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All dressed up and hungry to play ball

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Hebrew Nationals pitcher Eric Maxon, left, hustles to catch a pop up as shortstop Dave Simon backs him up during a Monday pick-up game against the New Covenant Church Holy Hitters. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

The Hebrew Nationals softball team, wearing their new uniforms compliments of the hot dog company of the same name, looked good running the bases and scrambling in the outfield Monday night at Tingley Park, but in the end, that wasn’t enough.

The team they were supposed to play, the Chicharrones from the Christian Student Center, never showed; so the New Covenant Church Holy Hitters agreed to a pickup game and beat the Hebrew Nationals so bad that the woman who was charged with keeping score threw down her pen after the fourth inning. “There was just no point,” she said.

Nevertheless, Dan Skinner, Hebrew National brand communications manager, who had come from Chicago to watch the team, wasn’t disappointed. “It was a blast,” he said. “It’s so much fun to be here and to meet the guys on the team. Win or lose, they’ll be well fed.”

Indeed, Hebrew National hot dogs were already cooking on a grill, and folks from Bueno Foods were passing out chips and green chile.

Holy Hitters’ right fielder, Jason Parker, admired the opposing team’s ketchup red and mustard yellow uniforms with the Hebrew National logo. “They are pretty cool,” he said, noting that a number of players on his team said the uniforms made them hungry for hot dogs. “You see, advertising works,” he said laughing.

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Charlie Brown, catcher for the Hebrew Nationals, gets some practice time in before a Monday night scrimmage at Tingley Park. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Made up of members from the Jewish community, the team used to play as the Matzo Ballers, but in an attempt to beef up their image, they brainstormed for a new name and decided on the Hebrew Nationals.

Scott Fliegel, the team’s coach, manager and a longtime player, called Chicago-based Conagra, the company that owns the Hebrew National brand, to ask if they’d be OK if the team adopted their name.

Skinner recognized that you can’t go wrong with a natural pairing like baseball and hot dogs. The company not only allowed the team to use the name, but it supplied them with 14 full uniforms, complete with jerseys containing player names and numbers on the back, pants, belts, socks and caps. They even threw in a few wooden bats adorned with the Hebrew National logo.

While the company isn’t technically “sponsoring” the team, the goodwill generated by providing the uniforms “has just gone beyond our wildest expectations,” Skinner said. The story, which ran in the Journal last month, was also picked up by social media, and became a topic for discussion and amusement on TV and radio sports stations.

Upon learning that folks from Hebrew National’s corporate office were coming to Albuquerque to see the team play, team shortstop Dave Simon, who is also the director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, got the idea for a midday “meat” and greet on Civic Plaza. He invited Bueno Foods to provide a New Mexico spin on the hot dog – which they wrapped in a tortilla with some green chile.

“We’re putting together two iconic summer foods,” said Ana Baca of Bueno Foods. “It’s a beautiful marriage.”

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Hebrew Nationals team manager and coach, Scott Fliegel, left, gets the roster set for Monday’s scrimmage game against the Holy Hitters. Both teams are part of the Church League that plays under the city Parks and Recreation Department’s adult softball program. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

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