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More than a ‘white ball with red seams’

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Team Israel gathers for a photo with President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem in early 2020.

By Kristen Litchfield
Special to the Reflector
March 2020 Reflector

The last four months have been a whirlwind.

On September 22, 2019, the Israel men’s baseball defeated South Africa in the Europe/Africa Olympic Qualifying Game in Parma, Italy. As I sat watching the game at about 6 a.m. (Eastern time) at my parents’ house in North Carolina, I realized I was witnessing history. With the win, Team Israel gained a berth to the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.  This will be the first team Israel will send to the Olympics since 1974.

The team was asked to come to Israel in January for a week to meet President Reuven Rivlin, put on clinics in several cities, tour the country and spend time together. My fiancé, Nate Mulberg, is an assistant coach for Team Israel and also the University of Richmond. I was fortunate enough to be invited on the trip as well and experience Israel for the first time.

On the top of Masada in early 2020.

We ended up going a week before the team, so that we could tour the country on our own since it was my first time. Nate and I, along with one of our friends, visited Yad Vashem, the Western Wall, Mahane Yehuda Market, and Caesarea.

Once the rest of the team landed in Tel Aviv, everyone enjoyed a meal and tour Jaffa together before we arrived at our home for the next week. The following day, we boarded a bus to Jerusalem with the first stop – President Rivlin’s house. Team Israel had the opportunity to take photos, sign baseballs, talk to President Rivlin and give him an Israel jersey to wear this summer.

On one of the last nights that we were in Israel, there was a team dinner after a clinic in the Golan Heights. Before we started to eat, Israel manager, Eric Holtz, introduced the group to an individual with a story that epitomizes Israel. This young man had dreams of being on the Team Israel roster and could have been; however, he chose to put his baseball dream on hold so that he could serve in the IDF. What a selfless individual.

At Jaffa in early 2020 with Tel Aviv in the background.

As someone who worked in the sports industry for five years, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with some amazing athletes. However, this experience is by far one of the most memorable. This is one time I get to be a fan and get to know the people on the team for who they actually are and not just a number on a roster. The players, coaches, and staff for Team Israel are all genuine people. All of the men on the Olympic roster have an unbelievable amount of pride to wear Israel across their chest on an international stage.

As I watched them play with children at a clinic in the Golan Heights, anyone can see that this experience for them goes much further than a white ball with red seams.

Editor’s Note from March 2020 Reflector: Kristen Litchfield currently is a middle school teacher in Henrico County and also assists the Reflector on special graphics and page design. She previously was assistant director of Athletic Public Relations, University of Richmond; and earlier assistant director of Athletic Communications, Virginia Commonwealth University. In addition, she was a program director at Camp Hilbert during the summer of 2018. Kristen and Nate were married in early 2021.

 

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