During the 2016 baseball season, I managed to break last season’s record of going to 83 games by attending 88 games this season, with 62 of them being played at MCU Park. Along the way, I also went to 5 ballparks I had never been to before.
Without question, Israel winning the World Baseball Classic Qualifier on my 25th birthday was one of the greatest moments of the season. & one of the greatest games I saw in 2016.
When it was announced last winter that MCU Park would play host to one of the World Baseball Classic Qualifiers, that Team Israel was participating and that it would take place from September 22nd to 25th, I said to my father “Israel winning the Qualifier would be a hell of a birthday gift.”
As the game neared, I realized that I had only once been to a baseball game on my birthday, as Sept. 25th has limited options due to varying factors. There is a 50/50 chance the Mets are home. If they are home, they could be out of the playoff race and not worth seeing. If they have yet to clinch, it might cost a ton of money to see a team fighting for a playoff spot. Then, on top of all that, it could be a Jewish holiday, so going to any game is out of the question.
So, the prospect of spending my birthday at my favorite ballpark, cheering on Team Israel, with so many friends as well, made me really look forward to such a possibility.
After beating Great Britain 5-2 on Friday, and with that great 1-0 win on Friday ensuring Israel would have Saturday off, I knew I could really look forward to Sunday’s game even more, as Israel would be playing as the home team.
Sunday, September 25th from the get-go, it was filled with so many people, including former Cyclones players wishing me happy birthday on Facebook. At the ballpark, so many fans and staffers did the same. Tom Gamboa even came over to where I sat to wish me a happy birthday in-person.
Of course, having King Henry take me on the field & lead the ballpark in a Happy Birthday sing-along fulfilled a childhood dream of mine. I have to give a big shout out to Craig Coughlin, the greatest Cyclones employee ever, for allowing it to happen.
It was also fun having Justin Tucker-Wells from RoundingTheBases.com interview & film me that game as well for his upcoming documentary about Team Israel. (More on that in the coming months.)
As for the championship game itself, Israel didn’t let me down. In fact, they didn’t even torture me, the way all of my teams have done.
After 4 scoreless inning, Israel went up 4-0 in the 5th inning and never looked back. The pitching was also dominate, as Jason Marquis & Josh Zeid took a combined no-hitter into the 8th inning.
And like Thursday night, I had to score a game while juggling phone calls from father, and my brother who was watching in Israel.
Up 8 runs in the 9th with two outs to go, I led my final two-strike clap of the season at MCU Park. Jordan Serena looked at strike 3 go by him, and I yelled “HEEEE! STRUCK HIM OUT!” one last time.
Chris Berset game up and on the first pitch, grounded the ball to 2nd. As soon as Mitch Glasser fired the ball to Nate Freiman, the celebration began. I looked at Justin’s camera and yelled “GREATEST BIRTHDAY EVER!”
After the game, I hung out on the side with some friends, as there was no rush to get home. As each player from Team Israel passed, the fans gave them a huge ovation. I managed to get pictures with guys like Ike Davis & Trevor Hoffman.
Tom Gamboa, who spend his final game in the MCU Park dugout, thanked all of us for our never-ending support over his last three seasons. He told us that he would remain with Team Israel in March.
As midnight was approaching, bringing an end to such a joyful day, Pat Sanchez insisted on one last group pic in honor of my birthday.
As we all parted to begin another offseason from MCU Park, I reminded everyone that there was less than 5 months until College Baseball returns to MCU Park on February 25th, 2017.
As I rode home on the train with Mark Cohen, I told him “It’s going to be very hard to ever top this birthday.“