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A David of the Diamond

Brian Doyle: The Yankees’ 1978 World Series hero and Zionist baseball pioneer

3:31 PM, Oct 16, 2012 • By LEE SMITH
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Real pressure is a terminal illness. Several years ago Doyle was struck with leukemia, which nearly cost him his life. “I was in the final stages,” he says. “I was the first person to go through double chemo treatments, and now I’m completely done with the cancer. I had a great team around me,” he says, a group of supporters that included the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. “He’d call and encourage me as I was going through it. And then I saw him every year going back for Old Timers’ Games.”

Doyle tells me of his current work on the diamond. “I’m raising money for baseball and softball for the nation of Israel. I’ve also written the curriculum for training Israeli baseball coaches, 1700 coaches, every coach in the nation.”

Doyle is an ordained minister, and like many evangelicals, an ardent supporter of Israel. “One reason I’m there is just to love on the people of Israel, they need people loving on them right now.”

He seems to have cherished the opportunity to discuss scripture and Jewish history in Jerusalem as much as he enjoyed teaching aspiring infielders in Eilat how to stay down on a groundball. His involvement with Israeli sports started a little less than a year ago.

“I was contacted by a man in charge of the global youth baseball federation, Jeff Siegel, who was trained as an instructor at the Doyle Academy,” he says. “He’s a wise baseball man who started doing work throughout the world and told me that Israel is ready for baseball and wanted me to be the director of player development throughout the country.”

Doyle tells me that he just saw the Israeli national team play in Jupiter, Florida where they lost to Spain in the finals of the qualifying round of the World Baseball Classic. He says that the Israeli coach, Cheshire, CT native and former Yankees catcher, Brad Ausmus, “did a great job. They have three native-born Israeli players now, including their best pitcher, a guy I trained right out of the army. He’s 36, but he still made the team. But most of the players are American-born Jews.”

I note that had the Israeli nine gotten out of the qualifying round, they might have done pretty well in the finals if some of the Jewish big-leaguers had joined the squad. With Ian Kinsler, Ryan Braun, Kevin Youklis, Ike Davis, Josh Satin, Danny Valencia, Sam Fuld, Ryan Lavarnway and his Boston batterymate and fellow Yalie Craig Briselow, the brainiest guy in organized baseball, we might be in the middle of the golden age of Jewish baseball.

Doyle says the goal is to have 70 percent of the national team comprising native-born Israelis. Come January he is going to be opening up a new baseball academy right outside of Tel Aviv. “After 5 years,” says Doyle, “if I can get the best athletes, I think you will see a very fast growth in Israeli baseball. I say five because even with a college player, the average is still four years to get to big leagues.”

Does that mean big league teams are going to be scouting Israel for ballplayers? “They better get the attention of pro scouts or I haven’t done my job,” Doyle says.

Israel did have a professional baseball league, founded in 2007 that lasted only the one season. “It left a bad taste in people’s mouths,” says Doyle. “Lots of people lost a lot of money.”  The goal now, he says, is to build Israeli baseball from the ground up. Naturally then he’s looking to the historical wellspring of much of Israeli life, the kibbutz.

“At first, they wanted me to start in big cities,” he says. “But I said where do most of the military’s special forces come from? I want your best athletes. All the kibbutzes have land and soccer fields, so I’m trying to raise money to throw up nets and to make soccer fields baseball fields. I want every kibbutz to field a team.”

Seemingly borrowing from both Field of Dreams and Theodor Herzl, Doyle believes that if you will it, they will come. “I can’t tell you how excited I am about it,” says the hero of the 1978 World Series, taking baseball to the world. 

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