(photo credit: )
Just days before Sunday's Opening Day, a group of the Israel Baseball League's players, managers, umpires and officials met for a work out session at Yarkon Field in Petah Tikva on Thursday.
Although it was not an official practice, some of the players took the opportunity to get used to the surroundings, hitting balls to each other at the opening games's venue.
Ken Holtzman, manager of the Petah Tikva Pioneers, which will face off against the Modi'in Miracle on Sunday, was glad to see where his home games will be played, and to greet some of the players he'll manage this season, for the first time.
Pioneers second baseman Willis Bumphus said: "I'm happy to meet three of my players. Hopefully this league will be competitive and instructive."
The 22-year-old played professionally in the independent Golden League with the San Diego Surf Dawgs, and said that the Israel league had made a good first impression on him.
"We're going to give people a good game, something that they've never seen before," he said.
After Sunday's opener, three games will be played every Sunday to Thursday evening, until the Championship Game on August 19.
The Ra'anana Express will play its first game against the Tel Aviv lighting at Sportek in Tel Aviv on Monday, the same day as the Netanya Tigers take on the Bet Shemesh Blue Sox at Gezer Field.
On Thursday, Bumphus and a few other players from several clubs took batting practice on a secondary field while the grounds crew worked to ensure Yarkon's field will be in pristine condition for the first game.
More than 2,000 people are expected to attend the opening game.
"The Israel Baseball League is a great opportunity for many players to showcase their skills. It's a beautiful game in a beautiful part of the world, said Netanya outfielder Josh Doane, 23. "I'm excited to get on the field, earning my pay and doing my job."
A number of the league's umpires were on hand to make sure that the field is kept at a high standard and to talk to the managers about the importance of keeping the rules at major league standards.
Umpire L.A. Fine, was optimistic about the league, saying the game will be faster paced than baseball in America.
"We call it hustle, a word synonymous with the game of baseball. If players hustle, the game will be expedited," he said.
The majority of the players are based abroad and have been flown in for the summer by the league. Most have begun to settle into their new summer home at Kfar Hayarok in Ramat Hasharon.
While many are from the United States, they have come from all over the world to be a part of the IBL's inaugural season, and although there are some language barriers, they have already begun getting to know their teammates and opponents.
"This is a great group of guys, everyone has been really friendly," said Ty Erikson, the Netanya Tigers' first baseman, from Vancouver, Washington.
Erikson said the league's talent level is very high, thanks in part to the large contingent of Dominican players, but noted that the league is made up of more than just ballplayers.
"They don't want guys that just play baseball, they want ambassadors," he said.
Erikson and the rest of the players will have their first official practice Friday morning at the Yarkon Sports Complex in Petah Tikva.
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