HASHMONAIM, West Bank — Nate Fish is excited. Things are off to a good start at this “Baseball for Beginners” practice, where 11 young Israeli boys are putting on mitts and pulling baseball caps over knitted yarmulkes.
“All right, now we’ve got everybody in the dugout like a real team!” he yells. Then he turns around to look at the diamond that his players have helped set up, and his voice drops. “Home plate is backwards, guys,” he says.
In sports-mad Israel, where basketball and soccer are hugely popular, baseball is still mostly a curiosity for kids like these. Fish, a former minor leaguer who played alongside with Yankees third baseman Kevin Youkilis in college, is trying to change that.
On Aug. 1, he became the first paid full-time national director of the Israel Association of Baseball, which is making a major new push to expand the reach of the sport beyond its base of American expats and their children.
“We have to change the identity of baseball in Israel a little bit,” Fish said. “We have to make it cool and we have to make it exciting and athletic.”
Fish, a youthful 33-year-old third baseman from Shaker Heights, Ohio, fits the part.
In his blog, part travelogue and part absurdist comedy, he styles himself the “King of All Jewish Baseball.” He arrives at the practice in workout gear and runs around the field like a high school coach, yelling instructions and keeping the kids moving from drill to drill. He wants them active, engaged and, in the brutal summer heat, sweating.
“The misconception is that baseball is slow and that baseball is boring. Baseball is fast,” Fish said. “For anyone who thinks baseball is boring, put them in the batter’s box and zip a 95 mph fastball past them and see if they’re still bored.”