For the first time since 1974, Israel will be sending a team sport to the Olympic Games – this time it’s baseball. Twenty four Israeli baseball players will march in the opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics next year, representing a sport that is slowly emerging in Israel but will be boosted by the tremendous achievement of its senior national team. The Israel Baseball team will be the first team sport to represent Israel at the Olympic games since 1976, when the Israel National Soccer team competed in the Montreal Summer Olympics. Israel will be one of six teams to play in the baseball competition at the Olympics.
The team won its final and deciding game of the Olympic qualifiers, beating South Africa, the African representative in the Europe/Africa qualifiers for the Olympic Games, 11-1 in eight innings. Israel had reached the qualifiers by coming fourth at the European Championships held in Germany the previous week. The top five teams went through to the qualifiers, held in Parma and Bologna, Italy. Israel started the qualifiers by beating three of the teams it lost to in Germany – Spain, Italy, and European champions Netherlands. It hit a small bump in the road when in its penultimate game, Israel lost to Czech Republic 7-4. But with a tournament leading record of 3-1, the win against South Africa assured Israel of the place in the Olympics.
Israel put on a stellar performance. On the mound, Joey Wagman held the South Africans to six scoreless innings, allowing one run in the seventh. It was Wagman’s only run allowed in both the Qualifiers and European Championships the week before, where he was named pitcher with the lowest ERA of 0 over 10.2 innings.
Israel came alive in the top of the second inning when catcher Nick Rickles scored on a sacrifice fly by OF Simon Rosenbaum. With short stop Ty Kelly on third, DH Benjamin Wanger on second and third baseman Zach Penprase on first after being hit by a pitch, second baseman Mitch Glasser walked for another RBI. A single from OF Blake Gailen allowed Wanger and Penprase to score. Israel was up 4-0.
In the top of the third, a double from Wanger brought Rickles home, and a sacrifice fly from Rosenbaum added another run by Kelly for a 6-0 lead.
Israel’s defense was virtually impenetrable, and South Africa only managed to score one run in the bottom of the seventh inning. In the top of the eighth, Israel piled on four more runs, three from a homer by Dany Valencia. Shlomo Lipetz came in to close the game, and with no runs scoring, the game ended, giving Israel the golden ticket to Tokyo 2020.
“This is the ultimate dream come true,” said Peter Kurz, Israel Association of Baseball President and General Manager of Team Israel. “It was almost too impossible to imagine but with the astounding performances of a dedicated team that always believed in itself. Even when we were beaten last night by Czech Republic, it didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits because we knew we were capable of achieving this goal.”