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(photo credit: AP)
The Israel Baseball League is a melting pot of players from many nationalities and backgrounds. But with approximately two thirds of the players from the USA, there was a festive atmosphere at Gezer Field on Wednesday as the league celebrated The Fourth of July, America's birthday.
"The best way for me to celebrate today would be if my team won the game," declared Art Shamsky, the manager of the Modi'in Miracle.
His wish was fulfilled, as the Miracle defeated the Netanya Tigers 6-1, and American-born fans were able to honor the holiday in Israel by enjoying a game of baseball, America's national pastime and Israel's newest sport.
Although every IBL game features American music playing in the background and the umpire making the calls in English as well as Hebrew, this particular game was especially patriotic toward the United States. Umbrellas in red, white, and blue representing the colors of the American flag, were scattered around the bleachers.
"The idea of using baseball to celebrate July Fourth is a great thing," enthused Nathaniel Edelstein, one of the IBL's public relations directors. "There are so many Americans in the league, and it is a way to make them feel at home since they only got here a couple of weeks ago."
The players had positive feelings about playing on The Fourth of July.
"Since I can't be in America, there's nothing better than celebrating by playing baseball here," said Aaron Levin, the Miracle's first baseman.
Tigers' first baseman Ty Erikson shared a similar view. "It feels good to be playing America's game today even though I'm not there," he remarked.
Leon Feingold, a pitcher on the Tigers, and one of 13 Americans on his team, had been slated to sing the Star Spangled Banner following Hatkivah, but IBL officials ultimately decided against it.
"We didn't think it was appropriate to do so at the game," said Bob Ruxin, IBL director of business operations. "We are really trying to make it into Israeli baseball."
Feingold echoed that sentiment, saying that he hoped Israelis would grow to love baseball as much as Americans do. "I hope to get more Israelis into it, but I still have pride for my country, America, and I'll be going out tonight to celebrate it."
TAB services, an American based organization, sponsored a special Fourth of July event at the game, with barbequed food, blow up toys, clowns and rides for the many children who came to the game for the company's family day.
"Since all our work comes from the States, we're off today," explained Aryeh Bak of Modi'in, vice president of the company. "We're all US citizens and we are happy to be able to celebrate the Fourth of July here in Israel."
Other new immigrants also took advantage of the holiday to come watch the game together with their families. Instead of going to work, Jerusalem resident Ovadya Di Israel took his four-year-old son Aviel with him to the game.
"I took my son out of school because July Fourth and baseball coincided and I thought it was a good American thing to do," he said.
Shoshana Levine, from Beit Shemesh, also viewed the game as a way to reconnect to her American roots.
"The Fourth of July doesn't have the same significance anymore now that I live Israel, but I'm still grateful for my American upbringing," she said.
"This baseball game is a perfect way to celebrate that."