Baseball fanatic goes professional at 45
BASEBALL fanatic Ari Alexenberg is confident of proving that age is no barrier when he begins life as a professional player at the age of 45.
The American-born southpaw (left-hander) from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, will put age concerns behind him when he takes to the field in the opening match of the inaugural Israel Baseball League (IBL) on June 24.
The pitcher has signed a season-long contract as a player-coach after spurning the first tryouts in the US and attending the second in Israel.
A Conservative Jew, whose Orthodox background means he cannot play on Shabbat, Alexenberg is eager to make his mark in the professional game having worked his way through the amateur leagues and developed the skills to play full-time.
“It’s extremely exciting to say the least, and the opportunity to play professionally at such a late stage in my life seems unbelievable,” an elated Alexenberg told JC Sport.
“I am still finding it hard to believe as at this age I thought the opportunity had gone. When I went to the trials in Israel, I knew I had a chance if they were willing to overlook my age and assess me on my skills and pitching.
“There were phases when I thought it would be crazy to attend, but there were also periods when I kept on telling myself to believe I can succeed. The whole concept is made even more exciting by the fact I will be playing in a new league in a place I spent part of my youth.”
Dan Duquette, the league’s director of player development, added: “Ari is a great story and proves the theory that left-handed pitchers mature later. He has a good fastball, throws it over the plate and is aggressive.”
With just under five months until the first game, Alexenberg said: “At the moment it looks like I will be playing for the Petah Tikvah Pioneers who take on the Jerusalem/Gezer Lions in the first match of the season. I do not know too much about the team other than the fact they are based in Petah Tikvah where my parents and siblings live.”
The father-of-two praised the work of IBL organisers, who have set up clubs in six competing cities while trying to raise the profile of the sport.
“At the moment there is a strong American population in Israel who understand and appreciate the sport,” he explained. “The challenge is to increase the appeal among Israelis and it is clear they are doing a great job. In terms of venues they have also made significant progress with three locations set to be used. One is a football field in Netanya which will be converted into a baseball pitch for the summer and another is a beautiful field which has been modified to fit more people in the stands.”
Having spent much of his career as a semi-professional, “the experience I have picked up down the years could be one of the reasons I was selected. I have coached at college level all the way down to youth baseball and despite my age, I believe I am getting better and better.”
While physical prowess is an important element, “as a pitcher it is also about experience and having a mental understanding of the game. In terms of fitness, I now need to take it up a notch and stay flexible, which becomes even more important at my age.”
Alexenberg, who refers to baseball as a “Jewish sport,” says, “it is a magnificent game, but what I love the most is the incredible integration of the mental and physical. The analysis, discussion and debate which is often involved connects well with the Jewish way of thinking.”
Ari Alexenberg, 45, is set to make his professional debut in Israel in June