ONEONTA _ "It's baseball. It's the greatest sport there is." That's what Amit Kurz said Wednesday after the Israeli youth team he coaches endured a tough, 12-2 loss to the Pumas from Miami.
The team of 13- to 15-year-olds is part of the Israeli national baseball team system is in Oneonta this week for a tournament at Cooperstown Baseball World. Shouts in Hebrew echoed across the infield during the game at the State University College at Oneonta, a host site for Cooperstown Baseball World.
But baseball is not usually on the tip of the tongue when it comes to conversations about sports Israel. Kurz said that may be changing. "It's slowly attracting more more Israelis," Kurz, 22, said. Kurz, who is himself a player for the Israeli national team system, said many of the team's players are, like himself, American-born, whose families immigrated back to Israel. But others are native Israelis.
Two of the players are from the Gezer kibbutz, home of one of the few baseball fields in the country. The association sends about four national teams abroad each year. Kurz is a member of the senior national team played in the Israel Baseball League — a professional league that had a single season in 2007. In addition to national team play, the teens also have their own teams in their communities back home. see team on page 2 "If they are lucky, they'll play three times a week," Kurz said.
"We're able to compete."
The team had already won one game lost by a run or two in four others. Despite losing the game against the Pumas, the Israeli players had their chins up a few minutes later. The team finishes the tournament today. "I think it's a very impressive tournament. It's very well organized," Kurz said. The team, whose blue uniform simply said "Israel," was not without cheering fans. Area residents who worship at Temple Beth El in Oneonta are supporting the team. Also, many of the players have relatives in the United States who made the trip to Oneonta.
Other family members traveled from Israel, Naomi Blum of Jackson, N.J., said from behind home plate as she watched her grandson Sam Cogan, 13, cover second base. "There's a lot of family here from Israel," Blum said. The team visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Tuesday, last week spent several days in Manhattan. Blum said she was amazed to see so many people in around Cooperstown attending area baseball camps or visiting the Hall of Fame.
"It's quite an adventure," she said.
Her husband, Robert Blum, was also enjoying the action. "It's wonderful to come up here watch all these games," he said. The players said they were loving it. "How do you not have fun playing baseball every day?" Ilan Klein, 14, asked. Klein said his favorite artifacts at the Hall of Fame were the World Series rings.
He said one day he'd like his own. Kurz said he visited the Hall of Fame once as a boy enjoyed going back. "It was very interesting. It was a great learning experience," he said. Many of the players wandered through the hall with eyes mouths wide open, he said. "They're having a great time."