Alon Leichman grew up on a kibbutz half way between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, but one that had a baseball field and a father who played in Israel’s fastpitch softball league.
By Yakir Benzion, United With Israel
There is a rich and great history of Jews in baseball, but Alon Leichman puts a unique twist on his presence in the Seattle Mariners system – he’s Israeli and grew up playing baseball in the Holy Land.
Leichman is now a pitching coach for the West Virginia Power, an A team in the Seattle Mariners system and was supposed to be going to the Tokyo Olympics with the Israel national baseball team until the coronavirus pandemic hit.
He grew up playing baseball on Kibbutz Gezer, one of three children of Marilyn and David, a pitcher in Israel’s fast-pitch softball league. The kibbutz is also the home of Israel’s first baseball diamond that David helped build and has hosted not just Israeli softball and baseball leagues, but international tournaments as well.
“Where I lived, we were luckier than others and we were able to have a practice and a game once a week,” Leichman told Lookoutlanding.com. “But in reality we never played more than 10-15 games a season growing up. Baseball was spread out in Israel but in very small pockets and mainly in small communities. Therefore the majority of kids didn’t even know the sport existed in Israel.”
As an all-star in Israel, he made the national baseball team and represented Israel at the European Baseball Championships three times.
“I feel great pride in being given the opportunity to represent my country over the last 20 years and plan to keep doing that for as long as possible,” says Leichman. He enjoys the international tournaments because, “It’s our opportunity to show people around the world that there’s more to Israel than what they may hear on the news.”
Leichman served his mandatory three-year service in the IDF and with no professional or college ball available in the Middle East, he made the team at Cypress College in California after their coach watched him play in the MLB Academy in Italy, the first Israeli to attend there. He pitched at Cypress for three years before injuring his elbow and undergoing surgery. After recovering, he helped Cypress win a state championship and then moved to play for the UC San Diego Tritons, making the playoffs both years he played and finishing with a career 3.50 ERA over 122 innings, striking out 85 batters and walking 20.
The elbow injury was too much and Leichman knew his baseball career was over, but the love of the game and his passion for teaching moved him into coaching.
“I always knew I wanted to stay in baseball and always loved helping teammates and younger athletes out,” he says. Using his college contacts he coached for the Yarmouth–Dennis Red Sox in the Cape Cod Baseball League, winning the 2016 championship and landing a job with the Los Angeles Dodgers. A year later he was hired by Seattle Mariners and has been a pitching coach with their minor teams every since.
Leichman was the bullpen coach for Team Israel in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, helping a roster of mostly Jewish American players finish 6th overall in the tournament. Although Israel qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the cancellation of the games means he’ll be staying in the States.
“I love being on the field and sharing my passion for the game with others,” Leichamn said. “If my own playing experience can help, then great, but if not then it’s my job to get to know the players and figure out the best way to help each and everyone of them.”
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