Jewish state slated to host competition in 2025

Israel finishes 6th overall at European Baseball Championships

Despite disappointing finish, general manager says tournament was ‘an incredible baseball experience,’ with games held before and after Yom Kippur to accommodate fasting players

Gavriel Fiske is a reporter at The Times of Israel

Yonatan (Yoni) Zeevi of Israel's national baseball team gets on base during the European Baseball Championship, held from September 23-October 1, 2023, in the Czech Republic (Jan Benes/ Eurobaseball 2023)
Yonatan (Yoni) Zeevi of Israel's national baseball team gets on base during the European Baseball Championship, held from September 23-October 1, 2023, in the Czech Republic (Jan Benes/ Eurobaseball 2023)

Israel’s National Baseball team finished in sixth place in the 2023 European Baseball Championship, a biannual tournament that Israel is set to host in 2025.

This year’s week-long contest, held from September 23 through October 1 in the Czech Republic, coincided with the Yom Kippur holiday, but event organizers scheduled Israel’s games for just before and after the Day of Atonement to accommodate fasting players.

“About half the players fasted,” explained Frankie Sachs, spokesman for the Israel Association of Baseball (IAB).

The tournament is regularly scheduled in the fall, around the time of Yom Kippur, and in 2019 when Israel first entered the contest there was some pushback from the organizers. But now “they just do what they have to” to schedule around it, Sachs added.

After smashing Switzerland 14-1 in a strong start, Team Israel had a tough 2-0 loss to Germany in a night game after Yom Kippur. The team went on to beat Belgium 11-8 the next day, securing their place in the quarter-finals. They then lost badly to the Netherlands, 12-2, before defeating Sweden 6-4. Israel’s final game in the tournament was a 5-1 loss against the Czech hosts, leaving them in sixth place.

In the final games held on October 1, Spain clinched the gold medal with a 11-2 win over Great Britain, who received silver. The Netherlands beat Germany 5-4 in a 10-inning game to secure the bronze.

“We were a little disappointed. We were hoping to finish in the top four, but sixth out of 16 isn’t bad,” said Peter Kurz, general manager of Israel’s National Baseball team, who accompanied the squad in Europe. The tournament was “an incredible baseball experience,” he said, praising the Czech staff for planning and organizing the event.

Israel’s national baseball team and staff at the European Baseball Championships, held over September 23-October 1, 2023, in the Czech Republic. (Jan Benes/Eurobaseball 2023)

Israel is set to host the championship in the fall of 2025, which Kurz said will be a great opportunity, but will also have its share of challenges. The tournament will include 16 teams, with around 600 players and staff, plus fans, making it one of the larger international sporting events to be held in the country.

The Israeli team won the silver medal at the 2021 tournament held in Turin, Italy.

The IAB has for years organized Israel’s various national teams for tournaments abroad and runs local leagues for minors and adults at several baseball fields around the country. But in order to host the European championships, Israel will have to build two more fields and other related infrastructure.

There are several options for new locations, Kurz said, while noting the construction of new fields has been complicated due to upcoming local elections on October 31, as locales have been loath to grant approval.

Baseball remains a niche sport in Israel, but the national team gained recognition for representing the Jewish state in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which were held in 2021, due to COVID restrictions the previous year. Team Israel also participated in the World Baseball Classic tournaments held in 2017 and 2023.

The 2020 Olympic team consisted largely of Jewish MLB players and had only three-native born Israelis, but this year’s team had nine sabras out of 24 total players, and included a host of young newcomers who already represented Israel in European youth tournaments.

Pitcher Shlomo Lipetz of Team Israel, at the 2023 European Baseball Championship. (Lenka Brožová/ Eurobaseball 2023)

Standout players included shortstop Benjamin Rosengard, 23, an American who recently immigrated to Israel, Yonatan (Yoni) Zeevi, 22, an Israeli-American who is captain of the University of Chicago’s baseball team, and pitcher Shlomo Lipetz, who, at 44, has been on Team Israel since 2017.

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