Lifetime baseball fan Andy Bloch isn’t content to have baseball in Israel take a backseat to basketball and soccer on the world stage. Israel, ranked 22nd in the world and 6th in Europe, is gearing up for a new round of competition with the next World Baseball Classic late in 2016.

While the national team has been playing in tournaments for many years— and doing well — it’s clear that winning medals or gaining top-five finishes means attracting new players. Much like the United States’ Olympic basketball team attracts National Basketball Association players, Andy saw a similar opportunity for Israel’s national baseball team to focus its recruitment on skilled U.S. baseball players who had or could qualify to hold an Israeli passport, making them eligible to play for Israel’s national team. Oh yeah, Bloch reminds anyone who will listen, baseball is the national sport in the U.S. and a fan favorite around the world.

“Baseball has a long and illustrious history in the United States particularly, and all over Europe and Japan, as we know,” says Bloch, a native of Northern California. “There’s no shortage of fans and players of the sport except perhaps in Israel.”

Though the sport is garnering new fans every day in the Jewish Homeland, Bloch felt that something more could be done to accelerate the process.

The answer? Create a new Masa Israel program targeted at Jewish players in college, and in the minor and major leagues, who would come to Israel and play in the Israeli Premier League (from which the national team draws its players), fall in love with Israel, coach younger Israeli players, and perhaps make Aliyah and stay around to play world-class baseball for Israel. It was not going to be a semester abroad or summer program, Bloch decided. It had to be a serious half or full year baseball immersion program with a cultural element.

So, Bloch pitched his idea to Peter Kurz, president of the Israel Association of Baseball (IAB), and Nate “King of Jewish Baseball” Fish, IAB’s national coach. The three quickly discovered their shared vision for making Israel’s baseball program great.

Next, aided his son, Julian, who made Aliyah several years ago and who recently finished his service in the Israel Defense Forces, they took the idea to Masa Israel to test their interest and support. Again, everyone jumped on board and asked what they could do to help.

But, winning international baseball in Israel? Really? Sure why not! Are there really Jewish players in the U.S.? Yes of course, many great ones. It’s not like the old joke about the smallest sports book. Ever heard of Kevin Pillar, Ian Kinsler, Kevin Youkilis, Josh Zeid, Ryan Braun, Brad Ausmus, Joc Pederson, Ike Davis, Shawn Green, and the great Sandy Koufax, to name a very few?

“There are many Jewish players in Major League Baseball today, well 10 – 12 for sure, and over 200 in the many other development leagues. So there’s no shortage of talented, American Jewish baseball players who can and want to compete for Israel on the world stage,” according to Bloch, who also notes that the Israeli WBC team’s current roster includes former MLB all-star Shawn Green, and current MLB Rookie of the Year candidate, Joc Pederson, of the playoffs-bound Los Angeles Dodgers. The next WBC team will include the former great Kevin Youkilis. “With some of the negative news coming out of Israel, we have an opportunity to make a very positive statement to the world about our athletes in Israel.”

So, Bloch and his team from The Jewish Agency and Masa Israel, wouldn’t take “no” for an answer and launched a new and unique program called Israel Baseball Experience that will throw out the opening pitch in January, 2016.

Amos Kamil, who helped launch the idea with The Jewish Agency for Israel, adds that cultivating baseball in Israel is a great way to bridge the culture gap with American Jewry.

“Baseball is the great American pastime,” says Kamil, a longtime baseball enthusiast. “Promoting the sport in Israel encourages increased interest in Israel from Jews in the U.S. — both those who are already concerned about the affairs of the Jewish State and those who may be more disconnected.”

You’ll find more information about the program on Facebook if you search for “Israel Baseball” or on the web under Destination Israel. The team launched the program August 1st and it’s beginning to attract attention. The organic interest in the program is high but Bloch asserts that it now requires much more support from U.S. Jewish baseball players and interested parties.

“It’s clear to me that there’s a lot of talent out there,” says Bloch of recruiting for the program. “IBE offers these young players a way to come to Israel without spending an arm and a leg, and really get to know the Jewish Homeland while continuing to improve their skills.”

Calling all Jews in Baseball!

Bloch and the team want to hear from anyone who shares their passions. The team can be reached in the Jewish Agency for Israel’s New York City office at 1-866-864-3279.

Batter Up!