KIBBUTZ GEZER, Israel (JTA) — Bill James, the influential baseball writer, historian and statistician, once described the great Yankee first baseman Don Mattingly in only four words: “100% ballplayer, 0% bulls—.”
The same can be said of Alon Leichman, by all accounts the first athlete born and raised in Israel to make it to the major leagues, having just been named assistant pitching coach of the Cincinnati Reds.
Under manager David Bell, Leichman will help instruct the team’s pitchers — including Chase Anderson, Luis Cessa, Fernando Cruz, Alexis Díaz and Hunter Greene — on mechanics, pitch selection, preparation, concentration and execution.
His journey has been unlikely, verging on preposterous: How could someone from Israel, where baseball is barely an afterthought, step out of the wheat fields of a kibbutz to the highest level of baseball in the world?
The 33-year-old Leichman is the product of Kibbutz Gezer, the youngest child born to two idealists who grew up in Zionist youth groups and helped found this kibbutz in central Israel in the 1970s together with other Anglo — that is, English-speaking — Zionists.
But David, Alon’s father, couldn’t leave it all behind in Queens, New York. He was a baseball fan, a big baseball fan — “I always knew that if, God forbid, there’s a fire in my house, I know where my baseball glove is” — and one day, he and his fellow kibbutz residents had an idea: Why don’t we cut off a slice of the wheat crop and construct a regulation-sized field in the southwest corner of the kibbutz, where we can all go play when we get off work?
That was 1983, and there wasn’t a single baseball or softball field in all of Israel So David, who was in charge of construction on the kibbutz (Alon’s mother, Miri, is the kibbutz rabbi), built his field of dreams, just 450 yards from his front door and in the shadow of the 4,000-year-old archaeological site that gives Gezer its name.
And that’s where Alon Leichman grew up, first brought to the field by his father for the 1989 Maccabiah Games, five weeks after Alon was born on May 29.
“I never related to that field as the place my dad built,” Leichman said. “It was a field that was on the kibbutz. Growing up, everyone around me played — my older brother played, and all my friends, a little older than me, played.
“I remember — I was 4, in gan [pre-kindergarten], and I would walk to the baseball field and practice. I vividly remember being in the gan and going to practice. But baseball on the kibbutz is just something that I grew into. Everyone did it; I was not special, just another kid who played. I happened to love it a lot.”
So he played and played and got better and better. By age 10, he was on the team representing Israel at a tournament in the Netherlands. But baseball in Israel back then was in its infancy, and there was not enough money to pay for the team to travel. So Leichman had to work extra hours to get the kibbutz to fly him over.
Not that he wasn’t used to working — like all kibbutz members, he was already contributing by third grade. But now he had to put in extra hours, picking olives or milking cows, to make the extra money.
“I liked milking cows,” he recalled. “Sometimes it’s hard work, but I got more of a kick out of it than hitting an olive tree” to shake loose the olives.
Leichman remembers well that tournament in Holland, the first time he wore the Israeli uniform representing his country abroad.
“It was really cool,” he recalled. “A sense of pride. That’s the first time I think I felt like: ‘You’re not just Alon, you’re not just representing the kibbutz anymore — you’re representing a whole country.’
“I knew back then that Israel was not on the best terms [with] the world. So it was something that I was aware of: that part of our job of playing baseball is also making sure that these guys get to know Israelis other than what they hear on the news and show them that, you know, we’re good people.”
The 5’-8” right-hander kept playing, kept improving and kept representing Israel at tournaments. He played in the one-season Israel Baseball League in 2007 as the second-youngest player, served in the Israeli army from 2007 to 2010, and then headed to the states to play college ball at two schools, Cypress College and the University of California, San Diego.
In his first appearance at Cypress, his elbow blew out, and he needed what’s known as “Tommy John surgery” to repair a torn ulnar ligament inside the elbow. Then he got hurt again and had a second Tommy John surgery. But when he got hurt a third time, and the doctor said he needed to go under the knife yet again, Leichman knew that his hopes for a professional playing career were over.
But not before proving to himself that he had what it takes.
“I know I was good in Israel. I knew that. But I had no idea how I would fare coming to the States. I thought I could fare [well] there, but I really never knew because I had never faced those types of hitters. And then, in my first game, I did really well for two and a third innings, four strikeouts. No one got on. It was 1-2-3, 1-2-3, and then I got the first guy out in the ninth. And on a one-two fastball, my elbow popped. So it was like, ‘Okay, I can do this here.’”
His love for the game never left him, and Leichman grew into an insightful and intuitive coach. His expertise and aptitude were self-evident.
“Alon will be a big-league coach one day,” pitcher and teammate Alex Katz said three years ago. “It’s hard to get a coaching job in affiliate ball without professional experience, let alone non-affiliated experience. But he’s just one of the most intelligent baseball minds I’ve ever been around. And he’s young.”
Leichman said his strength is “helping guys get better. Communicating with them. Being able to relate to them. Getting on their level. Simplifying it for them. And being creative and finding ways to throw more strikes.”
Despite the surgeries, Leichman could still pitch, if he did it sparingly. He joined Israel’s World Baseball Classic teams of 2012, 2016 and 2017 as a player or coach; pitched for the European Baseball Championship team in 2019; threw in the Olympic qualifying tournaments in 2019; and hurled one perfect inning against Team USA at the Olympics in 2021 in Tokyo. Along the way, he also earned a black belt in jujitsu.
But coaching was his future, and after being given a chance in 2017 to instruct in the Seattle Mariners farm system, Leichman kept moving up, from Single A to Double AA to Triple AAA, before being grabbed by the Reds to join their major league staff this season.
His father is overwhelmed. “It’s unbelievable,” David Leichman said. “I’m still shaking and crying to myself about how wonderful this has been. It’s really amazing.”
Alon is no less shell-shocked, having agreed to sign a contract with the Reds on the same day the New York Mets asked to interview him about a potential job.
“It’s not really sinking in yet, to be honest,” he said while in Israel recently to visit his family on Gezer. “But it’s definitely a dream come true, something I’ve been dreaming about since I’m a little kid. Obviously, I wanted to be there as a player, but once I got hurt and realized that playing was not an option anymore, I started pursuing coaching. I wanted to do it at the highest level. The dream remained; it just took a different route. But it’s still as exciting.”
Leichman is still undecided on whether to join Team Israel’s coaching staff in Florida for the WBC in March before heading back to Goodyear, Arizona, to rejoin the Reds in spring training. But this product of the wheat fields of Gezer won’t ever forget from where he’s come: His uniform numeral, 29, is a constant reminder. It’s his laundry tag number at the kibbutz.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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