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(photo credit: Courtesy)
As the inaugural season of the Israeli Baseball League came to an end Sunday night, the few players and coaches who had not yet left the country took some time to reflect on the positive and negative aspects of the historic first season.
"For a starter league to introduce baseball in Israel is a big task," said Tel Aviv Lightning manager Steve Hertz. "If you look at the big picture, including the housing and feeding of over 120 players from across the world, it was an accomplishment just to get players and coaches here and the league running."
This past summer the IBL entered into the soccer and basketball dominated world of Israeli sports with what seemed to be instant success. The inaugural game, played on June 24 between the Modi'in Miracle and the Petah Tikva Pioneers, drew an unheralded crowd of 3,112 fans.
However attendance levels soon dropped into the low hundreds and even double digits.
In addition, the lack of proper lighting at Kibbutz Gezer plagued the league. There were a string of cancellations and switches to ensure games finished before dusk.
Speculation soon circulated as to the reality of another season of baseball in Israel. But in early August the league announced its intention to return, slating June 23 as the opening day for the 2008 season.
The 2007 season ended on a high note Sunday night, when 2,610 fans showed up to Yarkon Field in Petah Tikva to watch the Beit Shemesh Blue Sox shut out the Modi'in Miracle 3-0 to win the Inaugural IBL Championship.
Dane Wigg, a catcher for the Tel Aviv Lightning, cautiously praised the rookie league, telling The Jerusalem Post, "I think they did pretty well considering it was their first time; after all they had to start the league from scratch."
Wigg, who traveled all the way from Australia, compared time spent in the IBL to that in the Sydney Major League. "I played [in Sydney] for five years, and conditions in the IBL were on par to those in Sydney, which says a lot for a young league."
In addition to playing baseball, players and coaches within the IBL were also given the opportunity to travel around Israel. Destinations included Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, and Masada. Even Sderot drew some unexpected attention as managers Rob Blomberg and Art Shamsky met with residents of the town which has been hit by thousands of Kassam rockets in recent years.
"Most of the coaches and players had never been to Israel," explained Hertz, "coming here and meeting the people allowed us to see a different Israel, a perspective you don't see in the media back home."
However with the promise of an additional season, those involved in the league agree there is still work to be done.
"There needs to be a better understanding of how to run a baseball game," suggested Hertz, specifically "the operation from the time the game starts to the time it is over."
Wigg echoed Hertz's sentiments. "A little more organization needs to go into it," he said, adding, "the condition of the fields can be improved as well."
Still, both Hertz and Wigg are confident the league will use the past season as a foundation for improvements going into the 2008 season.
"Conditions got better as the season went on," Hertz said, adding that in his opinion "at this point, the league can only improve."
Wigg is counting on such improvement, as he plans on returning for a second season in Israel. "I had a lot of fun," he said, "whoever comes here [next year] is in for a real treat."