Team Israel outfielder Sam Fuld is as appreciative as any player in the World Baseball Classic to be able to hit the diamond and play the game.

“We’re playing good baseball and we’re making sure to enjoy ourselves and we all appreciate what a great experience this is,” said Fuld, Israel’s lead-off man, before Monday’s game against the Netherlands at Tokyo Dome. “We’re really happy with the way we’ve played. At the same time, we’re not satisfied with where we are.”

Israel has been one of the tournament’s biggest surprises as it went a perfect 3-0 in the first round in Seoul and notched another victory over Cuba on Sunday in their second-round opener to stay unbeaten in the tourney.

Fuld said that the team is “a lot better” than people were giving it credit for.

“I really didn’t know what to expect,” said Fuld, who has played for four different major league teams, including the Chicago White Sox. “We all had a great deal of respect for the teams in the Korea pool. I’ve got tremendous respect for everybody here.”

Fuld faced obstacles in his quest to become a baseball player. He was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes when he was 10 years old, but was later inspired after getting the chance to meet then-major league pitcher Bill Gullickson, who also has diabetes.

“Through (my) family friends, I was able to meet with Bill when I was 12 years old,” said Fuld, a Durham, New Hampshire, native. “He was pitching for the Detroit Tigers at the time. I live near Boston, so I got to meet him at Fenway Park in Boston. And I talked to him, right about this time, during the batting practice. I talked to him for maybe two minutes, I was just able to meet somebody who has the same thing I have.

“He was a great role model for me. That short little two minutes kind of meant a lot to me. It gave me a lot of hope. I’ve always remembered the moment and tried to provide the same sort of inspiration to other Type-1 diabetic kids.”

Coincidentally, Gullickson played at Tokyo Dome, where Fuld and his Israeli team are playing right now in the WBC. Gullickson played for the Yomiuri Giants in 1988 and 1989.

“Cool,” Fuld said, when told that Gullickson played for Yomiuri at the Big Egg. “So, we’ve become friends, he actually lives near me in Florida now. Twenty years after meeting him, I got a chance to meet him, when we were in town playing the (Miami) Marlins.”

Fuld missed the entire 2016 season after undergoing surgery on a rotator cuff on his left shoulder. That absence has given him even more joy at being able to play baseball at the WBC.

“It was really difficult to miss the entire year, and with the surgery like that, you just don’t know if you are ever able to play again,” said Fuld, who’s currently a free agent and is looking for a club to play for this year. “So once I got cleared by the doctor to be able to play in this tournament, it was my very strong goal to come back and play. So it’s extra special to get back onto the field after the long layoff.”

An obscure team going in the tourney, Israel now has a legitimate chance to advance to the final round in Los Angeles.

Fuld said that the team would definitely try to go as far as it could.

“We’ve come this far,” he said. “We want to keep going. We’ve shocked a lot of people. But we want to continue to surprise people and that’s the beauty of the game. Baseball, you never know who’s going to win. So we are confident, we can keep advancing.”

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