Professional baseball will be launched in Israel on Sunday as the Israel Baseball League celebrates its historic first Opening Day with the Petah Tikva Pioneers facing the Modi'in Miracle. Over the past few days players have poured in from eight nations across the world to be a part of the IBL's inaugural season.
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Players and managers from all six of the league's teams will be in attendance at the Yarkon Sports Complex in Petah Tikva on Sunday.
"I'm excited about being a part of history, and bringing a wonderful sport to a great country, and to teach players and fans the proper way," said Modi'in manager Art Shamsky, a former New York Met who was a vital member of their World Series winning team in 1969 said.
"I hope that my experience of being a champion helps the players, and will hopefully help the youngsters in this country get into the game."
"It's exciting to be a part of history," said Modi'in outfielder Dan Drori. "I have a lot of family members in Israel that are going to watch, and it's my dream to play baseball in Israel. On Sunday, I'll be fulfilling my dream."
But the IBL is not only exciting for the players as ticket sales for opening day have far exceeded the expectations of IBL officials.
Initially anticipating about 1,000 fans, the seating capacity of Yarkon Field has been stretched to accommodate more than 2,000 people.
League officials also are expecting a large amount of media representatives to cover the festivities, which will begin at 5:15 p.m. with the game starting at 6 p.m.
The Opening Day game will be broadcast on a delayed basis on PBS in major US markets, set to air on July 1.
Meanwhile Sport5 will broadcast the game in Hebrew, the first of nine Sunday night broadcasts throughout the season.
In preparation for Opening Day, all six teams met on Friday for their first official practice as managers got a first look at their respective teams.
While the managers emphasized that one practice was not nearly enough time to fully evaluate their players, they did get an idea of the type of talent with which they are working.
"I liked what I saw today but the first five games will be like spring training for us, everyone will get a chance to play," said Bet Shemesh Blue Sox manager Ron Blomberg. " In our first game, every pitcher will pitch one inning."
While Blomberg has opted to assess each pitcher in the first game, opening day managers Shamsky of the Modi'in Miracle and Ken Holtzman of the Petah Tikvah Pioneers will not implement the same procedure, instead planning to send out one starter in a more traditional role.
In the opener, Shamsky's Miracle hope to rally behind Australian lefthander Matt Bennett while Holtzman's Pioneers hope that right-handed Dominican Abel Moreno can pick up the victory.
Bennett, an Australian, is a 1.85m lefthander, while Moreno is a 1.83m righthander from the Dominican Republic.
Dominican Ambassador to Israel Leonardo Cohen visited the athlete's village Thursday evening to wish good luck to the large contingent of Dominicans who have come to Israel for the IBL.
The other four teams debut Monday with Netanya Tigers vs Bet Shemesh Blue Sox at Kibbutz Gezer Field at 6 p.m. and Ra'anana Express vs Tel Aviv Lightning at Sportek in Tel Aviv at 5:30 p.m.
On TV:Petah Tikva Pioneers vs Modi'in Miracle. (live at 6 p.m. on Sport 5)