Track & Field: McCourt encourages integration of baseball in Israel
Los Angeles Dodgers president and CEO notes that her team's colors are that of Israel.
By ZACK COLMAN
As Los Angeles Dodgers president and CEO Jamie McCourt stood before the full crowd at Sportek in Tel Aviv before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at Tuesday's game between Israel and the US, she couldn't help but make a keen observation.
"The one thing that I really want to say that I love the best is the Israeli colors, blue and white, are the same as the LA Dodgers," she said to the applauding spectators.
Without McCourt's donation, there likely would be no junior baseball tournament at this Maccabiah Games. And while Israel has not seen much baseball recently, especially after the Israel Baseball League shut down in 2008 after one year of operation, McCourt said there is room for the sport in Israel.
"We have to find a way to integrate baseball into their lifestyles and make them understand how beautiful the game is," she said in an interview. "For those of us who like baseballâ€¦ there's something very lovely and very different about the game. And everything you can learn about life is at a baseball game."
US head coach Denny Weiner said he and all the players in the Maccabiah tournament are grateful for McCourt's donation. He said the tournament could be a building block to making baseball's presence in Israel permanent.
"Her generosity and the Dodgers' generosity has fulfilled a lot of dreams here this week," said Weiner, whose team defeated Israel, 29-1. "And we certainly hope that her donation and her graciousness will never go to waste."
Bradley Lis-D'Alessandro, 16, of Montreal, plays for the Canadian team and said he thinks baseball is a growing sport in Israel.
"I heard [the Israeli] team four or five years ago, they couldn't even compare to what they are now," he said. "They've done a lot better and it shows that they're progressing in baseball."
Whether baseball will stick remains to be seen.
Mitch Smith, a sports psychologist and founder of "Get in the Game", a program to promote life skills through sports for middle school students in Israeli development towns, said he is unsure whether a country can successfully "transplant" a sport in another nation.
He said the effort to establish baseball in Israel is similar to soccer in the US. Played by many children when growing up, he said that for whatever reasons, soccer never became a spectator sport.
But baseball's relative anonymity could prove valuable in that it could help bridge a gap between Arabs and Jews, among other things. Smith said there already are Israeli baseball leagues that allow men and women to play together as well as Arabs and Jews.
"It's new, it's less of the road traveled," he said. "In those situations you're a little bit freer to break some more generally accepted norms. So if a norm is that Jews and Arabs don't mix so much, baseball being new still there's a window of opportunity to kind of create rules that might be a little bit more flexible."
McCourt said baseball could also instill a sense of stability in Israel much as it does in the US. And for a country that has seen more than its fair share of conflict, McCourt said baseball would be a welcomed addition to the Israeli social landscape.
"Baseball is dependable," she said. "In the United States, for example, no matter what's going on in the world, as long as baseball is played people think that life is normal, that it will be normal, that it's getting normal and things will all be well."
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