Hopefully IBL can remain alive in some form that will be enough to generate some interest in the sport in the country. Though scaling back to 4 teams and the small number of homegrown players probably means that baseball in Israel will always be something like hockey in Japan, Korea, and China. Turning itself into a winter league sounds like an interesting and plausible idea, even though there seems to be a mess of ideas right now about which direction the league should go in. Having both a regular summer league and a winter league will more than likely be a larger financial burden for the organization.
The shakeup was the latest twist in the league’s short but tumultuous history. Just last month, the league said it was coming back for a second season after its first season left it on the brink of collapse. At the time, it said four teams would compete, down from six last year, and the season would be cut in half to 20 games.
But after further discussions, the league’s new management concluded a brief tournament pitting an Israeli all-star team against international players would be the best way to generate fan interest and showcase homegrown talent, said David Solomont, a Boston businessman and the IBL’s interim president.
He said the best-of-seven series, which will include youth clinics, would begin on Aug. 14 to coincide with the Beijing Olympics.
“The plan to host an Olympic style baseball festival is a fabulous way to promote the sport and give the Israeli athletes the attention they deserve as local baseball heroes,” he said.
The international team will be comprised of all-star players from last year, the league said.
The inaugural 2007 season delivered a respectable level of play — roughly on par with single-A minor league baseball in the U.S. — and more than a dozen players went on to sign professional contracts.
Former Boston Red Sox General Manager Dan Duquette, who oversaw player development last year, will now take on an expanded role as director of operations. Duquette and new board member Gary Woolf, a Boston businessman with years of sports-management experience, will oversee long-term development, including the launch of the winter league in southern Israel.
“Now that the potential is established a more robust and sophisticated league, teams, management and vision can be engaged,” Woolf said. “The entire team believes this enterprise can become an explosive element not only in Israel but have international marketing and business appeal.”
Solomont said the league hopes to begin winter play this year, though he said facilities have not yet been arranged. The long-term goal is to attract international players like the winter leagues in the Caribbean.
“This is going to be the Dominican Republic of the Middle East,” he said.