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Baseball Olympic Games 2020 - Official Payoff

Israel Baseball's Shlomo Lipetz: 'I'm not going to retire anytime soon'

Israel Baseball's Shlomo Lipetz: 'I'm not going to retire anytime soon'
19/11/2021
As a 10-year-old, he was part of the first-ever international baseball game the Israeli National team played. At age 42, he made his Olympic debut. He proudly says: "I'm going to be around until they tell me to stay home."

The WBSC didn't need to ask the questions. Shlomo Lipetz decided he had to make it clear: "I'm not planning to retire anytime soon."

Lipetz turned 42 in February and, to stick to his own words, is "part of the first generation of Israeli baseball players."

Shlomo fell in love with baseball when he was a 10-year old. He was born in Tel Aviv, but his mother Debra is an American Jew, so he often visited the US.

"I was part of the first-ever baseball team formed in Israel," he recalls.

As a high-school student, Lipetz decided he wanted to play baseball.

"When I joined the three-year mandatory military service, I was lucky enough to become the first baseball player to be part of the military programme for outstanding athletes."

Still, Shlomo had to fly to the United States to play some baseball.

"I went to San Diego, determined to find a baseball team. Mesa Community College gave me a chance. At first, I couldn't believe I was part of a real team. We had a team doctor, someone who took care of our laundry."

Daily workouts made a difference.
"When I got there, I was possibly throwing 72 miles per hour. In a matter of weeks, my fastball topped 88. I often think of the fact that today's 10-year old American kids have pitched more than myself at 22."

How come the Mesa College thought a 22-year old who threw a 72-mile-per-hour fastball could help them?

"I always knew how to lean on my strengths. When I got to San Diego, I already had international experience and I think that made me valuable to the coach."

Lipetz went on to play for the University of California San Diego. He didn't have a chance to compete professionally in the US, but he made the roster of the Netanya Tigers in the first and only season of the Israel Baseball League (IBL) in 2007.

"I was one of six players, out of 180, born in Israel. The level of play was high. Baseball wise, I think we could call that season a success. It was not a success at making money since some of the players never received their salaries."

The IBL collapsed after one season, but Shlomo's baseball career had just started. He had competed with the National Team in lower-tier European competition when they were invited to participate in the World Baseball Classic Qualifiers 2012.

"We participated in tournaments feeling like we didn't belong. We thought of ourselves as the underdogs. Our goal was simply to keep the score close as much as we could."

Then came the American Jews. "Those players have helped us change our mentality. We started thinking."

Israel lost the final against Spain and didn't advance to the World Baseball Classic 2013. Israel was invited to the 2016 Qualifiers, and things went differently. Israel beat Great Britain and Brazil and qualified for the World Baseball Classic 2017. They then swept Pool A in Seoul, defeating host Korea, Chinese Taipei and the Netherlands. They advanced to the second round, and they got started defeating Cuba at the Tokyo Dome.

"Playing at the Tokyo Dome in front of 45,000 made me think that was going to be it, that I had reached the top of my game."

The best was yet to come. Israel lost the next two games against the Netherlands and Japan, and their World Baseball Classic was over. A couple of seasons later, they made their Olympic dream become a reality. Israel went all the way from the European Championship Qualifier to winning the WBSC Europe-Africa Qualifier.

"Chemistry is an essential part of what Israel did in the last couple seasons," commented Lipetz. "There's a group of players (myself, Lavarnway, Gailen, Ziel) that has been together for a while. We made sure each new player understood what this was about. I have been with Israel Baseball for 33 years. My role in the locker room was making the new players understand they don't play for themselves; they play for the programme. Players like Valencia, Kinsler felt like they were part of something special."

Indeed, they were. The 2008 defending gold medalists Korea needed an extra inning to beat Israel in their first game, and Israel was just three outs away from the medal round in Tokyo.

"We felt we should have beaten both Korea and the Dominican Republic in Tokyo," commented Lipetz, who appeared in two games during the Olympics.

"I never believed I would end up playing baseball in the Olympics. The Olympics without spectators were different, he added. "Still, I'm sure we wouldn't have noticed the difference. We were so focused on the games. And it's been the same since we played in the European Championship pool B in 2019. Israel was this: 24 players focused on every pitch."

Again, the best had yet to come.
"I was in New York when I received a phone call from [General Manager] Peter Kurz. He said they needed me to pitch the semifinal against Italy."

Shlomo gave up three home runs in the first couple of innings.
"Since my fastball is around 82 miles per hour, I had a game plan based on my off-speed pitches, mostly changeup and slider. They hit the three home runs on those pitches, so I changed my strategy. I decided I had to rely on my fastball to expand the strike zone. Italian hitters didn't like the inside fastball. Also, my arm angle made it look like it came from behind right-handers. They moved away, and I started pounding the outside part of the plate. The natural movement of my fastball did the rest of the job. In sports, if something doesn't work, you need to adjust. This is something I learned with the years."

Shlomo went 6.2 innings and earned the win. Israel lost the final against the Netherlands.

"Again I feel we should have beaten the Netherlands."

What's the next step?
"The next step is a gold medal at the European Championship."

The next European Championship is going to be in two years.
"Actually, I feel I can be in the next World Baseball Classic. I love the game so much. I love playing the game. I never thought about coaching. I like the way I become childish, maybe foolish, while on the field. It makes it worth it for me. I'm going to be around until Peter Kurz tells me to stay home."

Shlomo Lipetz is the VP of Programming for City Winery. He runs 3,500 music events a year in 13 locations in New York, Chicago, Nashville, Atlanta, Boston, Washington DC, and Philadelphia. His e-mail signature proudly states 2020 Olympian.