Israel's First Pro Baseball League
Submitted to: Sport 
Posted: February 26 2007

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February 26 2007 (Jewswire.com) – Former major leaguers Ken Holtzman, Art Shamsky and Ron Blomberg will manage three of the six teams in the first season of the Israel Baseball League (www.israelbaseballleague.com), the nation’s first foray into professional baseball.

The inaugural season will begin June 24, 117 days from today, with a 45-game schedule covering eight weeks and culminating in a championship.

The three managers are present at a press conference today in New York, where they are joined by the league’s Commissioner, Daniel C. Kurtzer, the former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt and then Israel; Dan Duquette, the former General Manager of the Montreal Expos and Boston Red Sox, who serves as Director of Baseball Operations, and Larry Baras, the Boston businessman who conceived the league. Mr. Baras is Managing Director, IBL and IBL Community Foundation

Also in attendance today is one of the 120 players who will populate the league’s rosters – Leon Feingold a New Yorker who will realize a dream by playing pro ball in Israel. He is representative of the players who have been signed out of Dan Duquette’s tryout camps. Tryouts will continue March 6-7 in the Dominican Republic, and April 15 in Los Angeles.

The teams will be the Bet Shemesh Blue Sox, and the Modi’in Miracle, (sharing Gezer Field in Kibbutz Gezer), the Tel Aviv Lightning and Ra’anana Express (sharing Sportek in Tel Aviv), and the Netanya Tigers and the Petach Tikva Pioneers (sharing Baptist Village Field in Petach Tikva).

In bringing three ex-major league stars to the helm of the clubs, the league is reaching out to people with deep roots in the professional game.

• Ken Holtzman is the winningest Jewish pitcher in major league history with a lifetime 174-150 record, compiled over 15 seasons (1965-1979), with the Cubs, Athletics, Orioles and Yankees. (Sandy Koufax won 165 games.) Holtzman hurled two no-hitters for the Chicago Cubs.

• Art Shamsky played for the Reds, the Mets, the Athletics and the Cubs over eight seasons, (1965-1972). He was a member of the 1969 “Miracle Mets” and hit four consecutive home runs for the Reds in 1966.

• Ron Blomberg was the nation’s number one draft pick in 1967 and spent eight seasons in the majors with the Yankees and White Sox (1969, 1971-76, 1978), earning a footnote of fame as baseball’s first designated hitter.

Not all of the managers and players have Jewish heritage; a large number of international players have been signed to play in the league, hailing from all over the world, with varying degrees of playing experience.

“Over time,” said Baras, “as Israel grows more accustomed to the sport, we expect to see a greater percentage of Israeli athletes on the rosters. For now, we want to field strong, competitive teams that will attract international notice, and position the nation to be a participant in the World Baseball Classic one day.”

Bet Shemesh and Modi’in both are heavily populated by former Americans, mostly from New York, and both have very active amateur league programs. Former Yankee Blomberg will manage Bet Shemesh, and former Met Shamsky will manage Modi’in, with a strong rivalry among Yankees and Mets fans already taking hold.

Holtzman will manage the Ra’anana, and Steve Hertz, who pitched briefly for Houston in 1964 and who is the head coach at Miami Dade Junior College will manage Tel Aviv. Shaun Smith, head coach of the Auburn Orioles, the highest level of play in Australia, will manage Netanya. The sixth manager, who will manage Petach Tikva, is expected to come from within Israel.

Leon Feingold, a 33-year old right handed pitcher out of SUNY Albany, has an especially colorful background. At 6’6 and 245 pounds, he has been ranked as high as 12th by the IFOCE – the International Federation of Competitive Eating! He has played in the Cleveland Indians organization. At Oceanside High School in 1990, he shared a homeroom with future NFL quarterback Jay Fiedler and future St. Louis Cardinals farmhand Steve Frascatore - three pro athletes in one homeroom.

“Feingold comes out of one of the tryout camps we have held over the last six months,” said Duquette. “Some of the talent to emerge from the camps has been eye-opening. As word spread about this new opportunity to compete on an international stage, players traveled great distances to seek roster spots. At our last tryout, in Miami in December, we offered contracts to almost half the players who attended. We believe the caliber of play in our first year will approximate a good Independent League to Class A level and will give the Israeli people an excellent introduction to well played baseball.”

The IBL has set in motion a process by which it will be selling teams to individual owners. Four of the teams – the Lightning, the Tigers, the Express and the Pioneers – will be sold outright to individual investor groups. For the Blue Sox and the Miracle, the league is selling minority interests in small equity blocks in order to meet a demand for ownership options by smaller investors seeking a stake in the landmark inaugural teams.

In addition to Baras, Kurtzer and Duquette, the league’s management includes Martin I. Berger, Director of Player Personnel, Leon Klarfeld, Director of Israeli Operations, and Jeremy Baras, Director of Game Experience. The Executive Board Committee is composed of Marvin Goldklang, Jeff Goldklang, Andrew Zimbalist and Marty Appel.

The Advisory Board consists of Commissioner Bud Selig, Wendy Selig-Prieb, Randy Levine, Russell F. Robinson, Greg Kannerstein, Marshall Glickman, Ronald Carner, Philip Rosenfield, Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, Buddy Lewis, Martin Abramowitz, Gil Breiman Dr. Stuart Hershon, and Bob Ruxin.

The front office includes RLR Associates, Ltd, (media and corporate partnerships), Marty Appel (public relations), Bertin Lefkovic (ticket sales), Geller Sport, Inc. (field engineering), Andrew Wilson (website) and Daniel Gorlin (sponsors). Biographies are available at the IBL’s new website (www.israelbaseballleague.com) (click on About the League, IBL Executive bios). Schedules and additional information are also included on the site.

Also present for today’s announcement is Israel’s Benji Krasna, the Deputy Consul General in New York, Russell F. Robinson, CEO of the Jewish National Fund, which will embark upon “Project Baseball” to help build field and community interest in the sport within Israel.

RapDaddy Productions, which is producing a documentary about the birth of the League is providing a short video for today’s launch based on the first tryouts held in Hinsdale MA at the Duquette Baseball Academy. The league will also have a cooperative arrangement with www.One.co.il, Israel’s leading all-sports website, for continuing coverage of the League.

Dr. Charlotte K. Frank, Chair, Operation Respect Board of Directors, is attending the press conference to discuss the organization’s involvement with the IBL. Said Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary, the founder and president of Operation Respect: “The Israel Baseball League embraces Operation Respect’s commitment to a caring, respectful and bully-free environment in which people grow, learn, and reach their potential as productive members of society. We look forward to working with the IBL to bring our educational programs and strategies to Israel with a mutual vision of creating communities of respect throughout the world for all our children.”

Rules

All games are seven innings in duration, with a modified DH rule, where a DH can be used only twice per game for one designated player, adding to the strategic use of the DH. And in the most exciting innovation of all, if games are tied after seven innings, they are decided by a home run derby.

Business Goals

From the beginning, there will be a concerted marketing campaign to draw spectators from the 7,000,000 permanent citizens of Israel. The IBL expects a significant portion of its attendance at the games to be comprised of the nearly 300,000 Israelis who moved from America, the hundreds of thousands of American tourists who visit Israel during the League’s baseball season, and the tens of thousands of American students who are in Israel on extended stays. The goal during the first year is to have an average attendance of 1,000 spectators per game and for that to increase by at least 20% in each succeeding year. Ticket prices will range from $6 - $15 in the first year. Players will earn a $1,500 stipend for their eight weeks of play as they get the opportunity to showcase their talents on an international stage.

Sponsorships and marketing agreements are currently in negotiation, with Nokona and Amigo-US being announced today as the first sponsors of the league. (See separate releases). Broadcasting contracts are expected to be announced shortly, with a component to be Sunday night webcasts available in the U.S.

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