Young Israelis crowdfund their way to Major League Baseball playoffs

Click photo to download. Caption: Kansas City natives and brothers Yoni (left) and Naftali Schwartz watch Major League Baseball on a laptop computer in Israel. Credit: Provided photo.

By Maayan Jaffe/JNS.org

Baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie are the American dream. So why did two young men who have built their lives in Israel promote a GoFundMe crowdfunding webpage with the urgent message that they needed $3,500 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, 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.

With the Royals leading the American League Championship Series (ALCS) two games to none, and games three and and four coming up in Kansas City on Oct. 13 and 14, the brothers flew to the U.S. on Saturday night. They raised more than $1,300 through the GoFundMe page, received other gifts from family and friends, and took out loans to cover the rest of their costs.

Before the brothers decided to travel to Kansas City, Naftali told JNS.org, “I remember that, when I was growing up [in Overland Park, Kan.], I would fall asleep to the sound of the Royals’ broadcaster. I always had this deep passion and love for the Royals. 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.”

Click photo to download. Caption: Kansas City natives and brothers Yoni (left) and Naftali Schwartz, along with Naftali's baby, Yuval. Credit: Provided photo.

The brothers said 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,” said 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 said.

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,” said Yoni, noting this is likely because there is not a lot of action, but more strategy, in the slow-paced game.

Even after making the trip to Kansas City, Yoni and Naftali are leaving their crowdfunding webpage open in case more contributions come in. The baseball tickets cost more than $200 each, and the plane ride was more than $1,500 per person. Both young men are just years out of the army and starting families. Their wives are both expecting. 

“[Naftali] and I are so touched and inspired by [everyone’s] willingness to help our dream come true,” said Yoni.

Maayan Jaffe is senior writer/editor at Netsmart and a freelancer writer in Overland Park, Kan. Reach her at maayanjaffe@icloud.com or follow her on Twitter, @MaayanJaffe.

Download this story in Microsoft Word format here.

Posted on October 13, 2014 and filed under Israel, Features, Sports.