Ausmus working this week with one of Israel’s young talents.
Ausmus working this week with one of Israel’s young talents. Photo by IAB
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Israel will benefit from the relative plethora of Jewish talent available as it prepares for this fall's World Baseball Classic, the head of the country's baseball association said this week.

"We are living in the Golden Age of Jewish baseball," said Haim Katz, president of the Israel Association of Baseball. "In previous eras there were one or two Jewish baseball stars: Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax. Today there are over a dozen playing in Major League Baseball, and hundreds of top-quality players in the minor leagues, colleges and in our Israel league here."

The Israel Association of Baseball sports roughly 1,000 players of all ages, mostly children, competing in different age divisions. The national team, which is set to participate in a European championship tournament in Prague next month, will combine with Jewish talent from abroad to form the Israel team that will compete in the World Baseball Classic.

The IAB named former All-Star Brad Ausmus, who has been in the country since Sunday, as its coach on Wednesday.

Ausmus said Wednesday he has received commitments from two other Jewish former major leaguer players, Gabe Kapler and Shawn Green, to be involved with Israel's national team. Green, a former outfielder with the New York Mets who is one of only 16 players in Major League history to hit four home runs in one game, has agreed to serve as hitting coach as well as play for the team.

Israel will play in a qualifying tournament in Florida this November, against Spain, France and South Africa. If the Israeli squad wins, it will advance to play in the tournament in 2013.

According to Peter Kurz, Secretary General of the IAB, there are quite a few Israelis playing at different levels in the United States who he expects to make the team. Alon Leichman, a pitcher playing in Cypress College, was the second-youngest player to play in the now-defunct Israel Professional Baseball League during its only season in 2007. Shlomo Lipitz, a semi-pro baller in New York who led the current national team in the qualifying tournament for the European Championship by pitching 14 innings over two games, is also a candidate.

Most players who end up on the Israeli roster will be playing on their own regular teams in the months leading up to the qualifying tournament. Though weekly practices will be held in Israel for players who might be on the roster, the majority of the players will assemble in Florida roughly a week before the tournament to prepare as a team.

Coach Ausmus said he has been in touch with every Jewish Major Leaguer or their agent, though he could not comment on any progress made in efforts to receive commitments from current MLB stars such as Ryan Braun or Kevin Youkilis. "We haven't received any no's, and in fact half a dozen Minor League players have approached us," he said.

Leichman, a pitcher playing in Cypress College, was the second-youngest player to play in the now-defunct Israel Professional Baseball League during its only season in 2007. Shlomo Lipitz, a semi-pro baller in New York who led the current national team in the qualifying tournament for the European Championship by pitching 14 innings over two games, is also a candidate.

Most players who end up on the Israeli roster will be playing on their own regular teams in the months leading up to the qualifying tournament. Though weekly practices will be held in Israel for players who might be on the roster, the majority of the players will assemble in Florida roughly a week before the tournament to prepare as a team.

Coach Ausmus said he has been in touch with every Jewish Major Leaguer or their agent, though he could not comment on any progress made in efforts to receive commitments from current MLB stars such as Ryan Braun or Kevin Youkilis. “We haven’t received any no’s, and in fact half a dozen Minor League players have approached us,” he said.

Ra’anana complex

The IAB unveiled plans at Wednesday’s press conference for a $3 million project: the construction of a brand new baseball complex in Ra’anana, which would serve as the hub for all baseball activities in Israel.

The IAB hopes that the prestige of Ausmus and other Jewish Major Leaguers donning the blue-and-white will drum up support for the association.