There is joke that went around Israel a couple of years ago: Whenever a group of Israelis would pass by a dilapidated field, an abandoned dirt patch, or a rocky expanse on the side of the highway, they would say, "This must be Israel’s new baseball field."
While Israel is a country rich in soccer, basketball, and swimming, it never adopted baseball. But change is on the way, as the Jewish National Fund and the Israel Baseball League are partnering to bring baseball fields to several Israeli cities, including Netanya, Tel-Aviv, and Be’er Sheva.
Baseball in Israel
"What has happened so far in Israel, in terms of baseball, is that it serves as a platform for integrating so many diverse types of populations there," said Larry Baras of Brookline, Mass., founder of the Israel Baseball League.
"A friend of mine is a secular Jew from Tel Aviv," Baras said, "and he told me that his son has no Orthodox friends other than those he made on the baseball field."
Baras said his research last year revealed that there are over ‘,000 baseball players in Israel, but that the sports growth has been limited by the country’s dearth of serviceable fields. The ’50 Little Leaguers in Bet Shemesh, for instance, have to run uphill to get to first base, since their field is built on an incline.
Therefore, the JNF and Israel Baseball League committed to "dotting Israel’s landscape with baseball fields," Baras said, and have designated a plot of land each in Netanya, Tel-Aviv, and Be’er Sheva to be converted into premium baseball fields. The challenge now is funding, as each field will cost between $100,000 and $’50,000.
"A rudimentary field without lights or dugouts will be about $100,000," said Baras. "We will put down artificial turf to preserve the environment, and catch basins to divert the rain on the field to other purposes, like landscaping in the neighborhood."
"But," Baras added, "a full field will run around $’50,000. The big expense is lighting, because it’s so hot in Israel during the day that the field will get the most use at night."
Once the sponsorship arrives, it may be the last time baseball is the butt of Israelis’ jokes.
"The places that are cooperating in building fields are getting a very integrating sport," said Baras. "Those cities have stepped up to the plate, so to speak."