AN NCSY ALUMNUS FROM LONG ISLAND TAKES HIS FASTBALL ACROSS THE OCEAN, AS ONE OF THE PIONEER PLAYERS IN THE NEW ISRAEL BASEBALL LEAGUE
When Leon Feingold was active in the NCSY chapter at the Hewlett-East Rockaway Jewish Center on Long Island some 15 years ago and more, his fellow teens looked up to him, which is natural because he was six feet, six inches tall, and weighed more than 225 pounds. To baseball fans in the youth program, he looked like the prototypical fastball pitcher, the guy who can fire a baseball at 90 MPH and above and dare the batter to hit it.
Now at the age of 33, Leon still looks like the prototype of a fastball pitcher, a hard-throwing righthander -- which, in fact, is what he is. (His e-mail address begins “BringHeat.”) This summer, hitters will have a chance to take a swing at his pitches on the baseball diamonds of Israel, as a delighted Leon will be participating in the inaugural season of the Israel Baseball League, the IBL, where play gets underway June 24.
Leon was chosen at tryouts held at a baseball academy in Massachusetts. A former Cleveland Indians farmhand whose career was cut short by injuries, he will have a chance to face hitters who also played professional baseball, perhaps even in the major leagues, and to be managed by Art Shamsky, who played for the Mets; or perhaps Ron Blomberg, who played for the Yankees and was the first designated hitter in the history of the game; or by Ken Holtzman, the winningest Jewish pitcher in major league baseball history, with six more victories than Sandy Koufax.
The IBL is holding a live draft on the evening of Thursday, April 26 at the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law in Manhattan, at which time Leon will learn to which of the six IBL teams he will be assigned. Possibilities include the Bet Shemesh Blue Sox, Modi’in Miracle, Netanya Tigers, Petach Tikva Pioneers, Ra’anana Express and Tel Aviv Lightning.
“All the players will be headquartered just north of Tel Aviv, so playing for the Lightning might be nice,” Leon says. “But I’m just happy to be there and looking forward to whatever experiences await with whatever team I play for!"
It’s not necessary to be Jewish to play in the IBL, but certainly, an NCSY background can’t hurt.
“I can never remember a time when NCSY wasn’t part of my life,” Leon recalls fondly. He still stays in touch by reading the alumni newsletter mailed to him by Rabbi David Felsenthal, NCSY Director of Alumni, and carefully follows developments in the Jewish community. Not surprisingly as a former NCSYer, he loves Israel and looks forward to playing on its ballfields – just as he looked forward to playing on the diamonds of Watertown, New York; Butte, Montana; and Burlington, North Carolina in the Indians’ farm system, before a succession of shoulder injuries culminating in a torn labrum ended his career. Leon looks forward to meeting with NCSYers who will be in Israel during the season and will do his best to arrange special seating for anyone who wants to buy tickets to a game.
A graduate of Oceanside High School and the State University of New York at Albany, Leon earned a law degree at Hofstra and now works as a residential real estate broker in Manhattan, when he is not giving private pitching lessons to youngsters and teens at a baseball academy alongside the Hudson River, near his home. He also pitches in the Westchester-Rockland Wooden Bat League, one of the top ten semi-pro leagues in the United States. Leon announces that his shoulder is healed, that he still throws 90 MPH, and that he “feels great.”
When Leon returns from Israel around the time of the High Holy Days, he quite possibly will have a new generation of NCSYers to look up to him, as he is open to attending events to talk about playing baseball in Israel. That would be welcomed by Rabbi Felsenthal, the alumni director. “It is always a pleasure to hear the stories of what our alumni have done after NCSY, and we expect to hear of more great accomplishments by Leon in the future. We hope that he continues to share his experiences to benefit current NCSY participants as well as alumni.”
In his appearances, Leon can discuss his experiences as a pioneer (perhaps even a Petach Tikva Pioneer), helping to get the new venture of the IBL underway. But he has been a pioneer before – Butte is in the Class A Pioneer League, where as a former NCSYer from Long Island, he chased his big league dreams under the Montana sky.