Israel takes first place in the Baseball Europe/Africa qualifying event, booking its first-ever appearance in the 2020 Summer Olympics.
By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News
Hugs, smiles, and shouts of joy erupted Sunday afternoon in Parma, Italy, as Israel’s baseball team blew out South Africa 11-1 to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics next year for the first time in its history.
Team Israel, made up of homegrown players, Jewish college players, former major leaguers and current minor leaguers – all of whom have Israeli citizenship – led the round-robin series of the Europe/Africa Olympic Qualifier event in Parma, Italy from the get-go.
They handily beat Italy, Spain, and the former European champions, the Netherlands, with the only defeat marring their record being their fall to the Czech Republic in Saturday’s game.
Israel’s starting pitcher, Joseph Wagman, was brilliant as he gave up only one run in seven innings of work. That run was in fact the only one he gave up in two games, as he shut out the Spaniards 3-0 in a complete game on Friday.
That was an especially sweet win, as Spain had defeated Israel the last time they met – just a few days earlier, in the last game of the Pool A European Championships. Although that loss had affected their place in the standings, it did not prevent Israel from making this final qualifier event for the Olympics.
According to the announcer, with a minuscule earned run average of 0.56, 14 strikeouts and no walks over the two games, Wagman will be a leading candidate to win the Most Valuable Player award for the series.
The big hit of the game, and the one that put it on ice, was Israel’s last, a three-run homer in the eighth inning by a veteran former MLB player and shortstop, Danny Valencia. It was his third home run of the series and gave him nine RBI’s, which makes him the series leader in those two all-important categories.
In his only appearance in the series, senior member Shlomo Lipetz, a 40-year-old pitcher who has played baseball in Israel for decades, had the honor of getting the last batter out for the clinch.
After a fielding error put a South African on base, he calmly induced a routine fly out to center field, and the announcer cried out, “Next year in Tokyo!” It was a clear reference to “Next year in Jerusalem,” which is said by Jews all over the world when they read the Haggadah on Passover.
A very short ceremony followed the game in which Israel was presented with a certificate and the official announcement was made that “Israel is going to the Olympics!” A team picture followed, with the Israeli flag prominently displayed in front by the happy players, coaches and staff.
Unlike when the Italian team took the field, the stands in the small Parma stadium were nearly empty for the historic game. But some 1,000 fans tuned in online, as the game was broadcast live on YouTube.