Due to the ongoing Major League Baseball lockout, there will likely be no full slate of spring training games on Tuesday, March 1. But that doesn’t mean baseball fans in Atlanta won’t get an opportunity to celebrate the national pastime.
The Jewish National Fund-USA’s 18th Annual Jack Hirsch Memorial Breakfast is set to take place at Truist Park on this late winter morning, featuring Jewish baseball icons Ron Blomberg and Art Shamsky and honoring Abe Schear, a local philanthropist and partner in the real estate and leasing practice of Arnall Golden Gregory, LLP. The annual breakfast, which celebrates Israel and its citizens, was last held in Atlanta in December 2019.
It’s safe to say transplanted New Yorkers who have settled in the Peach State will not be disappointed. Blomberg is entrenched in New York Yankee lore by virtue of becoming the American League’s first ever designated hitter on Opening Day 1973.
To this day, he serves as a tireless advocate for Thurman Munson’s induction to the Hall of Fame (he has one more chance via the Veterans Committee next year) and last year came out with a memoir, “The Captain & Me,” describing his life on and off the field with his former teammate, roommate and dear friend.
“I’m a true blue New York Yankee,” says Blomberg, who is thrilled to once again speak in front of a live audience, openly admitting that he is neither the most introverted nor technical guy in the world, the latter evidenced by his reliance on flip phones and calculators to pay his bills. “I love to talk. I love to get my message out. How I look at it, I’ve been booed in front of 50,000 people. Being booed in front of one or two more, it doesn’t bother me.
“I’m really excited to go down to the stadium and talk to all the Jewish fans that wanted to have a breakfast like this. We have to get back to where we used to be.”
Despite living in Roswell full-time, Blomberg didn’t go to a single Braves postseason game last October. While he identifies first and foremost as a Yankee (he was a regular at Yankee Stadium before the pandemic) and doesn’t root for Atlanta, he is good friends with former Braves like Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Jeff Blauser. But team allegiances aside, he is, quite simply, far more comfortable being at Truist Park talking baseball, as opposed to watching baseball.
“It is very difficult for me to watch a baseball game if I’m not playing,” adds Blomberg. “I want to be out there. I’m a player. I’m not a fan.”
Shamsky is a close friend of Blomberg (they both managed in the Israeli Baseball League in 2007 and have done numerous speaking engagements together in New York City) and, of course, was a key contributor to the New York Mets’ run to the franchise’s first world championship in 1969, a miraculous feat that has been glorified in pop culture for decades, including a recent book he penned, “After the Miracle,” chronicling his lifelong friendship with Mets teammates, including the late Tom Seaver.
Like Blomberg, Shamsky spent years lobbying for a close friend (his manager, Gil Hodges) to be voted into Cooperstown, a development that finally came to fruition last month. He has some fascinating stories to tell, too.
“For me, it’s always wonderful to meet new people, especially with JNF and the causes they have going for them,” says Shamsky, who, at 80, has been an active supporter of JNF for decades, particularly through his efforts to establish baseball and softball programs in Israel. “That team [1969 Mets] has a lot of followers who have transplanted from New York. The fact that we were such an underdog that went on to win the World Series, we made people feel good about things for a brief period of time. And they have passed it on from generation to generation. I played 13 years, and no one talks about the other 12. It’s really about 1969.”
He is anticipating quite a few questions about that magical season, even if it is over a half-century old.
“It was an incredible year for sports,” adds Shamsky who loves engaging with fans online, whether it is via Twitter, personal website (artshamsky.com) or Cameo. “It was an awful year for the country and the world at the time. Back then the war in Vietnam was tearing the country apart. It never gets old for me. I’m constantly talking about it [the 1969 world championship]. To this day, I still get people wanting to know what happened that year in terms of games that were played. Over the years I’ve probably met 100,000 people who told me they were there on Oct. 16, 1969. I realize Shea Stadium held about 53,000. Either they were or weren’t, but it doesn’t make any difference to me. They were there as far as they are concerned.”
While Blomberg and Shamsky will certainly be the center of attention on March 1, it is Schear, who believes he owns every single one of their baseball cards, who will be honored for his continuous efforts on behalf of JNF, an organization that he has supported since 2005. Schear has been to Israel dozens of times and watched the inaugural season of the Israeli Baseball League in 2007, an experience he calls “a very quirky thing to do in Israel, and a great memory.”
Although the Israeli Baseball League soon folded, JNF-USA has not given up on baseball. Far from it, actually. The organization is currently spearheading the Project Baseball Initiative, which not only covered the majority of Team Israel’s expenses during the recent Tokyo Olympics, but is also raising funds for a cutting-edge baseball/softball complex in Beit Shemesh, one that can be used by thousands of young Israeli ballplayers.
In addition to Blomberg’s and Shamsky’s stories, JNF’s Project Baseball Initiative will be one of the core topics discussed during the breakfast in March.
There is no cost to attend the event and photo opportunities with the Braves’ World Series trophy will be available. To register for the 18th Annual Jack Hirsch Memorial Breakfast at Truist Park or for more information, visit jnf.org/jackhirsch.
- David Ostrowsky
- Atlanta Braves
- jewish national fund
- Major League Baseball
- Spring Training
- Jack Hirsch Memorial Breakfast
- Truist Park
- Ron Blomberg
- Art Shamsky
- Abe Schear
- Arnall Golden Gregory
- New Yorkers
- Peach State
- New York Yankees
- Hall of Fame
- Israeli Baseball League
- New York Mets