Israel’s national baseball team brought in the New Year Wednesday night with a 7-3 win against South Africa in its World Baseball Classic debut.
Nate Freiman, who currently plays for a San Diego Padres Class-AA team, led Israel with a pair of solo home runs — in the first and the ninth innings.
Israel’s pitchers gave up only three hits during the game and entered the ninth inning with a 7-0 lead, but three walks and an error in the final frame allowed South Africa to score three runs.
The crowd of over 1,500 fans was overwhelmingly pro-Israel, and the organist at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida, played the song “Hava Nagila” between innings.
Of the 28 players currently with Team Israel, three are Israeli-born, and the rest are all Jewish Americans, most of whom currently play minor league ball in America. The team includes three former Major League stars.
Brad Ausmus, who spent 18 seasons in the Major Leagues, is the team’s catcher and manager. Former big league outfielders Shawn Green and Gabe Kapler are also playing for and coaching the team.
If Israel advances in the tournament pool, several current Jewish Major Leaguers, such as Kevin Youkilis, Ryan Braun, Ian Kinsler and Ike Davis, may also join the team.
Last week it was reported that Youkilis had already agreed to join the team, but team manager Ausmus said that he has yet to be notified of the decision.
The other two teams in Israel’s group, Spain and France, will play on Thursday evening. Only the winner of the modified round-robin will advance to the next round.