Last weekend, Team Israel played exhibition games against the FDNY in Brooklyn and the Rockland Boulders in Pomona in the lead-up to the Olympic Games. The first game, on Sunday, July 11, in Maimonides Park in Coney Island, was against New York’s Bravest, the FDNY. The game, which saw Team Israel get the 12-3 win, kicked off a series of exhibition games celebrating Team Israel’s journey to Tokyo.
On July 12, the Rockland Boulders hosted Team Israel at their home field of Palisades Credit Union Park. After a rain delay, the game began with a pre-game show highlighting the tragic 1972 Munich Olympics and a moment of silence. Gad Elbaz sang “HaTikvah.” In honor of their Olympian visitors, the Rockland Boulders wore special uniforms with “Boulders” written in Hebrew.
Prior to the start of the game, Team Israel players delighted fans as they walked through the crowds posing for pictures and signing baseballs. Dr. Jordy Alter, president of Israel Baseball, was ecstatic to see the large turnout. “It is so exciting to see the community coming out in full force. Ironically when notices went out about the protesters today, ticket sales went up. People just said they have to come out and support.” Third-base coach Nate Fish said, “I am so excited to be here and for this incredible journey which we are about to go on.”
Team Israel’s Director of Media Relations Frankie Sacks said: “Some players live in Israel, some in the U.S. They usually play for different teams. We need to play some games, get guys in shape and on the same page. That’s one of the challenges with this Olympic tournament.
“We have a training camp,” Sacks continued. “The Boulders let us use their stadium. We’re getting ready for the Olympics. We’re playing nine games over 10 days, weather permitting, in New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.”
The most well-known Team Israel players to the American audience are Ian Kinsler, a four-time major league baseball all-star who won the World Series with the Boston Red Sox; and Danny Valencia, who played nine years in the major leagues with Minnesota, Seattle, Baltimore and Toronto. Eight others also played in the major leagues in the past. “And then a bunch of other guys who have played with long, distinguished careers in the minor leagues,” said Sacks. “The Jewish-American audience has been very receptive to see that Jews can excel in sports.”
Israel has done well on the international sports scene, particularly the Olympic sports of judo and windsurfing. Sacks noted. “Those are not sports that people in America typically follow or know anything about. Israel’s medalists in those sports are big heroes back home for us, in Israel. American Jews, who look for sporting excellence, don’t typically get to see it out of Israel—not because it doesn’t exist, but because it’s not on their radar.”
Team Israel’s second game in the Tokyo tournament, versus Team USA, will be broadcasted at 6 a.m. EDT on Friday July 30. “I think that’s something that American Jewish Zionists will look to Israel, and be proud of Israel; this is great for them,” Sacks said. “This brings baseball and Israel together in a way that they could previously only really have dreamed of.”
With just six teams reaching the Olympic tournament, Sacks noted, “We’re pretty excited that we have a real shot at medaling. There’s something special about the chemistry of these guys. Some have been together for a long time, and the few who are new, fit in immediately. There’s a special camaraderie and chemistry. Throughout the coronavirus, we had many Zoom calls, some with the staff and players. They’ve been there for each other.
“Some of these guys, who are at the end of their careers, are talking to other guys about what the next steps are,” Sacks continued. “It’s become more than a team. There’s a family about these guys. Not everybody believes that chemistry will help you in baseball, because it’s something of an individualistic sport, but watching these guys together and how they work, there is something special.
“I have a son who is in Italy right now with Israel’s under-18 team, playing in the European Championships,” Sacks said. “I know he and his teammates look up to these guys because these guys are not just great athletes, but they are menches. They’ve done countless Zooms with these players; it’s become a real big Israel baseball family. That’s more than just competing in the Olympics. It’s something to look up to; it’s breeding the next generation of homegrown Israel baseball.
“In Israel, they are building new baseball stadiums, which will hopefully allow us to see the number of players in Israel double. It’s not just about playing in the Olympics but creating another generation of athletes in Israel.”
After five rain-soaked innings of baseball, Team Israel won 7-1.
By Judy Berger