From the (baseball) field, Dr. Abramowitz on Opening Day in Israel

Posted June 25, 2007

Note the international make up of the league as an expression of Jewish Peoplehood:

 Petach Tikvah, Israel  June 25, 2007

This was one  for the record-book.
The first professional baseball game in the history of Israel was played here in Petach Tikvah  last night, as the visiting Modi’in Miracle bested the Petach Tikvah Pioneers 9-1,  in the opening game of  the Israel Baseball League’s (”IBL”) “Inaugural Season”. The game’s managers were Art Shamsky for Mod’in and Ken Holtzman  for Petach Tikvah.
An unexpectedly large crowd of 3,112 (”a new IBL record”, as one press box wag put it) more than filled the temporary bleachers and plastic lawn chairs surrounding  a beautiful and well-lit field in the Yarkon sports complex. The atmoshpere was both ceremonial and heimesh. With all six League teams and assorted dignitaries on the field for opening ceremonies, Hatikvah was sung touchingly  on the mound and in the stands, and the game began exactly as scheduled at six in the evening. The  kosher barbecue stand was mobbed; youngsters hawked program books, tee-shirts, and water; Players whose teams were not on  the  field ambled throughout the complex, happily signing autographs for fresh-faced kids and not a few  middle-aged folk. Overall, the atmosphere  was reminiscent of some combination of an American minor league game and country fair, overlaid with a heavy press and television presence
In a concession to concerns about the attention-span of Israeli  fans, the game  was played over seven innings rather than nine.Even with time-out for  a “fifth-inning stretch” and “Take me out to the Ballgame”, the game was played in a crisp two hours, 12 minutes. Players and fans mingled happily for  half an hour after the last out was recorded.
Noone seemed to mind that the game itself was not a classic.  The tone was set in the first inning when a botched pitcher-to-short-to-first double-play put two runners on base for visiting Modi’in visitors. They promptly scored on a lined triple into right-center by Eladio Rodriguez, who also doubled later in the game. Petach Tikvah right-hander Abel Moreno was fast but wild, and  by the end of  the third inning (he was relieved with one out in the  third), Modi’in had capitalized on 7 walks, two errors, a couple of hits and sac flies to build a 7-0 lead.
Petach Tikvah’s one  run  became an instant classic.. Third-baseman Ryan Crotin, who had doubled in his first at-bat, easily cleared  the left-foot fence with a towering fly in the fourth, for the first home run in the history of Israeli pro ball. The crowd came to its feet in full awareness  of the historical sigificance of this swat.
Modi’in starter Matt Bennett went three scoreless innings, with Andy  Alcantera, Andre Sternberg, Rafi Stern, and Maximo Nelson combining to close it out. Stern, from Jerusalem, pitching  on  the eve of his 19th birthday,thus becomes the first Israeli pitcher in the history of the IBL.. (For the record, the first Israeli batter of the game was 17-year old Kibbutz Gezer resident Nate Rosenberg , who struck out as a fifth-inning pinch-hitter in  Modi’ins Designated Hitter slot)
Modi’in played errorless ball, while Petach Tikvah had its troubles in the field, including a couple of mental lapses. Overall, however, the game appeared to this observer to be crisply played at a level equivalent to  minor-league “A-ball “in the States.
The Israel Baseball League (”IBL”) is the culmination of the two-year dream and sweat and cash of Larry Baras, a Boston-based 50-something entrepeneur who says,  “I love baseball, I love Israel, and I love start-ups, and  it’s been my passion to bring these three things together as a gift to the people of Israel.”. The League’s Commissioner is Dan Kurtzer, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Egypt.
In addition to last night’s combatants, the  IBL is  fielding teams in Bet Shemesh,Tel Aviv, Modi’in, and Netanya.
The six teams are sharing fields in Kibbutz Gezer and Tel Aviv, in addition to the  veritable “field of dreams” maintained here in Petach  Tikvah on a site called “The Baptist Village”.
The IBL’s official roster of 120 players include 77 Americans,  15 Dominicans, 13 residents of Israel, nine Canadians, six Australians, two Colombians, and a native of Japan. Generally speaking, the American players represent a mix of college ball and professional experience, the Israelis are products of a highly-developed amateur League (The Israel Association of Baseball) while the other nationals have played professionally. The players were recruited by Dan Duquette, former General Manager of the Boston Red Sox.The IBL estimates that approximately 40% of the players are Jewish.
Among the League’s six managers are former Major Leaguers Ken Holtzman,Ron Blomberg, Art Shamsky, and Steve Hertz. Ami Baran and Shaun Smith, experienced coaches from Israel and Australia, complete the managerial roster.
The IBL will field a 45-game schedule, with the Championship to be determined in a one-game playoff August 19 between the teams with the two best records.
The question on the minds of many observers is how will Israelis respond  to this new professional sport, a game without a clock and the constantly visible action of other sports? It’s a long season, and too early too know, but Opening Day was a great start.
Martin Abramowitz produces Jewish and Israeli baseball cards, and lectures on Jews in Baseball. www.jewishmajorleaguers.org

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