Shaikin: Reds' Alon Leichman coaches with a heavy heart thinking of Israeli hostages


For Alon Leichman, the assistant pitching coach for the Cincinnati Reds, his job is at Dodger Stadium this weekend. His heart is in Israel.

His first coach, the one who taught him to play baseball, struggles to endure each day. The coach’s brother, kidnapped from his home by Hamas militants seven months ago, is believed to remain captive in the Gaza Strip.

“As of 10 days ago,” Leichman said Thursday, “he was still alive.” He had been shown on a hostage video.

One of Leichman’s former teammates on an Israeli national team also was kidnapped.

“I’m afraid,” Leichman said, “he is not alive.”

The Oct. 7 Hamas attack is to Israelis what the Sept. 11 Al Qaeda attack was to New Yorkers: Everyone knows someone who was killed.

Israel observed its Memorial Day this week. Leichman got a somber text from one of his friends there, apologetic in tone.

“I only got to four graves today,” the text read.

These should be days of celebration for Leichman, who was born and raised in Israel before playing college ball at Cypress College and UC San Diego. He worked as a minor league coach — briefly for the Dodgers, and for six years with the Seattle Mariners — and along the way pitched for Israel in the 2020 Olympics.

The Reds hired him last season. He had made the major leagues.

“I am living out my dream,” he said.

He reminds himself of a country’s tears wherever he goes, with the silver dog tag he wears around his neck. Embossed upon the dog tag, in English and Hebrew, is the national cry in support of the hostages: “Bring them home — now!”

In Israel last winter, Leichman participated in Saturday evening marches with that rallying cry. He did not wear the dog tag there.

“When I come to the States, I feel like this is when I need to wear this,” he said, cradling the tag in his hand, “because it creates conversation.”

He is not scared by the wave of protest against Israel. Where he grew up, a suicide bomber could lurk around any corner.

“Every bus I went on,” he said, “I had the thought that it might blow up.”

However, he does not mind having those conversations, if only to share what he personally knows. It can be difficult, he said, to persuade people that what they see on social media is different from his lived experience.

Leichman served in the Israeli army, where he said the training was strict: If you see a suspected terrorist near a civilian, you cannot shoot. His brother recently returned from serving two months in Gaza and said militants tossed grenades and shot at Israeli soldiers and then scattered down tunnels.

“I’m going to believe my brother,” Leichman said.

Leichman is not sure how the war might end. He is not a general, nor a politician. He said the Israeli government is “shooting itself in the foot” and said that, while Hamas might be the problem, the people of Gaza are not.

“We want peace,” he said. “We have our disagreements on how we’re going to get there.”

The gloves Leichman has used this season include one stitched with “Bring Them Home Now!” and the Israeli flag, another with an image of the dog tag he wears and a Jewish star.

He took a picture of himself wearing one of the gloves last week and sent it to his old coach in Israel, the one whose brother remains a hostage. It is a compassionate gesture and a helpless feeling rolled into one, when that is all you can do.



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