Jonathan Mayo

Holy Landing: WBC 2017 team tours Israel

Iconic landmarks, falafel and, of course, baseball all on agenda

Holy Landing: WBC 2017 team tours Israel

JERUSALEM -- The sun has set in Jerusalem, issuing in the Sabbath, or Shabbat. It seemed a perfect time to pause and reflect on the action-packed 48 hours the American Jewish baseball players have had since arriving in Israel on Wednesday.

Here to help grow the game of baseball, represent Team Israel -- as they will in South Korea in March in the World Baseball Classic -- as well as explore their own connections to being Jewish and this country, the 10 players on this trip have had two days of a whirlwind tour thus far. Here are the highlights, many of which will be included in a documentary about the trip and Team Israel called "Heading Home," by Ironbound Films.

'A huge honor': Players embark on Israel tour

Arrival and Jaffo

After arriving at Ben Gurion International Airport, the players got a quick tour of Jaffo, the ancient city adjacent to Tel Aviv. There, they were greeted by members of the Breslov community and danced in the streets.

World Baseball Classic schedule, tickets

A dinner at a Georgian restaurant (as in the European nation, not the American South), involved both a belly dancer and a visit from former ambassador and current Knesset member Michael Oren, were the highlights. 

Knesset member and former ambassador to the United States Michael Oren (center) poses with members of Team Israel. Jonathan Mayo/

Day 1: Independence Hall, Graffiti art, bike tour, Baptist Village

Players started the day visiting Independence Hall, the site where David Ben Gurion, the country's first prime minister, announced the formation of the State of Israel in 1948.

Team Israel visits Independence Hall in Tel Aviv.Jonathan Mayo/

After that, the group was treated to a tour of Tel Aviv's graffiti art scene by Nero, a local artist. They helped another artist, Solomon Souza, paint a Sandy Koufax portrait.

The team poses with a local artist's graffiti portrait of Sandy Koufax.Jonathan Mayo/

From there, the group got on bicycles and rode down the coast, with the Mediterranean Sea as a guide. After that, there was a talk from venture capitalist Jon Medved about the booming startup industry in Israel and a visit to the Tel Nof Air Force base. 

Finally, it was time for Team Israel to do what they do best: play baseball. At the Baptist Village field, players took batting practice and questions from young players in attendance, as well as from the media in a news conference.

At Baptist Village, the players got in a scrimmage before local fans.Jonathan Mayo/

Decker on fan support for Israel

Day 2: Beit Shemesh, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem

Friday started with more baseball-related activities, as these players continue to try and build the game here in Israel. The Israel Baseball Association and the city of Beit Shemesh held a groundbreaking for a new baseball facility, the first of its kind in the country. Having a regulation field and legitimate practice facilities will certainly help develop the sport. 

Ike Davis (center) and Josh Zeid take part in a ballfield groundbreaking at Beit Shemesh.Jonathan Mayo/

From Yad Vashem, Team Israel headed into Jerusalem. The first stop was for falafel just outside of Machane Yehuda, the Jewish market. The players got to roam around the market for a while -- it's at its busiest on Friday afternoon right before Shabbat -- before heading to the hotel. Finally, they were able to usher in the Sabbath in the Old City of Jerusalem, visiting the Western Wall and enjoying the spectacular views and hospitality in the home of the Claman family, who welcome in soldiers without family in the country, nearly every Friday night.

Cody Decker gets falafel at a crowded restaurant outside Machane Yehuda.Jonathan Mayo/
Team Israel ushered in the Sabbath with a visit to the Western Wall.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.