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LIers have homecoming preparing for Olympic baseball competition with Israeli team

St. John's Alex Katz pitches against Stony Brook

St. John's Alex Katz pitches against Stony Brook at Citi Field on March 26, 2013. Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

In reality, it was nothing more than the dumb luck of scheduling, but for relief pitchers Matt Soren and Alex Katz, two Long Islanders playing for the Israeli baseball team in the Olympics, the night was nothing short of symmetrical.

Israel, which will leave Wednesday for the Summer Games in Tokyo, played the final game of their pre-Olympic barnstorming tour of the East Coast Tuesday night at Fairfield Properties Ballpark in Central Islip, home of the Long Island Ducks. They played the New York Finest Baseball Club, made up of members of the NYPD. Soren and Katz each pitched a scoreless inning in Israel's 17-0 victory in an eight-inning game.

It was both a tune-up and a homecoming for the Long Island duo, who are both former Ducks.

"Our first game of this whole exhibition tour was in the Brooklyn Cyclones stadium where I had a bunch of family and friends come," said Soren, a 30-year old Roslyn native. "Now today, ending where I finished my professional career, it's a nice bookend."

Soren, who lives in Astoria, works as a private baseball coach on Long Island and plays for the Long Island Black Sox, a men’s club team.

Katz, a 26-year-old New Hyde Park native, is currently pitching in Double-A for the Cubs organization. He said the Cubs gave him time off from his current post in Knoxville, Tennessee, to play in the Olympics. Katz joined the barnstorming tour on Saturday when Israel was in Pennsylvania.

"It’s always cool to represent something bigger than yourself," said Katz, who pitched the seventh inning on Tuesday. "To me, it’s representing my heritage and where my family comes from."

Both players needed to gain Israeli citizenship to play in the Olympics. Katz, who has been with Team Israel since 2016 and played with it in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, became a citizen in 2018. Soren became one in 2019.

Soren, who grew up attending Temple Sinai of Roslyn, said that the experience of representing Israel has reacquainted him with his Jewish roots.

"There was a disconnect after my Bar Mitzvah, and then this team brought me back to feeling very Jewish and connected to the religion and the people again," Soren said. "…I grew up in a very Jewish neighborhood. But Israel wasn't a really connecting factor, it was more of the Jewish tribe in Roslyn more than ‘Israel tribe.’ But since I became a citizen, been to Israel, and went on birthright, it's something completely different now."

Once Israel arrives in Tokyo – a 13-hour flight – it will play intrasquad games until their opener against South Korea on July 29.

Israel is ranked 24th in the latest World Baseball Softball Confederation rankings, but Katz and Soren still like its chances.

"Anything could happen in tournament play," Katz said. "So I think we can make it really far. I know we're going to medal."

New York Sports