(photo credit: )
History was made on Sunday at Yarkon Field in Petah Tikva as the Modi'in Miracle won the inaugural game of the Israel Baseball League 9-1 over the host Petah Tikva Pioneers.
Nearly every event on and off the field was a first for the league that was over a year in the making. From the 3,112 fans in attendance to the family-like atmosphere, the IBL had plenty to be proud of on opening night.
Everyone involved seem to understand the role they played in the launch of this league. Players from all teams - the winning Miracle, the losing Pioneers and the four non-playing teams on hand - made it a point to chat with fans of all ages, sign autographs and take pictures after the game, giving the event an atmosphere that is needed to help cultivate the sport of baseball in Israel.
IBL organizers also cornered the market on souvenirs and merchandising in a way that no other Israeli sporting franchise has to date. Everything from hats, to jerseys to balls and programs were on sale and seemed to go rather quickly as well.
However, alongside the success, there is still plenty to improve on if this semi-professional league is to catch on.
Problems from the scorekeeping - as of press time, the official Web site had deleted the scoreless inning pitched by Modi'in's lone Israeli pitcher on the night, Rafi Stern, instead crediting the inning to his predecessor Andre Sternberg - to security - Petah Tikva's best performer on the night, Ryan Crotin, had his cherished baseball mitt taken from the dugout - left a blemish on what was otherwise a promising beginning for the league.
On the field, Modi'in was clearly the superior side, capitalizing on Petah Tikva starting pitcher Abel Moreno's (0-1) early control issues and the team's shaky defense to build an early lead that held up. Then a five-run third put the game out of reach, triggering Miracle manager Art Shamsky to use 20 players in the seven-inning encounter.
"It's great that we won," Shamsky said, explaining that he used so many players because the game is scheduled to be shown on public television in the United States and he wanted as many players as possible to get in so that their friends and families could see them play.
"I was pleasantly surprised," he said of the level of play, singling out his team's fielding and timely hitting as the keys to victory.
The game had all the usual pre-game at an encounter like this, with players from every team taking the field for the ceremonies and commissioner and former US Ambassador to Israel Dan Kurzer and advisory committee member Jeff Royer throwing out the honorary first pitches.
Noah Walker, the game's leadoff hitter, said he was nervous going out for the first time, but called the day a "huge success."
"The fans were great, the field was great. I really hope this catches on here. Playing here was huge treat."
In the top of the first, after Seth Binder dropped a throw from Moreno for a potential inning-ending double play, Miracle catcher Eladio Rodriguez delivered a two-run triple - scoring Adam Harwood and Adalberto Paulino - for the first two runs of the league.
The game fell apart for the hosts in the third, when Moreno twice filled the bases with walks. Sacrifice flies and hits saw the Miracle go ahead 7-0.
Moko Moanaroa and Walker, both drove in runs with long fly balls, while Jamie Aimar and Harwood provided RBI singles.
While Moreno finished allowing seven runs - five earned - on three hits and seven walks in 21â„3 innings for Petah Tikva, Modi'in pitcher Matt Bennett was useful with three scoreless innings to start the game.
The Pioneers' low point perhaps came in the top of the fourth, when several players started to leave the field after the second out in the inning, allowing a Modi'in baserunner to advance before the players caught on.
The hosts got their only score when Crotin, who finished 2-for-2 with a walk, led off the fourth with a 340-foot homer to left field off of Miracle reliever Audy Alcantara.
But after the game, a furious Crotin declined to talk about the hit, instead trying to figure out how other people had access to his bag after the game and how his glove could have disapeared.
"That glove was given to me by my coach who died last year," he said. "If I don't get it back, I'll pack my bags and go home."