An Ottawa athlete is among the stars of Israel’s Senior National Baseball team.
Eitan Maoz, 24, a personal trainer at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre (SJCC) and dual Canadian-Israeli citizen, has been the team’s catcher for Israel for the past three years, representing the country in various international tournaments.
Moaz said playing baseball for Israel is a great opportunity for many reasons.
“It took me out to Europe this year. I got to travel, see a part of the world I’d never seen before, and all doing it while I get to play a game I enjoy,” Maoz said of his most recent games overseas.
Maoz and Israel’s highest-ranked team competed in – and won – the C Pool of the European baseball championships held in Slovenia this past July. While Israel is not a European country, it is still permitted to participate in the tournament.
“This time in the C Pool there wasn’t very much competition. We beat every team very handily,” Maoz said.
Despite finishing in second place to Great Britain in 2011 competing in the B Pool, Maoz said Israel was “relegated” to the C Pool this year, where the competition was less intense. Israel is currently ranked 26th in world baseball standings, according to the International Baseball Federation (IBAF), the sport’s recognized global governing body.
“In the B Pool [in 2011], we lost to Great Britain, and I think with the roster we had this time around, we would’ve beat them. They were our main competition in the B Pool,” he said of the Israeli team.
The majority of the Israeli team’s starting players are dual citizens from North America, where baseball is much more popular and well established. Canada is ranked 7th overall in the world and the U.S. is ranked first, according to IBAF statistics.
“It’s not a very big scene,” in Israel, he said. “The baseball scene out there is growing, which is nice to see.”
Eligibility rules are different in the various European baseball leagues, and the approved outsourcing of talent has helped improve the competitiveness of smaller nations with an emerging baseball culture.
The Sir Robert Borden High School graduate got his start playing in the street with the kids in his neighbourhood and got recruited by his neighbour, who was the coach for his son’s East Nepean Little League team.
“I had a natural aptitude for the sport, which led to early success,” Maoz said.
A former teammate from when a 14-year-old Maoz competed in the Maccabi Games called him seven years later to ask him to play for Israel. Maoz had been playing Division I baseball at the University of North Carolina Pembroke at the time and accepted the invitation.
Maoz said he is now simply enjoying playing the game while passing on his expertise to the next generation. Maoz is a volunteer coach for the East Nepean Eagles, which won provincial championships this year. Other coaches sent Maoz texts and emails about the team’s progress while he competed for Israel this summer.
Maoz said he is likely going to stay in Canada for the foreseeable future and is focused on putting his sporting skills to use as a personal trainer at the SJCC.
“I like the environment here. I mean, it’s easy for me too because I’ve grown up in this environment,” he said. “I remember being at Hillel Academy and going to school there when the SJCC was being built. It’s comfortable. I’ve known all these faces for a long time.”
Maoz said he was grateful for the opportunities to do what he enjoys most and is looking forward to the continued growth and success of the Israeli team in the future.
“Hopefully it continues in the next tournament as well, and I get a couple more trips to Europe out of it,” he said.