The Israel Baseball League has not been a home run for fans in the Middle East. Since it’s inaugural season in 2007, the league has been plagued with financial problems, poor playing conditions and woeful attendance. Of course, it didn’t help that manager Ken Holtzman quit the league last year & punctuated his departure by declaring, “There is no chance that baseball will succeed in Israel.”
But despite all these problems, at least one good story came out of the IBL - the journey of Ari Alexenberg, a 45-year-old Orthodox Jew who finally saw his dream of playing pro ball become a reality. In fact, it’s so good, someone’s making a movie about him.
The PORTSMOUTH (NH) HERALD reports that local producer Steve Sanger heard of Alexenberg’s story and decided it was enthralling enough to put on screen. Ari could have been the next Sandy Koufax or Hank Greenberg, had his devotion to his faith not gotten in the way of a pro ball career:
Alexenberg is by far the oldest player in the league. Despite being an avid fan, he didn’t start playing organized baseball until he was 24. As an observing Orthodox Jew, his religion kept him from playing Little League because games were played on Saturdays, the weekly sabbath.
Even when the IBL was created, Alexenberg didn’t immediately jump at the opportunity to play:
His chance came 20 years later when the league was created, and it almost passed him by. Though he loved baseball — coaching various youth leagues and playing on men’s teams throughout the years — he decided to skip the tryouts in Massachusetts, thinking it was silly. But when his wife, Julie, found out, she booked him a flight to Israel for a tryout.
Not only did Ari signed a contract to pitch, but he also became a coach with the Petach Tikva Pioneers, working alongside Holtzman. But it probably could have all gone a little better, as the Pioneers finished dead last in the league with a 9-32 record.
Still, that didn’t diminish Sanger from trying to share Alexenberg’s story with a hopefully large paying theater audience:
“It’s not just the story. If you’re going to make a film, they’ve got to be great on camera. I met Ari and he told me the story, and I was hooked,” said Sanger. “He’s a great story teller, and he’s terrific on camera …
“He’s entirely self taught. When he was 24 years old, he was in his back yard, throwing at a folding chair, flipping through a book from the library about how you hold pitches,” said Sanger. “Then, at 45, to have your dream come true — I think it’s just a great story.”
The film is expected to be finished by the end of the year & sent off to various film festivals - with the hopes of maybe landing a Hollywood deal. Ari himself is in further talks to write a book about his experiences.
A Jewish person finding success in Hollywood? Seems a bit far-fetched. Right, Marlon Brando?