(photo credit: AP)
As opening day of the inaugural Israel Baseball League season draws nearer, IBL officials are finalizing details and critics are wondering if this league will actually be successful.
With cities in place for the six teams of the league's first season, IBL founder and president Larry Baras has completed the season schedule.
In the league's inaugural season, there will be only three locations at which games are played. Each location will serve as the home field for both its own team and one other club. Netanya will also host Nahariya, Tel Aviv will also be home to Petah Tikva, and Gezer will share its facilities with Beit Shemesh.
Baras told The Jerusalem Post that that the cities "have been pursuing us more than the other way around," which leads him to believe that his hopes for the second season will not be too difficult.
"The idea is that for the following season, those teams without a home now will have one...," Baras explained.
While there is still a lot of work to be done in signing all of the players, league officials are thrilled with the progress that has been made to officially secure clubs for each city. The teams will be the Petah Tikva Pioneers, Netanya Tigers, Beit Shemesh Blue Sox, Jerusalem/Gezer Lions, Haifa/Nahariya Stingrays, and the Tel Aviv Lighting.
Baras originally thought that there would not be a team in Tel Aviv because of restrictions in using the city's Sportek sports facility.
"We had been given the impression that Tel Aviv was out of the picture," said Baras on initial meetings with Tel Aviv officials, "but what they laid out for us is absolutely fine."
With cities and schedules finalized, the next big task is to complete the signing of 120 players to be divided among the teams in the spring draft. This job is left to director of player personnel Martin Berger, along with director of player development Dan Duquette.
After a summer tryout in Massachusetts and a fall tryout in Petah Tikva, Berger, an attorney from Miami, is very optimistic.
"I have 10 signed contracts in my hand right now and anticipate another 20 coming in the next two to three weeks," explained Berger. "Then, I've got another 10 still up in the air."
Of the more than 60 players who participated in the Petah Tikva tryouts, only a couple were expected to be offered contracts, but in the end 12 were given offers and some have already accepted.
"A lot of those young Israeli guys we decided to sign because we really want to have an Israeli presence on those teams," said Berger. "Even if the talent level isn't what it should be, it's important that there are Israelis on every team."
IBL officials maintain that these signings won't compromise the competitive integrity of the league. By signing players from international leagues such as Australia and independent leagues in the US, officials are confident that this will be a highly skilled and competitive league.
When the Jerusalem/Gezer Lions host the Petah Tikva Pioneers on June 24, 2007, fans will be able to judge for themselves.