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November 28, 2015 / 16 Kislev, 5776
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Hardball In The Holy Land

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When we drafted the players at New York’s Cardozo Law School a few months ago, I arranged a PR stunt in which the Modi’in Miracle – one of the six teams – would “draft” Sandy for its roster. It was meant as an attention-getter and it succeeded, but I would have thought it a failure had Sandy taken it the wrong way.

He didn’t. He was, by a friend’s report, “touched, honored, and moved,” and wished us all well. And we got wonderful accolades for the gesture. “It’s been 41 years since his last start,” we said. “If he’s rested and ready, we want him.”

I left for my first trip to Israel on June 19. I have a cousin who lives in northern Israel who has always been like a sister to me, and I was anxious to meet up with her and her family. (We are both children of sisters who, with family intact, came to the U.S. from Karlsruhe, Germany in 1937, just under the wire).

My reunion with my cousin included a wonderful tour of Jaffa and Tel Aviv, and my friend Martin Abramowitz, who produced the hit baseball card series of Jewish ballplayers (see them at www.ajhs.com), took me to Jerusalem for a tour. As one who thinks Yankee Stadium is steeped in history, I can only say that Jerusalem holds its own quite well.

The visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial was especially moving. How could it not be?

We found it somewhat difficult to do business in Israel, from customs (imagine the agents’ reaction to seeing baseball bats and batting helmets) to smaller matters. The fans were excited and enthusiastic and friendly, but business people didn’t warm up quickly to this pack of Americans arriving with this most American game. (Israelis love their soccer and basketball, which they consider faster paced but which I just consider back and forth games, as the late sportswriter Red Smith used to say.)

Our opening day was one of the great moments in Israeli sports history. Some 4,000 people came to the field in Petach Tikva to see the Miracle play the Pioneers, Shamsky’s team vs. Holtzman’s, with about 100 media credentials issued.

As was true of every day I spent in Israel, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The singing of Hatikvah was moving, but nothing got to me as much as the introduction of the Israeli players, wildly cheered on by their family and friends. Some said the first pitch was the emotional highlight, but I have always been a sucker for the player introductions, and this was lump-in-the-throat time.

In a matter of days we had a no-hitter, a home run derby to break a tie (a special IBL rule to help speed up the game), a protested game, NBC Nightly News on site, a game televised back to the U.S. on PBS (sponsored by The Jewish Press) and, oh yes, one of the Israeli players wrenched his back while coaching third base and waving a runner home. He was out for a week.

When I asked a Jerusalem cab driver, tongue in cheek and without even naming the sport, if he happened to know how Petach Tikva did the night before, he said, “No, but I know Modi’in won 9-1 the other day. I heard it on the radio.”

Music to a PR man’s ears.

Whether Israelis become big fans of baseball, as American Jews have been for more than a century, remains to be seen. But for now, we’ve brought our national pastime to the Promised Land. As one woman’s sign said, “Statehood – check. Baseball in Israel – check. World Peace –.” It was unchecked.

We’re only baseball, but we made it.

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