More than 60 self-styled athletic studs hoping to play professional baseball in Israel came out on November 10 to participate in the first such tryouts ever held in Israel. The job of Dan Duquette, who ran the tryouts, was to separate the contenders from the pretenders.
Most of the hopefuls were either American born, having moved to Israel as children; native Israelis who learned the game from their American fathers and played on Israeli teams; or Americans who had moved here at a later age, after having played in the U.S.
Most of them did not have a realistic shot at making the cut, and they knew it before they arrived at the Sportek athletic facility in Petah Tikva.
The tryouts were run very professionally by Duquette, which is no surprise: As one-time director of player development for the Montreal Expos, he drafted future stars such as Marquis Grissom, Charles Johnson, and Rondell White. Later, as general manager for the Expos, he acquired elite pitcher Pedro Martinez in a brilliant trade; and as general manager of the Boston Red Sox, Duquette’s shrewd deals nabbing Martinez again from the Expos, trading for pitcher Derek Lowe and catcher Jason Varitek, and signing free agents Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon is credited with building the Red Sox into what ultimately led to the team’s ‘004 championship.
Duquette is under no illusions that he will find a diamond in the rough on this day. He understands that there has been very little opportunity for Israeli kids to learn and play the game, and so the local pool of talent for the new league is negligible.
"Until we can build up the infrastructure here in Israel and by that I mean the coaches and the facilities we’re going to have to import players from the Australian league, and the minor leagues in the States," Duquette said.
Building up baseball in Israel is indeed part of the long-range plan. One goal, only a dream so far, is fielding an Israeli team in the ‘009 World Baseball Classic, an international tournament of 16 national teams.
Duquette hopes to open a baseball academy, modeled after the successful one he runs in Massachusetts. Other plans call for youth baseball clinics one held this past summer drew 165 participants as well as programs to develop women’s softball. IBL officials are hoping that increased participation in baseball by younger Israelis will lead to more locals playing in the new league, as well as provide a fan base for the league. Opening Day is scheduled for June ”, ‘007.
The trick to having a successful venture, obviously, will be attracting fans. Larry Baras, a businessman from Boston who is the brains behind the whole initiative, is well aware of that challenge. "Because we really want to encourage attendance by native Israelis, there will be a lot of entertainment on the field, before and after the games, and in-between innings," he said.