June 20, 2024
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June 20, 2024
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Spotlight On: Eric Holtz, Manager of Israel’s Olympic Baseball Team

Israel’s Olympic baseball team played 11 exhibition games in America, before they flew to Tokyo in July to compete in this summer’s Olympics.

The team’s manager, Eric Holtz, said the goal of the exhibition games was to “get the guys together, to gel and to play together so we can work on defensive and offensive schemes before we go to Tokyo.”

Holtz has a deep connection with baseball in Israel. He was simultaneously a pitcher, third-baseman and coach for the Beit Shemesh Blue Sox during the short-lived Israel Baseball League in 2007. During this time, Holtz created relationships that lead to his appointment as the Olympic baseball team’s coach.

The two exhibition games played in May, took place during the two weeks when Israel faced a bombardment of rockets from Gaza. During that time, Holtz received an email from a parent of young Israeli baseball players living in a hard hit area. The father shared that, to maintain some normalcy, he made sure to get out and have a catch with his kids and the baseball team was a big part of his kids not being afraid to play catch.

The importance and weight of what they represent was not lost on Holtz and his players. “When you sit down in Lithuania at a Shabbat table and everyone is wearing a kippah, you think this has never happened,” Holtz said. “You had one or two Jewish guys on a team if you were lucky. What we are doing transcends baseball.”

At the exhibition games, the bond between the players and fans was obvious. Throughout the games, players were talking to fans who were proudly wearing Israel baseball hats, waving Israeli flags and cheering in Hebrew. After the games, players spent time speaking with fans and signing balls, gloves and hats. After one game, Jeremy Wolf even signed and gave away his cleats to two very lucky fans.

Looking back at all of his baseball accomplishments, it’s hard to believe that Holtz had a college baseball coach who turned him off of baseball for 17 years. He didn’t rediscover his love for baseball until he began coaching his kids’ t-ball teams. Holtz’s experience in college and desire to prevent athletes from facing similar challenges, inspired Holtz to create Game On 13.

Game On 13 serves as a strength, conditioning and nutrition training facility for baseball and softball athletes of all ages. Holtz aims to ensure that all of his players have the support needed to build their confidence on and off the field. The passion and energy that Holtz devotes to each player was apparent through the amount of Game On 13 athletes cheering him on during Israel’s exhibition games.

Holtz hopes to be able to bring his experience and passion for coaching baseball to Israel’s little league. “I hope to be able to come to Israel three or four times a year to train Israeli coaches and run practices for the players,” he said.

Holtz described his Olympic expectations as, “We will be prepared. We have a tremendous amount of young talented athletes who truly want to represent Israel the way it deserves to be represented, who are ready to go out and compete every day.” Although they won only one of the four games they played, their efforts were hard fought. Throughout their four games, Israel had seven home runs, 25 runs, a.232 batting average and the most lively and entertaining dugout.

The baseball team documented their Olympic experience all over social media; meeting other Israeli athletes, reviewing the infamous cardboard beds, a tour of the Olympic village and beautiful shots of the baseball fields. The team’s fans were on top of every play and shared live updates during each game.

It was clear from the way the team fought, won and lost together, why Holtz described his team as a brotherhood. “We are a team of all Jews, that is our common bond. This is the strongest and most special brotherhood I have ever been a part of. The camaraderie came the easiest for any team I have ever coached.”

Holtz not only hopes that the team’s participation in the Olympics will increase the interest in and popularity of baseball in Israel, but he hopes that “Israel takes incredible pride in what we’ve done and rallies behind us and is happy for us to be representing our country.”

Holtz is leaving some very large shoes to fill as he announced, last week, that he was stepping down as Israel’s national team manager. The legacy he leaves is the unprecedented example Holtz and his team set for future Jewish athletes all around the world, inspiring the next generation of Jewish and Israeli Olympic athletes.

You can find out more about Game On 13 by visiting www.gameon13.com.

Danielle grew up in Teaneck, and made aliyah to Jerusalem following her graduation from Rutgers University. Danielle teaches English at colleges in Jerusalem and has been involved in both formal and informal education for a variety of organizations. Danielle believes that important life skills and lessons are often not ones learned in the classroom, but can be learned from team sports.

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