On Sunday, June 23, the sun was finally shining, the smell of fresh-cut grass was in the air, and the anticipation grew as the Marc Katz Memorial Championship Games for the Jewish Community Baseball League (JCBL) were about to begin. The playoff tournament is named in tribute to the memory of Marc Katz, of blessed memory, our league president of 26 years, who was taken from us suddenly just three days before the 2014 championship games. Marc strongly believed in the mission of the Jewish Community Baseball League, because it brings Jewish children from varied backgrounds closer to Judaism and to each other through organized sports. Marc’s memory will forever be linked to our league and to the values it promotes.

Since the beginning of April, teams from shuls in Queens and Long Island have been playing youth baseball. This season, though, for the first time in the 60-year history of the JCBL, Congregation Ahavas Yisroel (AY) of Kew Gardens Hills earned the right to play for a championship in each of the League’s three divisions, winning the Minor Division and coming within an out of winning the Major Division. Here is a brief recap of these games:

Minor Division

AY-B (5-1) vs Great Neck (6-0)

Final Score: AY 3 – GN 1

With AY’s Minor Division Championship – History was made again when it became the youngest AY team to ever win a championship by beating undefeated Great Neck 3-1, being the youngest team ever to win a championship. When asked before the game if his players were intimidated playing a bigger, undefeated team, Manager Robert Barnett said “I have confidence in my boys. We have the skill and the talent to beat anyone.” Did they ever!

Major Division

AY-B (6-4, 1-1 in playoffs) vs Mashadi Jewish Center (MJC-A)

Final Score: MJC 2 – AY 1

 The AY-B Major team consisted primarily of fifth-grade players who played with heart and grit throughout the season, beating older teams along the way. No finer demonstration of that was on full display by everyone until the final out was recorded. Despite the nail-biting and heart-breaking loss, they won the hearts of everyone in attendance for demonstrating the utmost of professionalism. They never gave up and never gave in. Manager Aaron Laub agreed. “They gave it everything they had and left it all on the field. I couldn’t be prouder of them!” So are we all!

Junior Division

AY-A (3-3-1, 2-1 in playoffs) vs Young Israel of Woodmere (YIW)

Final Score: YIW 12 – AY 0

By far, the Junior AY team had the highest mountain to climb, facing a Woodmere team that was not only undefeated this year but has never lost a game since entering the league three years ago. Earning the third seed in the playoffs, AY convincingly won its quarter-final game over Kew Gardens Synagogue (KGS-A). In its semi-final game against Great Neck on a wet field in Great Neck’s back yard, AY again proved superior, beating the second place GN by a score of 4-2. Despite being the heavy underdog, AY was energized to face YIW, having only lost to them 3-1 during the regular season. The disappointing loss aside, Manager Josh Hartman beamed about his players. “These are a remarkable group of young men who played for each other and epitomized the essence of a team. It’s been an honor mentoring, guiding, and managing them. Each of them displayed midos tovos and first-rate sportsmanship.” That said, as he left the field with equipment in hand, he turned back and said with a sparkle in his eye, “We got one more year; we ain’t goin’ anywhere.” We sure hope not!

The 2019 Marc Katz Memorial Championship Games were certainly one for the books. Congratulations to each of the 76 players from AY’s six teams, as well as the 23 coaches and managers on their remarkable achievement this season. A heartfelt hakaras ha’tov and yasher koach to AY JCBL coordinators Josh Hartman, Yoni Katz, and Aaron Laub for their tireless dedication preparing and organizing the AY Baseball program. And, before you blink, it will be April when umpires everywhere again shout those magical words, PLAY BALL!