The 2006 amateur softball in Israel series gets under way Friday at Kibbutz Gezer.
The series was founded in 1999 when a handful of teams left the Israel Softball Association and decided to play without the fastest type of pitching, the windmill.
Rise-Hi, owner of 24- and 31-game win streaks over the past few seasons, returns to defend its series title after going undefeated in 2005. Led by captain Yitz Atkin, the core of the team is made up of members of the Harow family: brothers Ed, Earl, and Ethan, and their sons, outfielders Ari, Josh, Ashi, Aaron, Gabi, Adir, and Dani, plus cousin Zvi Harow.
Other key players are slugger and first basemen Moshe (Greg) Hamburg, power-hitting catcher Aryeh Bauman, outfielder Jeff Muoio, shortstop Chaim Jacobson, David "Bubba" Kiel, Beryl Thomas, and returning for his third season, the versatile Avinoam "Kid" Bernstein.
Aztek, which lost in extra innings to Rise-Hi in the 2005 series final, returns for its 12th season led by captain David Gilor.
Aztek has picked up another Hashmonaim teenager, Naftali Schwartz (18), who joins Alan Tover (19) and Ariel Gilor (19) to make up the team's youth department. All three have played on national baseball teams.
Mike Barth, Gary Garrison and Dvir Weinberg, who are returning to Aztek after not playing for the team last year, join veterans Blair Portnoy, Danny Gewirtz, Dave Epstein, Fred Moncharsh, Jeff Weiner, and Zevie Klaristenfeld.
Dr. Strigler's Optica International, which has reached the semifinals in each of the two previous seasons, is hoping to win its first series championship since 2003.
Captain/first baseman Steve Harvey has a stable of three pitchers this year: Steve Leibowitz returns after a one-year break, Joel Katzin is back, and Yossi Fuchs has joined the squad. First-string outfielders Aaron Katsman, Kenny Zwiebel, and Yonah Mishaan are back, along with Binyamin Kaffel, Jay L. Abramoff, Bernie Kastner, Yomi Groner, Ron Duhl, and rookie Aron Heller. Eli Groner returns after several years abroad.
The Beit Shemesh Suns are hoping that 2006 will be their first series championship season. The Suns do not believe they have any holes in this year's batting lineup, which will be anchored by Aaron Cohen, who averaged one home run per game in the ISA fall tournament, and includes Jeff Mor, Marc Tobin, and Jan Wimpfheimer.
The Suns will rely on the arm of Andre Issacson, while the newest additions to the team, Adam Fishman and Seth Gerson, hope to be a part of the first titlewinning Suns squad.
The series is rounded out by the team formerly sponsored by Contact International, an IDT/Nefesh B'Nefesh squad, and a team made up of players from the Rehovot high school softball league.
Each of the seven teams will play a balanced, 12-game regular season - two games against each of the other six teams - followed by semifinals and a final, which is scheduled for the end of June.
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