Arriving from Pittsburgh at age 14 and a half in 1998, Louis Miller understandably had a bumpy transition to Israeli life.
The oldest of five siblings, Miller struggled with the Hebrew language and with the intensive learning in the yeshiva he initially attended in Rehovot.
“I wasn’t interested in academics. The most difficult aspect, though, was that I grew up playing football, baseball and roller hockey, and I was always one of the most athletic kids in school. In the yeshiva, everyone was playing basketball and soccer, two sports I hadn’t played, so during recess I had nothing to do.”
Miller’s father, a physician who had been one of the Little League baseball coaches in Pittsburgh, prescribed a successful cure for his son’s ailment. He arranged to get equipment shipped from the Pittsburgh Little League and started a Rehovot program within the Israel Association of Baseball.
“My first year, I played in the IAB cadet division, but in the second year there wasn’t a high school option in the vicinity, and they asked if I was willing to coach,” Miller recalls.
He assisted in coaching the Rehovot 8- to 10-year-olds, and the next year he coached a one-week all-star tournament at Kibbutz Gezer, with future Israel Olympic pitcher Alon Leichman among his young charges.
“Coaching was my job all through high school,” says Miller. “Every evening I was calling parents and organizing games for Fridays. I also organized a summer camp for the kids.”
He kept up the weekend Rehovot coaching as best he could during his three years in the navy, and then coached softball for two summers in the Ramah Berkshires camp in New York State.
He earned certification as a coach from the Wingate Institute in 2009 and is also a certified umpire for baseball and softball. In addition, last year he took the softball coaches’ course at Israel Sports College.
Miller has a degree in social work from Ashkelon College. “My first job in social work was as a mental health officer in the army. Then I worked in geriatrics. And every Friday I would go and coach,” he says. “The IAB is set up so almost all the coaches work throughout the week and coach on Fridays.”
In 2011, Miller married an immigrant from Australia. He and Chana have three daughters, ages 9, 7 and 5, and a son who is two-and-a-half. They live in Karmiel.
HE EXPLAINS how the northern move happened: “After the army, my brother and I moved over to softball, and we were recruited to the northern team. It didn’t matter where we lived because the entire league plays either at Gezer or at Baptist Village in Petah Tikva. We played there for several years. And then in 2015 a teammate, Yaniv Rosenfeld, called me out of the blue and asked if I would come help him start a youth baseball program in the North.”
Starting a youth baseball program in Israel's North
With his wife’s full approval, Miller quit his social work job and moved his family up north. “Everyone thought I was crazy. No one thought you could make a living coaching Israelis baseball.”
“Everyone thought I was crazy. No one thought you could make a living coaching Israelis baseball.”Louis Miller
When he arrived, the new northern league had 30 players and some volunteer coaches. Miller started after-school baseball clubs using soccer fields in all the villages around Karmiel. Within the year, enrollment jumped to almost 100.
“Last year we finished the season with 225 players from first-graders to adults,” he says proudly.
“We have a fantastic program in the North, put together by Yaniv with his own money. He even built a baseball field.”
Rosenfeld, a professional tennis coach who’d played baseball and softball since his youth, provided the necessary connections to the sports world in the Misgav region of the Galilee.
“In my experiences, Israeli municipalities would laugh at you if you wanted to start a baseball program. But Yaniv spoke their lingo,” says Miller.
“He’s not an American oleh who doesn’t understand the Israeli sports world. This allowed us to create a new model up North, proving that baseball with Israelis could happen and could succeed. That’s never been done before. Elsewhere, 95% of players are American; in our league, 95% are Israeli.
That doesn’t make player recruitment and retention easy. “We went into schools and tried to interest all these Israeli kids who had never played the game before. Instead of having American immigrants’ kids who were already dedicated to baseball, I was teaching kids which way to run around the bases.”
And once they join the team, he adds, “We have to fight for every player because if they’re not having fun, they’ll go play soccer or basketball.”
MILLER ALSO has been head coach of the under-12 national baseball team for seven years and has led the IAB’s Baseball for All program – which brings together Jewish and Arab youth through the sport – for six years in the Jewish-Arab bilingual school in Misgav.
When the association’s management saw how Miller had built up the northern teams, with practice four times a week under professional coaches, they asked him to become head coach of the IAB and bring this model to the rest of its leagues.
In his new job, Miller travels around Israel overseeing the activities of five leagues for ages six to adult and helping to make baseball accessible for the average Israeli.
“I’ve seen over the years many Israeli kids arrive with the stereotype that baseball is slow and boring. After a couple of practices, they realize that is not the case at all. They realize how wonderful it is – and we’re seeing more and more native Israelis getting involved.”
He welcomes kids who just want to come once a week for friendly practices and he also welcomes players with the potential of making it to outstanding athlete status in the army, to US college baseball or Major League baseball, like Alon Leichman.
When he’s not coaching, Miller plays in a softball league and loves to cook. During the pandemic lockdowns, he ran a home sushi business. But his heart belongs on the diamond.
And it’s an exciting time for baseball in Israel. In 2021, the men’s national team won the European Olympic Qualifiers, and the national team participated in the Tokyo Olympics. In 2025, Israel will host the European Championships.
“We opened a new field in Ra’anana, and another is scheduled to open in Beit Shemesh next year,” Miller says. “We’re in a big transition period and good stuff is happening.” ■
Louis Miller, 38: From Pittsburgh to Rehovot, 1998 to Karmiel, 2015