Photo: Courtesy Shlomo Lipetz
Shlomo Lipetz - City Winery’s national programming director throws a pretty mean sidearm for Team Israel at the World Baseball Classic in Seoul, South Korea, in March.
Lipetz may not have seen much playing time, but he probably got more ink than anyone who was not the “Mensch on the Bench,” Team Israel’s mascot, including a feature in the New York Times.
On a team roster composed of mainly young professional baseball players, Lipetz, a pitcher, would be considered a grizzled veteran at 38.
The Tel Aviv native is also the only Israeli-born player on the team. Team Israel, ranked 41st internationally prior to the WBC tournament, raised its profile considerably just by making it to the first round of WBC pool play in Seoul, South Korea.
Then it shocked the baseball world by sweeping Pool A with wins over South Korea, Chinese Taipei, and the Netherlands at the Gocheok Sky Dome.
Then the team traveled to Japan and opened second-round play with a 4-1 win over heavily favored Cuba at the Tokyo Dome, before coming back to earth and out of the tournament with losses to the Netherlands and Japan.
But had Team Israel won that last game against Japan, it would have faced the United States in the WBC Championship at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. What was expected to be an eight-day run turned into a month overseas for Lipetz and his teammates, who returned home immediately after their final game.
“I can tell you, it was a real challenge mentally where [March 15] we were in the Tokyo Dome playing in front of 55,000 Japanese fans and not even 16 hours later I’m back behind my desk at City Winery,” Lipetz told Pollstar.
Within 24 more hours, he was off again for a week in Nashville where City Winery is looking for a local talent buyer.
“The timing was a little awkward,” Lipetz said, laughing. “I was gone for a full month and had the buyer from Chicago stand in for a couple of weeks. I’m here to help book some shows and support the [City Winery] team.” Another local buyer helped cover for Lipetz in New York City while he was in Asia living that dream. But that doesn’t mean Lipetz was away from the day job for a month.
“I’d get done with a game, or a practice, and there’s about a 13-hour time difference between Korea and Japan and home,” Lipetz said. “I’d be answering phone calls and emails at 2:30 in the morning local time, but that was the only way.”
He credits his boss, City Winery founder and CEO Michael Dorf, for making it all possible – not just for being flexible enough to let him travel and play baseball much of the year, but for giving him a shot at working with his other passion: music.
“It’s always kind of been the deal with Michael and myself,” Lipetz explained. “In the early years, when I was going out and playing ball in the summer for a month and a half, I thought, ‘I cannot put out an “away from the office” note on the door and prove that I can still sustain the job.’
“With the job we have, I get 600-700 emails a day to respond to. It’s a suicide mission to not be in a position to respond to emails. The downside is, I can never ‘go to the mountain’ with baseball, but the upside is I’m able to travel for a month and do what it is I need to do to maintain my job.”
Lipetz admits the surprise performance of Team Israel threw off his timing a bit. “We did kind of stretch it. We weren’t supposed to get past the first round so I kind of underplayed it and said we’re going to be gone for 10 days, maximum two weeks. Then we were gone for a month.”
How Lipetz came to be an Israeli ambassador of America’s National Pastime is a story in itself. He said that growing up, there were no ballfields, no coaches, no summers watching on TV or listening on radio.
He was largely self-coached, and played with mixed teams of boys and girls from school before he entered Israel’s compulsory military service at 18.
By the time he left for the U.S. at 22, there wasn’t a single ballfield in the country with a raised pitcher’s mound.
Photo: Courtesy Shlomo Lipetz
Shlomo Lipetz - with the "Mensch On The Bench" -- Team Israel's mascot
Yet, he managed to earn a spot on the UC San Diego baseball team while studying international relations. He also took classes in music supervision at a community college, and called it a “reality check” that wasn’t really happening for him, either.
“My girlfriend asked what I’m going to do with my life, what did I love. I love music,” Lipetz said. “I moved to New York and took an internship through a Craigslist ad for Michael, pre-City Winery. The wording on the Craiglist ad was for a small Jewish label working as intern and I wound up working in a small 12- by 12-foot office with artists like Pharoah’s Daughter.
“For a full year, five days a week, I didn’t even know who Michael was or if there were any prospects. Luckily, it was the right timing and he saw an intern that was there five days a week while holding another job. He told me ‘I’m opening up this place, City Winery, do you want to get on board?’ And nine years later we’re opening up two City Wineries a year.”
The WBC takes place every four years, but Team Israel also competes in the European Championship tournament and will take Lipetz to Belgrade, Serbia.
He also plays for a Brooklyn semi-pro team and trains indoors during the winter months.
At 38, it’s a fair question as to what motivates Lipetz to continue playing baseball. But it’s pretty simple when one considers his boyhood dream. He wants to make it possible for Israeli kids to share his dream and passion for baseball, and perhaps surpass it.
“One of the goals that we have is to use the proceeds from the tournament to build a proper baseball field in Israel,” Lipetz said. “It takes a lot of passion to get into the sport. I’m 6’4” and athletic and I did get into soccer and track, but baseball was always intriguing for me.”
Lipetz has been able to leverage his love of baseball in other ways that dovetail nicely with his love of music. He’s befriended musicians who are also fans, like Eddie Vedder, Marc Broussard, and Alejandro Escovedo.
“I’m very lucky that I have a second passion. I think it’s the biggest challenge for every professional baseball player. At what point when you play in the minor leagues for six years making $1,500 a month do you say, ‘What am I doing with my life?’ I can go from being a baseball player to City Winery and doing emails – that’s how I cope with it,” Lipetz said.
His Brooklyn league begins play April 15, then Lipetz is off to Belgrade with Team Israel in July for two weeks.
“Michael doesn’t even know about that yet, because I like to spread out the bad news of when I am leaving,” Lipetz said.