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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Israel Dreams Big, as in Big League

Some good news for a change!

Hat Tip: Yaakov in Beit Shemesh
PEOPLE go to Israel for different reasons. Some go to see historic sites, some go for religious reasons, some go to visit their children and grandchildren. Larry Baras goes to Israel to build a professional baseball league.

Baras, founder and operator of a specialty baking company in Boston, is going to Israel next Thursday for the next step in getting his league ready for what he plans to be its debut next year.

"Hopefully I'm going to select some of the venues," he said in a telephone interview. "As soon as I get some of the venues in place, we'll go after sponsorships and start selling tickets."

The man has an ambitious plan, considering that baseball and Israel usually are not mentioned in the same sentence. But interest in the sport has been growing, and the country has an amateur baseball league and three softball leagues as well as youth leagues.

Given that Israel has no baseball stadiums, Baras's project, especially its estimated time of arrival, may be unrealistic, but a former major league general manager likes the idea so much that he has joined as director of player development.

"I met with Larry and was really impressed with his enthusiasm," Dan Duquette, former general manager of the Boston Red Sox, said yesterday. "The program and the objectives of the league really excited me."

Commissioner Bud Selig is also enthusiastic about the idea. "I am 100 percent not only supportive," he said, "but I have been trying to figure out ways to make it happen. It's a subject very near and dear to my heart."

Duquette, who has created a youth sports academy in the Berkshires in Massachusetts, recalled that when he worked for the Montreal Expos, the owner, Charles Bronfman, talked about "bringing baseball to Israel."

By establishing the league, Baras has another goal: getting Israel into the next World Baseball Classic in 2009.

"We would recruit some Jewish-American major leaguers and minor leaguers," Baras said. He noted that Mike Piazza played for Italy in this year's inaugural classic and said, "They did it with a bit of a stretch. We don't have that stretch. We have the law of return."

Under that concept, any Jew is eligible to become a citizen of Israel. That means an Israeli team could include Kevin Youkilis, Gabe Kapler and Adam Stern of Boston, David Newhan of Baltimore, Shawn Green of Arizona, Brad Ausmus of Houston, Mike Lieberthal of Philadelphia, Jason Marquis of St. Louis, Scott Schoeneweis of Toronto, John Grabow of Pittsburgh and Scott Feldman of Texas.

Read the whole thing.


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