2017-02-15 / Front Page

A Homecoming and So Much More for Major League Baseball Players

Daniel Miller Documents First-Ever Team Israel
By Virginia Califano

Gabe Kapler pitches to Ryan Lavarnway on Israel’s only baseball field. 
Ironbound Films Gabe Kapler pitches to Ryan Lavarnway on Israel’s only baseball field. Ironbound Films The Jewish people make up a small slice of the world’s population, and this statistic is only amplified in the world of sports, especially in Major League Baseball. An avid sports fan and award winning filmmaker, Daniel Miller of Philipstown has combined his passions in his latest documentary. “Heading Home,” serves a great purpose: to provide Jewish baseball players with the chance to understand their culture, and enlighten the world of the power and perseverance of Israel and its people.

“Heading Home,” the documentary in the making, is being created by Daniel Miller, Seth Kramer and Jeremy Newberger of Ironbound Films in Garrison. Their recent works, “Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie” and “The Anthropologist” have been critically acclaimed.

The trio has been following Jewish Major League Baseball players who are playing for the first-ever Team Israel at the World Baseball Classic, which will bring them to Seoul, South Korea in March. This marks the first time that Israel has qualified for the main tournament. They beat Great Britain and Brazil to make it.

Jewish MLB players visit Masada. 
Ironbound Films Jewish MLB players visit Masada. Ironbound Films Miller, who is Jewish, visited Israel several times while growing up, with some of his fondest memories stemming from his gap year trip before college. He spent his elementary school summers at Young Judea Sprout Lake, a Jewish sleep-away camp in Dutchess County – the same camp that his children enjoy today. Here, Miller formed lifelong bonds with Jewish friends. It is where he met Jonathan Mayo, who now serves as a Draft and Prospect expert for MLB.com.

Mayo was one of the better ballplayers at camp, though, “that’s not saying much,” Miller said with a laugh. Mayo shifted his focus from baseball on the diamond to the business side, and became a top reporter, always with a passion and focus for his fellow Jewish people.

Mayo discovered that many of the Jewish ballplayers today are unaware of their history and culture, and do not understand Judaism aside from the Stars of David they wear beneath their jerseys for luck on the field. He decided to take them to Israel, so they could understand the Jewish culture as they played for in the World Baseball Classic.

The Jewish Major League Baseball players who qualify for citizenship in Israel embraced the idea. Ike Davis, Sam Fuld, Ryan Lavarnway, Cody Decker, Ty Kelly, Josh Zeid, Jon Moscot, Corey Baker, and Jeremy Bleich are all playing for Team Israel, and let Ironbound Films follow them on their first birthright trip in January.

Suddenly, these Jewish players were thrust into an environment where they learned the daily struggles, and even greater strength, of their Jewish brothers and sisters.

“Any time you have a team of Israeli athletes on a world stage, it’s an opportunity for someone to make a statement,” Miller said. Oftentimes, that statement turns the game into a soapbox for politicized hatred.

While the ballplayers were in Israel, a Palestinian truck rammed into a group of people, similar to the terrorist attack seen in Nice, France in July of 2016. At the same time, the players were breaking ground on what will be just the second baseball field in Israel, sparking a movement that will only grow during the World Baseball Classic.

“It would be awesome if they won it all,” Miller said of Team Israel. But regardless of the World Baseball Classic’s outcome, “Heading Home” is about the journey.

As the film served as a gateway to Israel for the Jewish ballplayers, Miller wants his audience to have “a positive entry to Israel, through the familiar game of baseball. The players’ journey is a cipher for the audience to experience the Israel that I love.”

Miller and the Ironbound Team plan to follow Team Israel on the next step of their journey, to Seoul, South Korea for World Baseball Classic action. They are about halfway to their fundraising goal. Contribute today and get involved at Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/839615840/heading-home-a-documentary-film

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