Israel’s unlikely Olympic baseball team dreams big for Japan

Sports

In this Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020 photo, Danny Valencia throws a ball during Israel’s national baseball team practice, in Tel Aviv, Israel. As a baseball-crazed kid growing up in Miami, Danny Valencia dreamed of playing in the Major Leagues. The thought of heading to the Olympics, for a foreign country no less, never crossed his mind. But that’s the next surreal step for the 35-year-old Valencia, who recently became an Israeli citizen thanks to his Jewishness and is now the star player in Team Israel’s improbable run to the Tokyo Games. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Team Israel’s improbable run to the Tokyo Olympic Games is spurring hope that it will provide the overlooked sport of baseball in Israel its long-awaited boost.

Baseball is returning to the Olympics after being dropped for 2012 and 2016.

Israel is one of six teams vying for the three medals. Israel has zero tradition of the American pastime, which is largely derided by locals as an arcane and boring sport. 

But thanks to a creative outreach campaign to Jewish-American pros who have become new citizens, Israel’s national team has surged to unthinkable heights.

It will be the first time since 1976 that Israel has fielded a team sport at the Olympics.

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