Richmond’s Mulberg, an assistant with Israel baseball, gears up for Olympics with no fans

Published: Jul. 9, 2021 at 12:07 AM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Thursday saw Olympic organizers announce that the games would be held without fans in attendance due to rising COVID-19 numbers in Tokyo and surrounding areas, removing some of the usual energy and fanfare from the world stage. Athletes and coaches are now letting that news sink in as they continue to put final touches on their preparation.

That includes Richmond assistant baseball coach Nate Mulberg. He’s also an assistant coach for the Israeli baseball team, which is one of six squads battling for a medal in Tokyo beginning later this month.

“Part of the fun of being on the big stage of the Olympics is definitely the fans,” Mulberg said on Thursday. “We went through this at Richmond this year until they gradually started letting us have fans at our baseball games, but at the end of the day, what it comes down to is we just want the games to happen.”

Tokyo is seeing it’s highest coronavirus numbers since mid-May, prompting the government to declare a new state of emergency that will last through August 22. The Olympics conclude on August 8, with the Paralympics beginning on August 24. The decision not to allow fans certainly brings disappointment, but also understanding.

“At the end of the day, I think generally everybody is OK with it because we’ve all dealt with so many obstacles over the past year and a half due to COVID that we just want the games to happen,” the coach added. “Whatever needs to happen to make that happen, I think all the athletes seem like they’re on board with it.”

Israel is making its first baseball appearance on the Olympic stage and the club is the first team sport from the nation to qualify for the games since 1976. Eight of the 24 players on the roster have Major League experience, including Ian Kinsler and Danny Valencia. Mulberg will coach first base and be in charge of throwing batting practice during the games and says the squad’s goal is to leave Tokyo with a medal.

“They just want a chance to compete,” the Spiders’ assistant said. “We’re one of only six teams in baseball competing for a medal. It’s a really special and unique opportunity for Israel baseball to do something they haven’t done in a really long time- win a medal as a team.”

As for Mulberg, he doesn’t foresee the lack of spectators dampening his Olympic experience. Despite being disappointed that the seats will be empty, there’s still a lot to look forward to from his perspective.

“It’s the equivalent of a Major League stadium, so that’s always exciting whenever you get a chance to be on a field like that,” noted Mulberg. “I would imagine Japan is going to do a great job decorating the stadiums and even though there may not be fans, I’m sure there will be different personnel there and a lot of support staff, so I don’t think it’s going to reduce the experience for me.”

The country burst onto the international baseball scene in 2017, entering the World Baseball Classic ranked 41st in the world, but surprising the globe by finishing sixth. The club won the Africa/Europe Olympic qualifying tournament this past September.

Israel is in Group B with South Korea and the United States. The squad will open up on July 29 against South Korea.

Copyright 2021 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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