Israeli softball: Can they win the Under-23s World Cup?

In the men’s Under-23 European Championships held last summer in the Czech Republic, the Israeli team won a bronze medal, securing a spot for the first time in the Under-23s World Cup.

 Israel’s softball team with coach Corey Vyner (left), after striking gold at the Maccabiah. (photo credit: ISA)
Israel’s softball team with coach Corey Vyner (left), after striking gold at the Maccabiah.
(photo credit: ISA)
Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)

At the Maccabiah Games in July, Israel’s fast-pitch softball teams beat top competitors such as the US and Mexico to win an unprecedented three gold medals: in the men’s, women’s and men’s masters competitions.

In the men’s Under-23 European Championships held last summer in the Czech Republic, the Israeli team won a bronze medal, securing a spot for the first time in the Under-23s World Cup due to be held in 2023.

Coach Corey Vyner, who made aliyah with his wife, Cathy, from Canada in 2010, beams with pride over his players’ conduct in which he has played a key role. “You should see when the kids and I travel abroad for our European tournaments,” he says. “They are loved, revered and respected by their opponents. Not because we win medals. It’s because they were brought up right! They play hard and respect the process. They are Canadian polite... and it shows!”

The value of representing Israel through sports

Vyner seeks to inculcate the value of representing Israel into his players. “That is the one thing I am most proud of,” he says. “Anyone can teach them English, but teaching them to be mensches on and off the field is what I excel at. I always tell them: in a world of hatred toward our country, you are some of Israel’s best ambassadors. With every passing tournament, I tell them: you guys are showing the world the other side to CNN’s portrayal of Israel.”

DELEGATIONS FROM 85 countries gather at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem for the opening ceremony of the 2017 Maccabiah Games (credit: REUTERS)DELEGATIONS FROM 85 countries gather at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem for the opening ceremony of the 2017 Maccabiah Games (credit: REUTERS)

“Anyone can teach them English, but teaching them to be mensches on and off the field is what I excel at. I always tell them: in a world of hatred toward our country, you are some of Israel’s best ambassadors. With every passing tournament, I tell them: you guys are showing the world the other side to CNN’s portrayal of Israel.”

Corey Vyner

Fast-pitch softball, which is similar to baseball, has had a dynamic run during its relatively short history in Israel. The Israel Softball Association (ISA) was established in 1979 by a group of immigrants from North and South America. Currently the ISA features divisional leagues for men, women, boys and girls. They play on three designated fields: one in Maor, a moshav near Hadera; at the Baptist Village in Petah Tikva; and on Kibbutz Gezer, near Modi’in.

“I started playing softball at age 10,” says Under-23 team player Liam Forberg, who lives in Maor. “We have players from around the country, but the  community feels like one big family. It’s a mishmash of Israeli-born players and those who made aliyah from North America, including the Black Hebrews from Dimona, and Latin America.”

Regarding the upcoming World Cup, Forberg says it’s a whole new level of competition. “Facing the best players from all over the world, including Argentina and Japan, will be a great learning experience, and representing the country is a huge honor.”

Vyner brought Kazuki Ishizaki, a Japanese softball star from Tokyo, to Israel in September to help train the Israeli players for the World Cup. “I came to Israel to teach softball pitching. They have better players than I imagined, but they need good pitchers,” says Ishizaki, who is himself an accomplished underhand pitcher. “For that reason, it will not be easy for them to win the World Cup. However, there are many players with high physical ability, so there is hope. I would be happy if I helped them a little.”

Gil Alon, who leads the Under-23 team, says the players are “really happy and proud” to be participating in their first World Cup Under-23 competition.

“The team is consolidated and relatively experienced on the international field,” says Alon. “Our preparations are in high gear, we’re confident in our ability to represent Israeli softball with honor, and look forward to going head-to-head with the best teams in the world for the first time.” 

We wish the Israeli team the best of luck at next year’s World Cup!