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The history of baseball in Israel

March 5, 2023

When Theodor Herzl was living in Europe in the late 19th century and helped create his vision for a Jewish state, it’s safe to say he didn’t have baseball as part of the plan. When he said “If you will it, it is no dream,” it wasn’t coming out of a corn field in Iowa, after all.

Since Israel officially became a nation in 1948, sports like soccer and basketball have taken root and are a part of the national fabric. Baseball, not so much, though a lot of work has been done to change that, especially of late. Here’s a snapshot of what baseball has looked like to date in Israel and what the future might hold.

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Country population: 9 million

Total Major Leaguers all time: 1*

WBSC ranking: 20th

Last World Baseball Classic appearance: 2017

Best WBC finish: 2017, 6th place

Professional League – Israel Baseball League (2007)

The IBL may have been ill-fated, running just the one season, but it planted a seed among those who cared about growing the sport. It was the first exposure Israel had to American players and what it took to run baseball at high level. And there’s a direct line from those interactions to the invitation the country got in 2011 to build a team to try to qualify for the World Baseball Classic in 2012.

First Israeli Major Leaguer: Dean Kremer*


There has yet to be someone born in Israel to play in the big leagues, though the Reds made history when they hired Alon Leichman to be their assistant pitching coach. Kremer was born in the United States to Israeli parents, thus giving him the distinction of being the first Israeli citizen to play Major League Baseball.

Since Israel’s World Baseball Classic team is made up of American-born players who are Jewish (The rule for the tournament states that a player can play for a team if, in a nutshell, he could gain citizenship in the country he plans to represent. So players with a Jewish parent or grandparent, or who are married to someone Jewish were eligible to play). Some became citizens officially so they could compete in the most recent Olympic Games.

Notable Israeli players

Ryan Lavarnway


Lavarnway was named MVP of the first-round series of the 2017 Classic when Israel stunned the baseball world by sweeping all three games and advanced to Round 2. He’s played for parts of 10 seasons in the big leagues and the catcher became a citizen to play in the Olympics. Last year, he completed his 15th season of professional baseball and will be a key part of Israel’s lineup.

Shlomo Lipetz

Lipetz, who is still a part of Team Israel as part of the pitching pool, has been a part of Israeli baseball longer than anyone. Born in Tel Aviv, he pitched in the Israel Baseball League for the team in Netanya and has been a part of the previous World Baseball Classic teams as well as the Olympic team. He once threw 216 pitches in one day in the European Championships many years ago.

Josh Zeid

Zeid has been a part of every Israeli entrant in World Baseball Classic play, starting with the team that tried to qualify in 2012. He was a standout on the mound for the 2017 team, earning a spot on the All-World Baseball Classic team, and after his final season of pro ball that year worked in pitching development for the Cubs. He also received citizenship and came out of retirement to pitch for Israel in the Olympics and will serve as the team’s pitching coach in this Classic before moving on to be the pitching coach for the Texas Rangers’ Double-A affiliate in Frisco, Texas.

Future Israeli Star? The Brothers Gelof

Using the World Baseball Classic rules for this one since there isn’t an Israeli-born player on the cusp of greatness, though the program is moving in the right direction.

Zack, the A’s No. 3 prospect, is on this year’s Team Israel roster and will be a mainstay in the lineup and infield, with A’s fans likely to see him impact the big league roster this year as well. His younger brother Jake is a junior at the University of Virginia and is No. 38 on our Draft Top 100 list. Who doesn’t want to see the siblings playing on the dirt for Team Israel at the next World Baseball Classic?

Major moment in Israel Baseball History: Cinderella run in 2017 World Baseball Classic

Few felt Israel would be competitive at all in the most recent edition of the Classic, and they earned comparisons to the Jamaican Bobsled team. They became the talk of the early rounds of the tournament by sweeping three games in Seoul against Korea, Chinese Taipei and the Netherlands to advance to the second round. They beat Cuba to open that round in Tokyo before the fairy dust ran out.

Baseball in Israel will jump on the map in a huge way in 2025 when they host the European Championships, to be played at SportTek Stadium in Tel Aviv, for the first time.