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Sunday, September 25, 2022
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Ezra’s father and uncle discuss the ballpark’s past, present and future, as well as how it keeps Ezra’s memory alive.

On December 3, 2021, after years of roadblocks, the Ezra Schwartz Memorial Baseball Field was officially dedicated in Ra’anana, Israel. Eight months later, the field, which is only the second regulation baseball diamond in the country as well as containing a soccer field, is being used to perpetuate a stronger baseball culture in Israel by drawing players of all ages—from little kids to professional players—to its sprawling lawn.

Ezra, who was a talented baseball star, a strong team player and a beloved friend, was an 18-year-old gap year student at Yeshivat Ashreinu when he was killed in November of 2015 by a Palestinian terrorist. The day before he died, he had sent an email to the Israel Association of Baseball asking to be involved in their baseball program, and a month later his family was approached by the IAB about dedicating a baseball field in Ezra’s memory.

The family soon discovered that the idea was only in its infancy. Ezra’s uncle Yoav, an American oleh who lives in Ra’anana, where the field was built, spearheaded the effort to bring the ballpark into existence. Although the space for the field had already been allocated, it was in danger of being given away if money was not found. After putting in a lot of time and effort to raise the appropriate funds, Yoav and a small committee of volunteers spent a year wrangling with Israeli bureaucracy to draw up and sign a contract, after which it became clear that the funds painstakingly raised were “woefully less than what was needed”—so the family raised more money, and the city had to put in money as well.

Throughout the process, there were also multiple mayoral administrations: “One mayor left to go to the Knesset. One was voted out. One switched back,” Yoav recounted. “Each time, we’d have to restart some of these negotiations and discussions.”

Yoav said that, to him, the field represents keeping Ezra’s legacy alive; he elaborated that, as people become used to talking about the “Ezra field” or “Ezra ballpark,” “they will think about or connect Ezra and his legacy to something fun that they enjoy … That’s a nice legacy to have, or at least part of a legacy.”

After six years of exhausting work filled with financial, bureaucratic, logistical and construction roadblocks, the field finally opened in December.

Now, the field is providing a lot of opportunities for players in and around Israel to play baseball.

“The main goal of the field was, number one, to be a place where kids in Ra’anana and the surrounding areas could play baseball,” Yoav explained, speculating that the field will contribute to a stronger baseball culture in Israel. “The practices and games used to be Fridays only, on a tiny strip of weeds, in daytime only because there were no lights. So one of the big changes is that the kids are starting to be able to play on Fridays and also during the week in the evening, because there are lights in the field.”

Before the field was built, the options for playing baseball were dismal: “If you signed up to play, there was a field that was kind of terrible—filled with weeds and rocks, tiny, looked gross, and there just wasn’t enough room,” explained Yoav. “So, if a kid either did sign up or was interested, very quickly the interest would wane or a lot of kids dropped out. I think now, for people to come to the field, it’s not just that it’s impressive, but it’s a fun place to play.”

The field also may create opportunities for tournaments. Recently, the Maccabiah baseball tournament took place at the Ezra Field over a period of several weeks, and Yoav speculated that the field might host future baseball tournaments in Europe and the Middle East when they happen. “There were American guys who came from some division I colleges, and they said that this was one of the nicest fields they’ve played on,” he said. Yoav explained that these more-public uses for the field can “create awareness in Israel for these types of events. It creates a little bit more of an understanding of what baseball is, and it’s just a nice thing that can contribute to the quality of life, because it’s an additional cultural enrichment.”

Ari, Ezra’s father, said that the field is a way to “use the tragedy for good,” explaining, “It’s a way to remember Ezra and to allow other people to benefit, to have a good time, to be happy, to love the game that he loved, and it’s using his tragedy to allow that to happen.” He continued: “At least in the short term, I don’t think this field would ever have happened if not for Ezra. It just needed that push—his story, and it needed Yoav—to create the incentive and the desire to have this field; it was such a challenging thing to get through that I don’t know that it ever would have happened.”

Ari also expressed hopes that the field will increase interest in baseball in Israel, saying that for kids who are already interested in the sport, “to not have a place to play is the worst.” He continued, “It’s just a great place to allow the sport to flourish—it’s in the center of the country and it’s accessible from a lot of different places.” Ari also pointed out that, because the field can host little league games as well as a high school or major-league-sized field, people at various levels can play on the field and benefit.

Ari added that many people who knew Ezra want to do something to remember him when they visit Israel, and the field, which is fairly accessible and in the center of the country, is a conveniently located shrine to his memory. “Already, a lot of our friends have been to the field and taken pictures,” he said. “It’s just a way for them to connect to Ezra, connect to us, and kind of show their respect … It’s a feel-good thing rather than just sorrow, and it’s also a positive spin on the whole tragedy, and that’s really nice for us.”

By Brooke Schwartz

 

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