Mon, Jun 25, 2007 - Page 18 News List

Baseball comes to Israel amid keen anticipation

GAME ON A former US ambassador to Israel has been appointed commissioner of the country's new baseball league with the intention of building interest in the sport

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , JERUSALEM

In the land of milk and honey, it is time for peanuts and hot dogs -- the Israel Baseball League was due to make its debut last night with the Petach Tikva Pioneers playing host to the Modi'in Miracle. A high demand for tickets moved organizers to double the seating capacity at the Yarkon Sports Complex to accommodate a projected 2,000 spectators expected to attend.

The league's six teams will play an eight-week, 45-game season, with an all-star game on July 29 and a one-game championship on Aug. 19. The league will honor the Jewish faith -- there will be no games on Saturdays.

"To me, it's a reward for all of my hard work in the gym and on the field, and it's the ultimate Jewish-American dream," said Josh Eichenstein, 23, a middle infielder from Los Angeles. "Being able to play baseball as a job in Israel blows my mind."

Eichenstein said he hoped to put on a good show for all the people watching baseball for the first time.

"I want to help Israelis understand the game of baseball," he said. "Once the game is understood, they will fall in love with it."

The league has assembled some former major league players and executives. Art Shamsky, Ken Holtzman and Ron Blomberg are among the managers. Dan Duquette, a former general manager of the Boston Red Sox and the Montreal Expos, is the league's director of player development. The head of public relations is Marty Appel, who once held that position with the Yankees.

Daniel Kurtzer, a former US ambassador to Israel, is the league's commissioner. Now retired from diplomatic service, Kurtzer will spend the next two months in Israel, on vacation from his day job as a professor at Princeton.

"My role basically is to establish the character of the league," Kurtzer said. "So we've developed the rules and a code of conduct. My job is largely to give advice and do some public relations, give speeches and things like that."

The league has a long-range plan for building a fan base. It has run youth camps and clinics, and has promotions scheduled throughout the season.

"Our real objective this summer is to build some degree of interest on the part of Israelis," Kurtzer said.

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