SABR 41: Hardball in the Holy Land

LIVE FROM LONG BEACH — SABR fans were treated to a fascinating documentary about baseball in Israel on Saturday during the SABR 41 Film Festival.

“Holy Land Hardball” tells the story of the first attempt to bring professional baseball to Israel. Aaron Pribble, who pitched at the University of Hawaii, played in the Israel Baseball League during its only season during the summer of 2007. The league consisted mostly of Americans, Israelis, Canadians, Australians, Dominicans and Columbians. The league included six teams that played six days a week — as Aaron pointed out, games cannot be played on Shabbat (the Jewish day of rest).

This was not the only concession the league had to consider when it organized. Executives of the league even considered starting each at-bat with a 1-1 count. “Thank goodness that did not happen” Pribble said. “They (the executives) feared that Israelis don’t have the patience for baseball”. However, due to that fear, the league decided to shorten games to seven innings and decide extra-inning ties by a home run derby, a frightening idea to baseball purists.

The league folded after its first season due to funding issues. When asked why the league didn’t catch on, Pribble said, “The reason baseball is so popular in America is because of the infrastructure and that infrastructure does not exist yet in Israel.”

Pribble has since written his own book, Pitching in the Promise Land, which documents his experience during that summer of 2007. When asked about how he looks back on the “failed” league, he said, “It depends on your perspective. A lot of people have said it was a failed attempt, but at the same time maybe it will be a building block. There is constantly talk about getting new financiers to do it again”.

— CJ Hangen

Originally published: July 9, 2011. Last Updated: July 27, 2020.