Sunday, October 28, 2007

Baseball dream is reborn in Israel


A great story that gets to the heart of why I am so happy about the IBL and hope it succeeds—for the kids who can’t dream of playing baseball professionally unless the IBL is there. With the IBL, religious kids don’t have to make a choice between baseball and Shabbat.

Ex-Boston resident played in league

Sure enough, former Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette, one of the organizers of the league, saw the savvy southpaw’s tryouts and offered him a contract not only to pitch, but coach as well.

PORTSMOUTH, N.H.— For Ari Alexenberg, it’s hard to ignore the irony.

As a child growing up in Queens, N.Y., Alexenberg played stickball with the other kids in his neighborhood and dreamed of being a big leaguer someday.

But while other boys played on Little League and school teams, Alexenberg, an Orthodox Jew, could not play because most games were on Saturdays.

Now, as a 45-year-old father of two, the Portsmouth resident got his chance to play professional baseball, in the same country where the religion that kept him off the playing field began.

Alexenberg played for three months in the Israel Baseball League this summer. The league hopes to increase the popularity of the sport in a country where soccer and basketball are kings. With a large American population, organizers hope to find success during the other sports’ off-seasons.

In its first year, the league had six teams that played 48 games.

Tryouts were held throughout the United States and Israel, and a majority of the players were current and former minor league players between the ages of 20 and 30, all with a keen devotion to the sport and varying levels of professional aspirations.

Alexenberg was not only be the oldest player in the league (the next-oldest was 32), but he was one of the few players that had previously lived in Israel. From age 7 to 12, Alexenberg lived with his parents in Israel before moving back to the U.S., where he went to college.

“I’ve been playing baseball forever,” he said. “But as much as I loved the game, I didn’t have the opportunity to play on an organized level.”

After moving to Boston at 23, Alexenberg played in several city leagues. After seeing the 6-feet-1-inch lefty throw in the upper-80 mph range, one of his coaches put him in contact with a scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The scout directed him to a semipro league in San Diego, where he also worked for the San Diego State University baseball team under legendary coach Jim Dietz.

But eventually, Alexenberg gave up on his dream, to pursue another dream with his wife, Julie.

“We wanted to start a family, so we had to move and I had to get a real job,” he said. “It takes so many years to hone those skills. I realized such a long learning curve, it would be difficult to move up.”

Alexenberg’s love for baseball never waned. He spent much of his free time over the next 20 years coaching youth leagues and playing on men’s teams.

When he heard about the IBL tryouts in Massachusetts, Alexenberg scoffed at the idea, knowing a 45-year-old would likely have little chance making any semi-professional team. So he skipped the tryout. Julie found out and told him to book a flight to Israel for another tryout.

“I thought it was ridiculous, but my wife encouraged me to go. She knows how much I love it and had faith I’d be able to make it.”

Sure enough, former Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette, one of the organizers of the league, saw the savvy southpaw’s tryouts and offered him a contract not only to pitch, but coach as well.

Alexenberg said if he was not an Orthodox Jew, he probably would have played at least minor league ball. Unlike other sports, he said, baseball requires significantly more game-time experience in order to hone the skills necessary to excel. By the time he had the experience, he was too old.

Still, Alexenberg, a successful entrepreneur in various technology ventures, said he has no regrets and just sees his situation as any other talented athlete whose professional career was hindered by a complication.

“I had it all except experience, but what can you do? It’s one of those things. A lot of people who have potential careers in baseball pass it by for different reasons. Mine is just very unique.”

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please do not use comments to personally attack other posters.