Assaf Lowengart, an Israeli professional baseball outfielder for the New York Boulders of the Frontier League. Photo by Perry Bindelglass.
Assaf Lowengart, an Israeli professional baseball outfielder for the New York Boulders of the Frontier League. Photo by Perry Bindelglass.

Israeli-born, US pro baseball player finds success in home debut for New York Boulders

Assaf Lowengart, who played for Team Israel in the Olympics, thrilled fans in his first week with the independent league team.

In his second at bat in his home debut at Clover Stadium in Pomona, N.Y., on June 20, Assaf Lowengart smacked a three-run home run to right field. In his next at bat, he doubled off the left field wall, stole third and scored on a passed ball.

“It’s amazing to be here. It’s a long time coming,” Lowengart told JNS five hours later after the second game of a doubleheader, at around 11:40 p.m. “I’m finally able to show what I can do and contribute to the team.”

Even at that late hour, he signed autographs on baseballs and caps.

The New York Boulders team of the Frontier League, which operates independently of Major and Minor League Baseball, signed Lowengart in February. Though the season started in May, he remained in Israel due to visa problems until about a week ago.

The 26-year-old from Timorim, a moshav in central Israel, said document delays and other mishaps were frustrating and “insane.”

“We’re relieved to finally get him here,” Sean Reilly, president and general manager of the Boulders, told JNS after his team defeated the New Jersey Jackals 11-1 in the first game.

The owner thanked Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) for helping the Israeli player arrive on U.S. shores.

“We got a player who is versatile and can play many positions, works hard, has the right attitude and bolsters our offense,” Reilly told JNS. “Picking him up from the airport was one of the most enjoyable rides I’ve had in 13 years.”

“He’s a smart and engaging player and person, and we hope that the Jewish community will come out to see him and our team,” he added.

T.J. Stanton, who manages the Boulders, told JNS that Lowengart is a rarity.

“He can play eight positions,” he said, “So far, he’s played third base, second base, shortstop, right field and left field. He’s very patient, and we’re happy he’s here. He’s a team player that really helps us.”

‘A good guy’

The team has a star Jewish player, David Vinsky, who is second in the league with 40 runs batted in. The outfielder and designated hitter is second in homer runs, with nine—two of which he crushed in the doubleheader, thrilling fans with a fist pump rounding first base.

“We’re trying to enjoy this, and we have a really good team this year and are trying to be consistent every day,” Vinsky, who wears a Star of David necklace, told JNS. “Assaf brings a lot to our team. He’s a really good guy and is gonna be a big part of what’s going on here.”

“This was a first-place team without me, and there are a lot of great players,” Lowengart told JNS. “I’m trying to add to the team in any way I can.”

Fans said amid rising Jew-hatred in America and attacks against Israel in the media, it is special for children to see an Israeli who is a professional baseball player.

David Landman 44, of Fairlawn, N.J., was one of the Jewish parents who came to the game with their children on June 20. “I think in these tough times, it’s great for Jewish kids to see a role model,” he told JNS. “In baseball, one person can inspire a lot of people.”

As he stood in line to buy food from the kosher stand at Clover Field, Mendy Halpert, 37, of Pomona, N.Y., said he was thrilled to see the Israeli player.

“I’ve followed him since he was in the Tokyo Olympics,” said Halpert, who came to the game with his son. “I said, ‘I have to come to a Boulders game to see an actual Israeli-born player.’”

Assaf Lowengart
Assaf Lowengart hit a home run and a double in his home debut at Clover Field in Pomona, N.Y., on June 20, 2024. Photo by Perry Bindelglass.

‘The best Israeli sabra’

Peter Kurz, CEO of the Israel Association of Baseball and an architect of Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic and the Olympics, praised Lowengart.

“When an Israeli kid wants to play, you’re a little bit skeptical,” Kurtz told JNS over the phone from Israel. “But within a few years, he became one of the best players in Israel. He works very hard on the field and in the weight room. He’s been on countless national teams, the Olympic team. He’s not just an incredible player, but an incredible human being.”

He added that “Assaf is the best Israeli sabra to come out of our system and the first sabra to play in professional baseball in the United States. We’re excited for him.”

Team Israel had an exhibition game against the Boulders last summer, and Lowengart said the facilities and the people piqued his interest.

“You have an amazing stadium and more than 6,000 people, and most waited in a rain delay,” he said. “It was incredible the staff made the field playable. I saw there the fans had a lot of passion, the team had passion and the community was very strong.”

“For me, it was a no-brainer,” he said.

On Oct. 7, Lowengart was in San Francisco with his sister and had spent time with his ex-commander in the Israel Defense Forces and her boyfriend. He had already decided to move back to Israel. Then messages began to appear on their phones.

“From 8:30 p.m. to 4 in the morning, we watched the news the whole night,” he said. “We could not believe what we saw. We messaged our parents to lock their doors. We saw videos of Hamas in Sderot and other videos, and we hoped. We were in shock and in the morning hoped it was a horrible dream. But it wasn’t.”

In the wake of the terrorist attacks in southern Israel, he volunteered for agricultural assistance on a kibbutz, picking pomegranates, avocados, oranges and clementines. As part of his work with the Israel Baseball Association, he participated in clinics with Israeli kids of communities forced to evacuate from the south, and some from the north.

“What they went through was terrible, but if you can put a smile on a child’s face and get their minds off it for an hour or two, it’s amazing,” he said. “I think they helped me more than I helped them.”

He is aware of the varying opinions on Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza, saying many people get a false impression from social media. “There are some who see one TikTok video and think Israel started the war out of the blue,” he said. “I would hope people at least know that this war happened because of Oct. 7.”

‘Soul player’

A fan of former Major League players Ian Kinsler and Dustin Pedroia, he said it is important to teach youngsters that they will sometimes fail and that even great hitters get out 70% of the time. He predicts that baseball will continue to grow in Israel.

“Making people understand the value of sports in Israel is important,” he said. “In Israel, sports aren’t the most important thing because we have other things going on that are more important, like living, which is not always easy.”

“The values that come from baseball are amazing, learning to deal with failure and trusting each other,” he said.

Assaf Lowengart
Assaf Lowengart (mouth open) celebrates with the Boulders after a 4-3 walk-off victory in the bottom of the 10th inning, June 22, 2024. Photo by Perry Bindelglass.

A great moment from the World Baseball Classic was watching his close friend and starting pitcher Dean Kremer, now playing for the Baltimore Orioles, get a key strikeout.

“He doesn’t show emotions when he plays, usually,” Lowengart said of Kremer, a dual Israeli-U.S. citizen and a starting pitcher for the Orioles. “After the strikeout, he kind of flexed and did a little roll. It was fun seeing him all amped up on that big stage and performing so well.”

This season, Kremer has notched wins over the Yankees, Angels and Reds.

Israeli-born Shlomo Lipetz, who lives in New York City, has been Lowengart’s teammate for 15 years on numerous teams.

“Assaf is a soul player,” Lipetz told JNS. “He wants to win, and he cares so much about his teammates and motivates those around him. He has a high metabolism, and while he always made good contact, he needed more pop.”

“Due to nutrition and training, he’s developed that pop in his bat, and he can drive the ball over the fence,” Lipetz added. “He’s a person that doesn’t let obstacles get in his way. The Israeli baseball community is really excited for him.”

At 6-foot-1-inch, Lowengart noted that he was short as a teen, and many have been shocked over the years when he said he aimed to be a professional baseball player. Some said that dream was implausible.

“I like to prove people wrong,” he said.  

The Boulders plan to celebrate Jewish Heritage Day on July 7. After the game, children will have the chance to run the bases and get autographs from the players. 

The team is currently in first place in the East with a record of 26-12.

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