Israel’s baseball team all-in, on and off field

Olympic-bound squad kicks off week-long trip with visit to President Rivlin, visit to hospital

MEMBERS OF Israel’s Olympic-bound national baseball team visit with patients at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel HaShomer yesterday (photo credit: MARGO SUGARMAN)
MEMBERS OF Israel’s Olympic-bound national baseball team visit with patients at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel HaShomer yesterday
(photo credit: MARGO SUGARMAN)
“There is baseball in Israel”
With these dramatic words, Team Israel general manager Peter Kurz opened his remarks at Monday’s press conference at the Olympic Committee of Israel’s Hadar Yosef headquarters, where a crowded room of grilled  the team’s players and staff, trying to gain insight regarding Israel's chances in Tokyo this summer.
OCI Executive Director Gili Lustig gave context to the enormity of Israel’s achievement thus far, noting that the blue-and-white baseball squad will be Israel's first to team compete in a "ball sport" in 44 years (since Israel’s soccer team at the 1976 Games). This following a grueling process that will see only six teams from around the world in the Olympic baseball tournament. By comparison, other popular sports, such as soccer and volleyball will have 12 teams vying for medals in Tokyo, and the basketball competition will have 16.
As Daniel Oren, in charge of competitive sports in Israel, pointed out, this baseball team mathematically has a 50% chance of bringing home Israel's 10th ever Olympic medal.
But baseball is played on a field, not on paper, and Israel’s manager, Eric Holtz, took on the tough question by reminding everyone how Israel got to where it is today: by playing the games one pitch, one at-bat and one inning at a time.
Holtz’s dream is to see Israel not only succeed in Japan, but to use its hard-fought achievements to grow the sport in Israel and within a few years double the current number of participants (around 1,000 in age groups from 6-50).
Kurz noted that with the help of the JNF, construction of a major field in Beit Shemesh is now well under way and Ra’anana will soon follow suit.
The Olympic-bound squad had assembled on Sunday in Jerusalem to receive President Reuven Rivlin's blessing, and later heard inspiring words from Team Israel supporter Sylvan Adams, who implored them to follow his lead in using sports to promote Israel's image abroad.
Yet before they travel abroad, the players took time off from their hectic week of youth clinics and sightseeing to focus on less fortunate members of society, visiting with patients of Sheba Medical Center at Tel HaShomer on Monday morning. The team brought encouragement to patients like Ephraim Rimmel, whose family was tragically killed in a road accident, as well as an IDF soldier facing a difficult rehab, and shared tender moments with sick children at the hospital.
So while there is plenty to be proud of with respect to Team Israel’s accomplishments on the field, there is also lots of pride to be had with their off-field behavior.
Note: Due to the recent rains, Team Israel's Wednesday evening event, scheduled to be at the Baptist Village has be relocated to Ra’anana's Metro West Stadium. Fans will also have an opportunity to see the blue-and-white practice at Tel Aviv's Sportek on Tuesday from 2-4 p.m. and on Friday from 10 am to noon.