(photo credit: Jay L. Abramoff)
Israeli baseball players are getting the chance of a lifetime as they participate in clinics and a camp with former Major League Baseball players.
Elliot Maddox and Bob Tufts are at the July 2-14 camp, which was organized in conjunction with the Israeli Association of Baseball.
Maddox, in particular, brings a wealth of information and experience in establishing and improving youth baseball programs. After retiring from MLB, Maddox established a youth baseball program in Poland. Through his guidance the Polish team flourished, winning the European Championships two years ago. The Polish team's success has largely been attributed to Maddox, who hopes to reap similar results in Israeli baseball.
"Poland's baseball started in 1981 and Israel just started [playing internationally]," noted Maddox. "European baseball has a big lead and my primary purpose is to help the Israelis catch up with the European powers in an effort to promote baseball in Israel."
Both players came to Israel after a conference of Jewish MLB players in Cooperstown, New York, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
"I was involved, as was Elliot, with the seminar celebrating Jews in Major League Baseball that they did in Cooperstown," said Tufts. "At the end of the seminar, former ambassador Dan Kurtzer was speaking and said he would love for some players to go to Israel. I stood up right then and said I'd gladly go."
Maddox agreed, saying it was a "no brainer" to come and instruct the clinic.
"I enjoy working with youth and I have time in which to do it," Maddox continued. "I'm Jewish... and being a person who loves history and loves to travel, why not take the opportunity to come to Israel? It seemed to make sense to me."
The clinic is yet another attempt to increase Israeli interest in baseball, which includes plans to establish a professional league next year.
"Ultimately, the IBL [Israel Baseball League] is trying to establish a professional league here, but first you have to generate interest in baseball, and you have to generate it from the ground up," Maddux said. "It will be the kids who tell their parents they want to go to a baseball game and cause their parents to buy tickets."
Maddox has over 20 years of baseball experience including playing four years for the New York Yankees and three years with the New York Mets. After Maddox retired as a player in 1981, he became an outfield and bunting coach for the Yankees until 1991.
Tufts pitched in the majors for three years: one year with the San Francisco Giants and the other two years with the Kansas City Royals.
Both Maddox and Tufts agreed that the camp was a success and are pleased with the Israeli baseball program.
"I was pleasantly surprised," said Tufts. "We were worried they would be at the lowest level of [youth baseball] skills, but their knowledge of the game was a lot better than I thought it would be."
Maddox and Tufts also worked with the under-21 national team and the juvenile (10-12) national team, which are competing at European championships this month.
The former players felt that the national teams can be successful in the future. However, Israeli baseball has formidable hurdles it must overcome.
"Right now, they have to get by on excellent defense and see if they can manufacture runs and stay close," explained Tufts. "We don't have the hitting for power component in most of these players, but the skills can be taught if the players are disciplined and practice on their own."
"We want other teams to realize Israeli baseball is improving and they better beat the Israeli team now, because next year the Israeli team may be beating them," added Tufts. "It's a long-term process and we'd hope to see the younger children progress rapidly over the next three to five years."