Young Israelis Try to Crowd-Fund Their Way to Major League Baseball Playoffs
JNS.org – Baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie are the American dream. So why do two young men who have built their lives in Israel have a GoFundMe crowd-funding webpage with the urgent message that they need $3,000 to travel to the U.S. to watch the Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles square off for Major League Baseball’s (MLB) American League championship?
Brothers Naftali and Yoni Schwartz, 27 and 25, respectively, are Kansas City natives. Even though they made aliyah with their family at the young ages of 13 and 11 and now live in the community of Hashmonaim, they say never stopped rooting for the Royals.
“I remember, when I was growing up [in Overland Park, Kan.] that I would fall asleep to the sound of the Royals’ broadcaster. I always had this deep passion and love for the Royals,” says Naftali. “If I get there, if I get to see them in the Playoffs, I am going to be head-to-toe in royal blue and I am going to treasure every moment and remember it for the rest of my life.”
The Royals and Orioles open the American League Championship Series (ALCS) on Friday at Camden Yards and then play games three and four in Kansas City on Oct. 13 and 14.
The brothers say their parents expected that when the family moved to the Holy Land, Naftali and Yoni would stop focusing so much on the Royals. In Israel, baseball is not hugely popular. But instead, their passion for the team grew stronger.
By high school, the boys were waking as early as 3 a.m. Israel time to watch the MLB games live, a habit that has persisted until today, despite their getting married and in Naftali’s case, having a child. Two-year-old Yuval often sits on his lap during the games.
What is especially ironic here is that the Royals have until this season not been a winning team, at least in the Schwartz brothers’ lifetimes. It has been 29 years since the Royals made it to the playoffs.
“We had hope going into every season, we’d say, ‘This is the year.’ But very quickly, by like halfway through the season, we knew it was not going to happen and we would have to wait until the next year,” says Yoni.
Friends in both Kansas City and Israel would tell the young men they were wasting their time, and that the pair was too loyal when the team let them down every year.
“I used to say to those people, ‘The day is going to come when they are going to make it and being loyal is going to pay off. We are going to experience that win as so much sweeter because of our loyalty,” Yoni says.
As part of their dedication to the sport, the boys have helped to build up baseball and softball in Israel. In two out of the last three years, their team has won Israel’s national softball league. They also play for the Israel Association of Baseball, which includes traveling as far as the U.S. and Italy for games. Their younger brother, Akiva, has also participated, but he cannot travel to the States right now because he is serving in the IDF.
“Baseball has been slow-growing in Israel,” says Yoni, noting this is likely because there is not a lot of action, but more strategy to the slow-paced game.
Yoni and Naftali are hoping they can live out their dream, but they only have days to raise the money they need to make it a reality. The baseball tickets cost more than $200 each. The plane ride would be more than $1,500 per person. Both young men are just years out of the army and starting their families. Their wives are both expecting.
“We have waited and prayed for the day that our Boys in Blue would finally clinch a playoff spot after so many years,” says Yoni. “I hope people will fund us, for the love of the game, for the passion behind all of it, because maybe they, too, are Royals fans and can appreciate how loyal we have stayed even while living 12,000 miles away.”
“Everyone has a dream,” says Naftali. “We are trying to make our dream become a reality.”
Maayan Jaffe is senior writer/editor at Netsmart and a freelancer writer in Overland Park, Kan. Reach her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter, @MaayanJaffe.