This was the inaugural season for the IBL, Israel's professional baseball league with six teams and three stadiums. When I called the IBL ticket office in Boston to order tickets for our synagogue group to see the Netanya Tigers take on the Ra'anana Express at Yarkon Field, I was asked if I would like to throw out the first pitch. Of course, I immediately replied that I would love to. The irony was that I was slated to throw out the opening pitch of a Columbus Clippers minor league game on Sunday, August 5, but since that was the day our group left for Israel I had to say no to the Clippers game. So now I was going to throw out the ceremonial first ball one week later in Petah Tikva. Even better!
Together with my eldest son Josh and about a dozen people from our group, we boarded a charter bus and rushed from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv in the middle of rush hour traffic to get to the game in time for my opening pitch. Fortunately, we made it in time and I threw a strike. Unfortunately, Josh had just woken up from a nap and started crying on the pitcher's mound.
The game was a great experience. The playing field wasn't much better than your average high school field, but the kosher "Burger Bar" concession stand was a great bonus. The level of play was somewhere between college ball and AA minor league. Most of the game was announced in English by an enthusiastic announcer who used some Hebrew every once in a while.
Proving what a small world it is, the winning pitcher for the Netanya Tigers was Justin Prinstein (pictured at right), who is from Detroit. Justin had a no-hitter going into the 7th and final inning, finally pitching a one-hit 4-0 shutout. We spoke after the game and Justin told me that he graduated from North Farmington High School (where my wife graduated), Farmington Hills Warner Middle School (where he knew my mother-in-law, the librarian), and Shaarey Zedek Religious School (where I taught hebrew school and remember meeting him and his sister Rachel).
Here is the video of my opening pitch along with some other photos from the baseball game. With my official Netanya Tigers jersey, inaugural season baseball signed by Commissioner Daniel Kurtzer (former U.S. ambassador to Israel), and the ball I threw to begin the game, I will long remember this great experience. And with Josh singing the Ra'anana Express fight song every day, how could I forget it. I hope that professional baseball in Israel thrives for many years to come.