Are you looking for a rooting interest in this year’s World Baseball Classic? Are you looking for a reason to watch? Are you looking for a reason to care at all about the tournament? If you answered yes to any of these questions, look no further than Team Israel. Without many people noticing, this band of MLB castaways, career minor leaguers, and yes, even one player who was actually born in Israel, has advanced to the second round of the WBC, where they will share the field with some of the game’s biggest powers.
Heading into the 20-team WBC, Israel ranked 41st in the world. Yet, Team Israel has already won its first three games of the tournament, games most people missed by virtue of them being played in the middle of the night in the U.S. They eked out a 2-1, 10-inning win over South Korea, a country that reached the finals of the 2009 WBC and is currently ranked 3rd in the world. On a half day’s rest, they obliterated Chinese Taipei, who is ranked 4th, 15-7. Then, after already punching its ticket to the next round, Team Israel knocked off the Netherlands, a team currently ranked 9th in the world and that has several major league stars on its roster.
Team Israel has just three players who are currently on the 40-man roster of a major league club, and only one (Scott Feldman) is actually an established big leaguer. The team has more than a handful of players who aren’t even in spring training with a big league club, including a couple who are playing independent ball. Outside of long-time big leaguer Jason Marquis or former first-round pick Ike Davis, few people will recognize anyone on the Israeli team. Team Israel is truly a team of misfits but in the best possible way.
“This is an extremely exciting event for Israel baseball in particular and for sport in Israel in general. The team is clearly the most impressive Jewish baseball team ever assembled, and we are very proud that they will be representing our country at the WBC.”
Peter Kurtz, President of the Israeli Baseball Association
It’s not a team that is loaded with talent, but they are squeezing every ounce of ability they have onto the field and finding ways to win. They don’t have a staff of aces or a string of lock-down relievers, but manager Jerry Weinstein is mixing and matching his pitchers and getting results. They don’t have a lineup full of power hitters or proven major league run producers, but Team Israel has found a way to scratch out runs when they needed them.
A cynic will question how a group of players who weren’t born in Israel can wear the country’s name across their chest. But it’s important to note that nearly a dozen players traveled to Israel in January to visit the country they are now representing. More importantly, every player on the roster has Jewish heritage, and if they weren’t proud of that fact, they wouldn’t have accepted the offer to play for Team Israel.
No, Team Israel isn’t the most conventional team at the WBC, but that’s part of its appeal. The players have embraced their heritage and embraced the opportunity they have to represent Israel on the baseball diamond, and it shows in the way they’ve won their first three games of the WBC. It’s now time for fans to embrace Team Israel as the new darlings of baseball. Team Israel is in the midst of an amazing ride that has only just begun.
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