relies on consistent hitting from the first baseman Howie Hirsch and third baseman David Aron and solid defense up the middle from catcher David Fleightman, his brother Benzi at shortstop, and Mark Mayerfeld in center field.
Local legend Ari Kanterewicz returns to the mound for the Tigers as Ilan Spira takes a year off to recover from injury. Coach Goose Gillett has a strong, young team, with several new faces, including Dror Gal at third base, Michael Rea at shortstop and Yoram Goldmark at first base. Spira has moved to center field, Guy Bender switches to left and Roni Bossin returns to second base.
The always-dangerous Dimona Mean Judeans return with star pitcher Yaron, Eli Natan at shortstop and Akhazia at catcher. Ben Kai is back after several years away, while youths from Dimona will round out the squad.
The B Division's Shimshon Hi-Tech of Beit Shemesh hope to be the next A team. Player/coach Shem-Tov Shapiro has added several new players, including brothers Jay and Dovid Akselrud, to his veteran team, led by pitcher Sholom Menorah, shortstop Jeff Mor and catcher Avi Jacob.
The Galil Twisters like their chances as they are strong up the middle with teen stars Jake Miller at catcher, Moshe Hyde at shortstop and player/coach Micah Winston in center field, along with returning over-50 veterans pitcher Bill Arscott and third baseman Tim Cummings.
No team is younger than Yosi Sa'ar's Otsma Eilat, which drives five hours to play eight Thursday night/Friday morning doubleheaders. Junior national team No. 1 pitcher Boris Yegudayev and Jeremy Shai will share the innings on the mound.
Jason Danto, who has earned a baseball scholarship at the University of North Dakota, and shortstop Hirofumi Goto give Eilat a lot of pop from the left side of the plate. Yaniv Gohary and Yossi Glickman, who arrived from the Dawgs, are also looking to make Eilat a formidable opponent.
Coach Lowell Blackman of the Dawgs has a solid core of young studs from the Rehovot Softball League, such as Albert Sarkovitz and Michael Moronov, and a healthy Spanish-speaking contingent in Argentinian Yechezkel Gantz and Cubans Julio Mirabel and Alberto Tacher, to go with the pitching of Shmuel Goldstein.
Ed Freedman's Tel Aviv team hopes to overcome the loss of No. 1 pitcher Itamar Megiddo, who is studying in the US, by relying on the young shoulders of Alon Leishman, Nate Rosenberg and Itai Seigel.
The ISA women's league expands to four teams with a team from Jerusalem joining.
The Beit Shemesh Fireballs, the 2005 champions, hope to repeat despite the loss of several key players. The Fireballs will include several junior girls from the Judean District as the ISA builds its first junior women's national team.
Player/coach Adriana Luchansky of ISP Tel Aviv returns a strong core of national team players Orna Freedman, pitcher Shyella Mayk, Maya Pizov and Inbar Reich, as well as a group of up-and-coming youngsters who hope to challenge for the title.
Coach Shariel Pierce of the Dimona Lady Judeans likes his chances with a vastly rearranged roster.
Anyone interested in playing in the ISA should contact Orna Freedman at (03) 540-2539.