Nate Fish: From Brooklyn artist to a leader of Israeli baseball
But not if you consider that Nate Fish was always an athlete, and was coaching teams even when he was invovled in the arts. In fact, that’s what led him to Israel in the first place.
By the “King of Jewish Baseball,” Fish does not mean that he’s preoccupied with old-time Jewish major-league greats like Moe Berg and Hank Greenberg, although, of course, he respects these figures. Rather, he’s trying to build interest in playing baseball in Israel among all age levels, from children to adults.
Fish grew up in Ohio and went to the University of Cincinnati on a baseball scholarship. After graduation, he tried out for the pros but was not drafted. In 2002, he moved to Brooklyn, where he became involved in the visual arts while continuing to coach and play baseball.
“I coached a team in East Harlem, and there were more kids interested in baseball there than there are in all of Israel,” said Fish, who was visiting Brooklyn last week.
He also took some time out to coach the Israeli national baseball team in the European championships, which led to him finally leaving Brooklyn and moving to Jaffa in 2012.
Some readers of this paper may remember a short-lived Israeli baseball league in 2007-08, with teams such as the “Mod’in Miracle” and the “Bet Shemesh Blue Sox.”
One of the reason for the demise of that league, says Fish, was the lack of home-grown talent on the team’s rosters. “Out of a roster of 20, a team might have had two or three native Israeli players, and the rest were foreign.”
In general, Fish says, the most popular sports in Israel are soccer and basketball. One of the main reasons that baseball hasn’t taken hold is the lack of playing fields. It’s not a coincidence that much of the baseball interest comes from kibbutzim and moshavim (communal farming settlements), which have enough land for baseball diamonds.
Softball, he says, is slightly more popular – mainly because it’s easier for the average person to play. But in general, diamond sports suffer from a lack of exposure – only one major-league game a week is broadcast in the country. As in many countries, there’s a perception that baseball is “boring.”
For the time being, Fish is overseeing the national team as well as the coaches and umpires in the leagues and trying to develop clinics everywhere. Several Jewish former major-league players from America, such as Shawn Green and Gabe Kapler, are also helping in this effort.
Asked about Arab interest in the sports, Fish says, “There are a few Arab kids who are interested in Ramleh (a mixed Arab-Jewish town). Arabs are a significant part of Israeli society, and as such, we’ll help them.”