This is a reflection from Team Blue USA Baseball Assistant Coach, Josh Katz.
On July 27, 2018, the USA Blue baseball team defeated USA Red 11-2 at the Baptist Village baseball field to win the Gold Medal at the inaugural International Maccabi Youth Games. Although there were only three teams participating in the baseball tournament, two from the United States and one from Israel, the competition was intense, and the results were full of surprises. As one might expect there are not many baseball fields in Israel; the Baptist Village field located in the City of Petah Tikva, is located an hour and 45 minutes’ drive from the athletes’ hotel in Haifa. In addition to the great distance the players and coaches had to travel all week, the games all had to be completed by early afternoon due to the extreme heat in Israel. This required the teams to leave their hotels around 6am each morning.
Leading up to the gold medal game, the teams played a series of preliminary round games. The tournament opened on July 24th, and both United States squads defeated their Israeli hosts by scores of 4-2 and 6-2. The big surprise came July 25th when Israel held on and beat USA Blue 9-7 in a wild contest that featured a 5 run last inning outburst by the American team before the game was called due to time limits. Those 5 runs proved to be the difference maker. Even through the loss, USA Blue advanced to the gold medal game because of the run differential tiebreaker with Israel. In the second game, USA Red easily beat Israel 11-4, setting up an all-American doubleheader on the final day of the tournament.
On July 27th, before the gold medal game, both USA squads squared off for an exciting preliminary round game. In this Game, USA Blue came back from five runs down to defeat USA Red 6-5.
Following the gold medal game, all three baseball teams were awarded their medals at the Sportan Hod in Haifa: USA Blue- Gold, USA Red- Silver, and Israel- Bronze.
The meaningful take ways from this game went far beyond the scores of the games and the medals awarded. First, Israel baseball is quickly reaching a level where it can be competitive with the USA. The Israelis played fundamentally sound ball throughout the week in all facets of the game. Secondly, I had a profound experience watching one 20-something year old Israel player don his Israeli army uniform to take up his on-duty post. As he walked toward his car, his bat and glove can be seen in his workout bag, having replaced his baseball cap with his military beret.