American Jewish Slugger Comes to Bat for Israeli Baseball

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Former Major League Baseball player Art Shamsky is wrapping up a two-week trip to Israel dedicated partly to promoting baseball here.

Shamsky, a 71-year-old American Jew, played in the Major League from 1965 to 1972 and was a member of the World Series-champion 1969 New York Mets.

Since arriving in Israel this month, he has participated in various fundraising activities for the Israel Association of Baseball, which is the sport’s main development and governing body here. His efforts have been focused on raising money to build a multi-million dollar baseball complex in Ra’anana and another field in Modi’in.

Shamsky is no stranger to Israeli baseball, having managed a team in the ill-fated Israeli Baseball League, a professional league that featured professional players from around the world. Due largely to funding difficulties, the league did not resume play after its inaugural 2007 season. But that year, Shamsky guided his team, the Modi’in Miracle, to the championship game.

In August 2012, Shamsky was named “Israel’s Baseball Ambassador” by the Israel Baseball Association, and in September 2012, he traveled with members of the Israeli national baseball team to Jupiter, Florida, where along with other American Jewish players, they represented Israel in the qualifying round of the World Baseball Classic. The Israeli team ultimately fell to Spain, and did not make it past the qualifiers.

A slow starter

Shamsky was not always a diehard supporter of Israeli baseball. When first approached about managing a team here in 2007, he recalls being hesitant.

“I had never been to Israel,” he said. “My first thoughts were that it’s dangerous.”

But after giving it some consideration and learning that other American Jewish ballplayers Ron Blomberg and Ken Holtzman, who are friends of his, were on board, he accepted the offer. He has never looked back.

 “I fell in love with Israel during that three month period,” he said. “I have wonderful friends here.”

Shansky is now an important fixture of Israeli baseball. He says he enjoys the challenge of getting the sport off the ground in a country where most people do not know which hand to put a mitt on.

“The bottom line is I love the game, and I love the country,” he said.

Shamsky’s work on behalf of Israeli baseball mainly involves promoting awareness and the building of facilities.

“The thing the IAB has to do is make people aware. They’ve already got a nucleus here, a team, a league, but the main problem that they have here is that they don’t have many facilities, and whatever facilities they have are just not up to standards, he said.

“The one decent baseball field is in Petah Tikvah, and it’s owned by the Baptist church. If Israel had its own baseball facility, they would be able to lure teams from all over the world here to generate tournaments. Without that, it’s very difficult to get teams to come here and play.”

Shamsky’s work on behalf of Israeli baseball does not end when he returns home to the U.S.

“It’s not that I didn’t speak to Jewish groups before, but having managed here opened up a whole new world of speaking to Jewish groups at synagogues, temples, things like that, he said. “I have a slideshow presentation that shows them the good and the bad of the Israel Baseball League.”

If they build it, will you come?

Last year, the Israel Association of Baseball announced plans to build a new, state-of-the-art baseball facility in Ra’anana. After the Israeli team’s early exit from the World Baseball Classic last September, “We licked our wounds for a few weeks; then we began to work in earnest on developing the fields,” said Secretary General Peter Kurz.

The Israel Association of Baseball has reportedly hired Murray Cook, the Major League Baseball consultant for new field development, to help oversee the planning of new fields in both Ra’anana and Modi’in. Both fields are in the early planning and fundraising stages, but association personnel have met with the Ra’anana municipality and the Hevel Modi'in Regional Council to discuss the projects.

With the new fields, Kurz said, “We will try to attract European tournaments and also the qualifiers of the World Baseball Classic, which they wanted to hold in Israel but the Baptist Village was not sufficient – the Ra’anana facility is being planned with this in mind.”

He also praised Shamsky’s trip to Israel. “Art has been a huge help and asset,” he said. “He helps us by speaking in front of groups and potential fundraisers about Israeli baseball, makes contacts for us and promotes the game. While he was here he held clinics for the kids and signed autographs and took pictures. For the kids in Israel to see and speak to a real ex-Major Leaguer is a real thrill, especially one who listens and wants to learn. And certainly for some parents who were 1969 Mets fans, it’s wonderful.”

Shamsky talking to young Israeli ballplayers.Credit: Israel Association of Baseball
Shamsky speaking at a fundraiser in Modi'in.Credit: Israel Association of Baseball.

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