NEW YORK -- Like so many millions who have visited Jerusalem's Western Wall over the years, Ty Kelly was struck immediately by the emotion of the scene. Families crowded around the site, praying. Some jumped or danced in circles.
Kelly, who was in Israel in early January as part of a pre-World Baseball Classic trip to familiarize players with the country's culture, soaked in the atmosphere.
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"From the minute we got there, we just jumped right into everything," Kelly said in a phone interview. "And there's so much. It's unbelievable just how much history there is there, both ancient and somewhat recent, just with everything that's gone on since they've become an independent state."
Eligible to join Israel's World Baseball Classic team thanks to his mother's Jewish heritage, Kelly was initially scheduled to play in qualifying games last September in Brooklyn. His callup to the Mets squelched those plans, but after Team Israel advanced to this March's main event, Kelly again became part of the team.
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When organizers asked if Kelly wanted to join a goodwill trip to Israel, with the goal of familiarizing players with the country's culture while growing interest in baseball overseas, he and 10 others -- including former Mets first baseman Ike Davis, who will also play for Team Israel in the Classic -- jumped at the chance.
So Kelly and his mother boarded a flight to Israel in late December. Once there, they spent their time sightseeing, with Kelly counting the Western Wall and Tel Aviv's Independence Hall as particular highlights. The players took batting practice once -- to the delight of expats and other baseball fans who recognized Kelly, Davis and others -- and soaked in the culture. A crew from Ironbound Films was also on hand to gather material for a documentary, "Heading Home."
"The more that I've grown up and the older I've gotten, and started to think about my religious heritage," said Kelly, who is half-Catholic, half-Jewish, "I feel really lucky to be able to have had the experience. And just the way that the World Baseball Classic is set up has provided a real awesome experience."
For Kelly, there should be plenty more to come. Team Israel will open the World Baseball Classic on March 6 in Seoul, against hometown-favorite South Korea at the two-year-old Gocheok Sky Dome. In a pool that also includes the Netherlands and Chinese Taipei, Israel stands a reasonable chance to advance.
Though the event will take Kelly away from Mets camp for a potentially significant portion of March, he does not necessarily consider that a bad thing. Rather than prove himself daily in front of New York coaches, Kelly -- who appeared in 39 games for the Mets last season, hitting .241 -- will try to do so under the bright lights of international competition.
"I'm going to be going out and getting game experience in a really exciting setting," Kelly said. "The atmosphere is going to be amazing there. It's going to be real games with real pressure. … So I'm hoping at least that it works out, and that this experience and exposure there will still help me.
"Going on the trip was definitely a big thing for everyone's morale. It was a good way to get everyone excited, and to get everyone more connected with the country and with all of the people there. I think we familiarized ourselves with everything that's going on there, and we can have more pride now having been over there, having experienced a little bit of what they're experiencing."