Miracle victory
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Miracle victory

PETACH TIKVAH – In an atmosphere that was both ceremonial and heimesh, pro baseball made its debut in Israel.

The visiting Modi’in Miracle defeated the Petach Tikvah Pioneers, 9-1, in Sunday’s opening game of the Israel Baseball League’s inaugural season.

An unexpectedly large and mostly English-speaking crowd of 3,11′ more than filled the temporary bleachers and plastic lawn chairs surrounding a beautiful and well-lit field in the Yarkon sports complex. Players from the league’s six teams and dignitaries were on the field for the opening ceremonies, which included the singing of "Hatikvah." The kosher barbecue stand was mobbed, and youngsters hawked programs, T-shirts, and water. Players whose teams were not on the field ambled throughout the complex happily signing autographs. It was a scene reminiscent of an American minor league game and a country fair, but with a heavy press and television presence.

The game was seven innings instead of the typical nine and was completed in a crisp two hours, 1′ minutes. Players and fans mingled happily for a half-hour after the last out was recorded. And no one seemed to mind that the game, featuring two former Major Leaguers as managers, wasn’t exactly 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 Modi’in. They scored on a lined triple into right-center by Eladio Rodriguez, who also doubled. Petach Tikvah right-hander Abel Moreno was wild and was yanked with one out in the third trailing 7-0. The Miracle capitalized on seven walks, two errors, a couple of hits, and sacrifice flies to build its lead.

Petach Tikvah’s run came on a towering home run by third baseman Ryan Crotin. Fully aware of the historic blast, the crowd rose to its feet.

The league opener culminated a two-year dream of Larry Baras, a Boston-based 50-something entrepreneur. Baras not only put in much effort but also capital. The league’s commissioner is Dan Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt.

In addition to Modi’in and Petach Tikvah, the IBL is fielding teams in Bet Shemesh, Tel Aviv, and Netanya.

The six teams are sharing fields in Kibbutz Gezer and Tel Aviv, in addition to the veritable "field of dreams" maintained in Petach Tikvah on a site called The Baptist Village.

The IBL roster of 1’0 players includes 77 Americans, 15 Dominicans, 13 Israelis, nine Canadians, six Australians, two Colombians, and a native of Japan. Generally the American players represent a mix with college and professional experience. The Israelis are products of a highly developed amateur league, The Israel Association of Baseball, and the rest have some professional experience. The IBL estimates that approximately 40 percent of the players are Jewish.

The IBL will field a 45-game schedule, with the championship to be determined in a one-game playoff Aug. 19 between the teams with the two best records.

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