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Tigers manager steps to plate for fundraiser

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Farmington Hills — A Jewish fundraising event drew about 75 guests Sunday night, and perhaps the most anticipated guest was Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus.

Tigers' manager Brad Ausmus.

The event was designed to raise money for Project Baseball, a Jewish National Fund effort focused on building state-of-the-art baseball and softball fields throughout Israel and to teach baseball and softball to Israeli youths through little leagues, summer camps and clinics.

“Because of the constant threat of war, we want to make the lives of these children as normal as possible, and baseball is the most normal thing possible,” said Peter Kurtz, president of the Israel Association of Baseball and manager of the JNF Project Baseball/Softball.

“We teach the kids values, leadership, and how to work together as a team.”

Project Baseball is one of the numerous projects sponsored by the JNF, created in 1901 as a vision to buy plots of land to establish the groundwork for the birth of the nation of Israel, according to its website.

Ausmus, who said his mother is Jewish but that he wasn’t raised in the Jewish religion, managed an Israeli team in 2011.

“I received an email in 2011 asking if I’d get involved with the team and I said yes,” he said. There were three Israeli members and the rest of the team were Americans with Jewish heritage.

“It was a life-altering experience and I still get emails and texts from some in the group of 28 guys,” Ausmus said Sunday night, fresh from a disappointing loss at home to the Orioles.

Ausmus signed a baseball during the event,which was auctioned off for $400. A signed bat by Ausmus was auctioned off for $1,000.

Kurtz, originally from New York but who has lived in Israel for the past 26 years, is on a fundraising tour of several cities this week.

He talked about Ausmus’ experience with Israeli baseball players and the effect Ausmus had on them.

“Brad Ausmus was the manager of Team Israel in the world baseball classic qualifying in 2012,” he said. “That was a magical experience.”

Kurtz placed the cost to build a baseball field in Bet Shemesh at about $1 million. He described Bet Shemesh as a bedroom community outside Jeruselem, which has one major field where teams play at a Baptist school; other areas where teams play can’t really be considered baseball fields, he said.

“We have commitments for about $400,000 right now,” he said. “So we need to raise another $600,000.

JNF also is involved in building communities, water management and conservation, and research and development, according to its website. One of foundation’s most well-known projects is the planting of trees in Israel. In the past 100 years, the foundation has planted 250 million trees in the country, the website said. JNF has national headquarters in New York, with regional offices across the country, including the Midwest.

Sunday’s event was hosted by Florine Mark, Weight Watchers Group Inc. president and CEO, in her home.

“About 25 years ago, we helped put tennis courts throughout Israel, and now we’re doing this,” Mark said. “There should be a sense of normalcy for people in Israel — especially the young people. For whatever money you give today, we say thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”