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Baseball in Israel: If You Build It, Will They Come?

Plans are in motion to build—and fund—a new baseball field in Beit Shemesh

Jesse Bernstein
May 09, 2017
Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images
Young Israelis play baseball in Modiin, March 10, 2017.Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images
Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images
Young Israelis play baseball in Modiin, March 10, 2017.Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

The first written references to Beit Shemesh appear in the Book of Joshua, when it was designated as one of the cities that would be allocated to the Kohanim and their families. Outside of a couple dry spells, it’s been populated for the last few thousand years. Suffice it to say, it’s a city with a lot of history. Now, it may take on a new national pastime.

The Organization of Baseball in Beit Shemesh, an offshoot of the Israel Association of Baseball, is working to build the first major baseball complex in Israel. The complex will feature one regulation-size field, complete with dugouts, stands, and scoreboards, along with two little-league fields in each outfield corner. There are plans for stadiums lights, bullpens, batting cages, and more. And it’ll be costly.

Jordy Alter, vice president of the IAB, said that baseball enthusiasts in Israel have “been trying to build a field for many years.” Besides a few fields in Petah Tikva and Kibbutz Gezer, most of the baseball diamonds in the country are actually soccer fields, limiting access for the 800 or so kids throughout Israel who play on IAB teams; 135 of those kids play on a divot-riddled soccer field on the outskirts of Beit Shemesh covered in, “well, animal dung,” according to a video on the GoFundMe page for the stadium that seeks $575,000 of capital.

As for the necessity of GoFundMe page, IAB president Peter Kurz says that the early estimates for the stadium are around $1.7 million. Before any of the actual building can even begin, the plot of land will need to be flattened out from its current slope. Though groups like the JNF and the Baseball Tomorrow Fund (a joint venture of Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association) are chipping in, Kurz said, the funding hasn’t quite materialized. “We haven’t had our sugar daddy yet,” he joked.

With help from the JNF and its Project Baseball initiative, organizers in Beit Shemesh were able to secure permits to begin building the complex in an undeveloped area of the city, following almost three years of negotiation. This past January, 10 members of the Israeli national team (who at that point had not yet shocked the world in their impressive World Baseball Classic run) came to the official groundbreaking ceremony for the field.

Alter said that the organizers have met with former Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, as well as MLB officials involved in field development, in order to construct a field that will be best suited to Beit Shemesh’s needs.

For baseball enthusiasts in Israel, the Beit Shemesh complex will be the realization of long-held dream. Besides the ill-fated Israeli Baseball League (2007-2007), there hasn’t been this much momentum towards establishing baseball in Israel in the whole history of the IAB. Though many of kids currently on teams are recent American olim, about 25-30 percent of the IAB league is now made up of native-born Israelis, according to Alter.

“I dream that, a year from now, there will be a complex up and running in Beit Shemesh,” said Alter. “[Baseball] is a great way for people across the spectrum to communicate.”

And of course, Alter said, like any good baseball team, other would-be Ike Davises across the country will start to take note of new methods for success. “Once one city has it,” he said, “other cities will see how tremendous it is.”

Jesse Bernstein is a former Intern at Tablet.