Israel launches pro baseball league
The 'great American pastime' is now being played professionally in Israel.
Last Modified: 26 Jun 2007 08:50 GMT

A Modi'in Miracles player hits out against the Petach Tikva Pioneers in the inaugural IBL match [EPA]

In a country where football and basketball dominate and the sport known as the 'great American pastime' is widely seen as agonizingly slow and perplexing, a six-team Israel Baseball League (IBL) has begun.
More than 3,000 fans, predominantly American immigrants wearing the jersey of their favourite US Major League Baseball team, turned out on Sunday for the inaugural game between the Modi'in Miracles and the Petach Tikva Pioneers in the Baptist Village, founded by American Christians near Tel Aviv.

The new league has 120 players from nine countries including United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, Israel and Dominican Republic.

The public address announcer's call for fans to attend Jewish evening prayers mid-game suggested professional baseball in the Holy Land would be different to the rest of the world.

"Please announce that evening prayers will be held in the middle of the fifth inning in the back of the home plate stands," a Jew requested, before the announcer duly complied.

Commentators for a Hebrew-language Israeli television channel were finding the game tough to explain as they struggled to find words for "home run" and "base hit", eventually deciding to use the original English vocabulary.

League officials hope Israelis and not only American immigrants will go to games.

"I don't think baseball will have acceptance in Israel," Steven Arnold, a Detroit native who took his two sons to opening night, said.

"Israelis see it as an American game."

The match ended in with Modi'in, managed by Art Shamsky, 1969 World Series champion New York Mets member, running out easy 9-1 winners over hosts Petach Tikva.

Innovations to the game

Israel baseball fans are already getting into the
swing of things with signed memorabilia [EPA]

The 45-game season will also be played at two other venues, a kibbutz founded by North Americans and a baseball complex in Tel Aviv, with the IBL adding a few unique rules to their league.

Matches will only be seven innings long, rather than the usual nine, and in the event of a tie, a home-run derby, rather than extra innings, will decide the winner.

There will be no games on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath.

"If we can't experiment in a start-up league, then where can we experiment?" Daniel Kurtzer, commissioner of the IBL and a former US ambassador to Israel, said.

Kurtzer said Israel hopes to be able to field a team in the World Baseball Classic in 2009.

"There are eight spots open and we want to be considered," said Kurtzer.

"We know that's a challenge. If not in 2009, then we will make an all out effort for 2013."

The ultimate goal

The ultimate goal of the IBL is to be a development league that will allow players to advance to Major League teams in the United States.

"We want to do the same thing for Israel that we did for Canada 20 years ago," Dan Duquette, former Boston Red Sox general manager, said.

Even though it is not supported by Major League Baseball, the MLB wants the new league to succeed.

"We are hoping the Israeli population understands what a great game it is and embraces it," Clive Russell, head of MLB International's Europe, Middle East and Africa operations, said.

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