Baseball Major Leaguers Tapped for Online Training of Israeli Players

Coronavirus restrictions push the Israel Association of Baseball to move to virtual training to keep kids 'within some kind of baseball connection'

Steve Klein
Steven Klein
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File photo: Baseball equipment during an Israeli national baseball team practice in Tel Aviv, January 14, 2020.
File photo: Baseball equipment during an Israeli national baseball team practice in Tel Aviv, January 14, 2020.Credit: Ariel Schalit,AP
Steve Klein
Steven Klein

When the coronavirus crisis hit Israel last month, the Israel Association of Baseball had to figure out what to do given that it could not open up its numerous youth leagues around the country nor hold team practices.

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“We did two main things once we realized we won’t be able to do practices outside,” Ophir Katz, IAB’s national head coach, told Haaretz. “One was [focus on] how to keep kids competitive and two was [focus on] how to stay within some kind of baseball connection.”

He said the association has met the first goal by launching a virtual tourney that has been running for the past month and a half, and will last until practices can begin anew. “Every week, we send out two to three different challenges to kids, which are worth points,” he explained. “They send back videos, post on social media and the winners will get some prizes. So, we are able to keep kids active through that,” said Katz, adding that some 120 to 130 kids participate in this virtual training.

The IAB has addressed the second goal by starting a variety of Zoom sessions which vary according to the target audience. “Some are for the general population,” he said. One featured former Major Leaguers and Israeli Olympians Danny Valencia and Ian Kinsler as well as Eric Holtz, the coach of Israel’s Olympic baseball team. “It was open to everyone,” he said. “They talked, the kids asked questions and could interact with them. It was cool and fun.”

Eric Holtz, July 2017.Credit: Margo Sugarman

Some of the 20 Zoom sessions so far have been just for coaches, and are meant to help boost their coaching skills. The third set of sessions have been aimed at the 50 or so players at the national academy in the under-15 and under-18 categories who play at a more competitive level.

“We were guiding them with workout plans,” he explained. “We used our great resource of our Olympic national team players, a lot of whom are in the United States, with a lot of baseball experience and knowledge. We organized talks that are more in-depth about psychology, mindset and tactics.”

He added that at the latest session last week, “we were lucky to host three Major League pitchers: Joe Musgrove of the [Pittsburgh] Pirates, James Hoyt of the [Cleveland] Indians and Rowan Wick of the [Chicago] Cubs.”

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