Interview: The IBL’s Legacy with Jason Bonder

In the summer2007 the Israeli Baseball League was ready to play its first game.  Jewish players from all around the world gathered in Israel to relive their glory days and participate in the first ever season of the IBL. While the league only lasted one summer it drew a ton of attention to Israel and the sport of baseball to Israelis. A friend of mine Jason Bonder was nice enough to answer some questions about his experience. If you want more information check out the league’s website here or you can check out the documentary that was made about the experience here.

Save that autograph kid

INTERVIEW: 

1) What made you want to play in the IBL?

Like any athlete, I wanted to continue playing as long as possible. I had always dreamed of playing professionally, but after many years of trying it seemed that professional baseball was not in my future. That all changed when I heard about the Israel Baseball League. I tried out just before I started my senior year of college. It was a thrill to be told I would play in the league. The fact that the league was in Israel was an added bonus for me. Having gone to Solomon Schechter Day School through eighth grade, and as a Jewish person in general, it was a real thrill to be able to mix my love of baseball with a trip to Israel.



2) How did you get involved in the league?
I found out about the Israel Baseball League when I was working at the Hillel House at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA. The Hillel Director, Patti Mittleman, showed me an article about the league. I immediately contacted Larry Baras, the founder of the IBL. He gave me information about tryouts to be held in Massachusetts. I signed up and was very lucky to be selected from that tryout to play in the league.


3) Which team did you play for and how do you/your team do?
I played for the Tel Aviv Lightning. We finished in second place at the end of the regular season, but we were unfortunately eliminated in the first round of the single elimination playoff tournament. I am a left-handed pitcher and my main role was as a relief pitcher. I did make a few starts towards the middle and end of the year, and I also recorded a save in the last game of the year. The team was filled with many talented players from all over the world. We had a shortstop and first baseman from the Dominican Republic, an Australian pitcher and catcher, an Israeli pitcher, and players from all over the United States. I learned a whole lot from all of my teammates and my coaches.
 
4) What was the experience like? Do you keep in touch with teammates?

That summer was the experience of a lifetime. Day to day activities really made me feel like a pro athlete. Most days I woke up, got to the gym for a quick workout. Came back, had breakfast, hung out, did some reading, and left for the ballpark for a pre-game workout and then the game. After the game we would often get to go out in Tel Aviv. Not only was I living the best imaginable lifestyle, I was surrounded by Jewish culture and Hebrew, and I was getting paid to do it! 

I do keep in touch with some of my teammates. It is tough because we are all spread out around the country. Nevertheless, a bunch of us often trade emails and I have seen some of my teammates in New York. I had a really wonderful time with my teammates. It was an honor to play on the field with them and it was a heck of a lot of fun to share a bench and a bullpen with them!

5) Do you think the league will ever reform? Would you play in it again?

I know there are people that are very interested in bringing baseball back to Israel. I don’t know enough about it to make a prediction if it will ever come to fruition. But if the opportunity came up, and I was in a position in my life where I could get involved with the league, I’d do it in a heartbeat. A baseball league in Israel basically sums up all of my interests in one scenario. I couldn’t turn down being involved in that!
 
6) How would you change the league?

There were plenty of things that didn’t work out for numerous reasons. This, of course, led to the inability of the league to return. But it is very easy to sit back as a player and criticize a finished product without putting in the countless hours to make that happen. I guess if I had to change one thing, I would have used Hebrew names for the teams. So, for example, I would have chosen to use the Hebrew word for “Lightning” as the name of our team. Instead, all of the names were transliterated from English into Hebrew. I think the use of more Hebrew would have invited more Israelis to the games.

 
7) Have you seen the film Holy Land Hardball? If so, what did you think?
I did see the film “Holyland Hardball.” I think the makers of the film did a terrific job capturing the emotions of the players in the league. It was a dream come true for most of us to go and play there, and to show how each person’s feelings had distinct differences and yet major similarities was a huge accomplishment. I also loved watching the film because it allowed me to see the work that went into the final product which I experienced. It was very cool to see all the stuff that went on behind the scenes.
 
8) What have you been up to since the league?

After returning from Israel, I immediately started a master’s program in Jewish Studies in the Graduate School at the Jewish Theological Seminary. I was so thrilled I was able to fit the season in between my graduation from Muhlenberg College and the beginning of graduate school. I got a part-time job as a personal trainer in graduate school and I also continued playing baseball in men’s leagues in NYC and also on Long Island. It was great to continue playing ball and pursuing my interests in Judaism. I just finished my MA at JTS, and I am currently exploring my next step. I’ve also gotten into doing endurance races. I have completed three triathlons including the Nautica NYC Triathlon and I am currently training for a half marathon. I find these races to be great motivators to keep me in the gym and hopefully keep me in shape in case the league ever does come back!!

9) Where did you play baseball before the IBL?
Like most of the players in the IBL, I played baseball almost all my life. I went to Plainview JFK High School in Plainview, NY. I was lucky enough to be a member and co-captain of my high school team in 2003 when my team won the Nassau County and Long Island Championships. My team went to the Class AA New York State Finals. We lost the final game but it was one of my most memorable experiences in baseball. I then went on to play division III baseball at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA. My team was not as successful as my high school team but the friends I made on the field both in high school and college will be friends I have for the rest of my life. In the end, my teammates from all my teams are what’s most important to me about my baseball career.
Thanks to Jason. Maybe we will see you and the IBL once again.

And Let Us Say…Amen.
-Jeremy Fine

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