BETHESDA, Md. (WDVM) – Sunday night was one to remember at Shirley Povich Field.
“We’ve had big events,” Bethesda Big Train manager, who has managed the team for more than two decades, Sal Colangelo told WDVM. “But nothing like this.”
It’s not every day, that a collegiate summer baseball team plays a national baseball team preparing to head the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. On Sunday, the Big Train welcomed the Israel national baseball team to Shirley Povich Field.
“You know to be able to represent Israel and all of the Jewish people, just to experience this everywhere we go,” Israel manager Eric Holtz said. “I mean we feel like the Harlem Globetrotters here you know, putting smiles on the faces of people everywhere we go.”
The two teams played in front of a standing room only crowd, with a large presence from the local Jewish community. Notable current and past politicians were in attendance, and Nationals owner Mark Lerner, who is Jewish, was also at the game. Prior to the game, both the Israel and American national anthems were sang by a choir from the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School.
“I think this is probably the biggest game for our community,” Bethesda Big Train outfielder Matt Thomas said. “There’s a lot of Big Train fans out here, but there’s also just a lot of people rooting for good players on this field tonight. I think this is going to bring our community together. I’ve never seen so many people here before first pitch ever, so this is pretty cool, pretty special.”
Thomas is in his second season with the Big Train and his third playing in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Summer Baseball League. He and his teammates had the challenge of facing former big leaguers on Sunday – some notable names on Team Israel include Ian Kinsler and Danny Valencia.
“I mean I grew up playing with Ian Kinsler on MLB the Show,” Thomas said. “So it’s pretty cool to be on the same field as him.”
Kinsler, a four-time all-star, world series champion and two-time gold glove award winner, played for five teams in 13-years, most notably a seven-year stint to start his career with the Texas Rangers. Valencia played eight years in the MLB, including two stints locally with the Baltimore Orioles in 2013 and 2018.
“When I was in college and high school playing against older guys who had been around the game longer, it always excited me,” Team Israel shortstop Scotty Burcham, who plays on the Colorado Rockies AAA affiliate, the Albuquerque Isotopes, said. “I always tried to impress them and tried to beat them. So I’m sure they’re going to try to beat us and hopefully that doesn’t happen.”
Team Israel rallied late to win the game 8-7, but win or lose, the experience was worth it for all.
“This is just amazing for our community here in Bethesda, Bethesda Big Train and Team Israel,” Colangelo said. “This is something special that these guys on both teams will cherish for the rest of their life. And that’s what it’s about. It’s about the community and relationships.”
On Monday, the CRCBL all star team took on Team Israel and won 9-3. The team was comprised of players from the Alexandria Aces, the Big Train and the Silver Spring Thunderbolts. Team Israel will play its first game on Thursday, July 29, against South Korea. Israel will take on the United States on Friday, July 30.