2020/2021 Tokyo Olympics Baseball Preview: Israel

Flag of Israel

With a team primarily of Jewish players from the USA who are eligible thanks to the infamously lax eligibility rules of international baseball, the Israeli baseball team will probably prove to be quite a curiosity to the world press. However, as the 2017 WBC showed, Team Israel is perfectly capable of pulling upsets and should not be underestimated. They are managed by Eric Holtz, the owner of a baseball training facility in Westchester County who played in Israel’s short-lived professional league and coached for college teams for decades. Israel’s 24-man roster can be found here.

About the Country: Sitting ever perilously at the center of both international politics and the world’s three largest monotheistic religions, the current state of Israel came into existence in 1947. Despite its decades of tumultuous history, Israel is also a leader in science and technology.

Baseball History: Although some may joke that Israeli baseball began “in the big inning” that can be found when the beginning of the Book of Genesis is read aloud (it’s a lame pun, think about it for a second), Israeli baseball didn’t really begin until some Americans who had moved to Israel played it a bit. However, that was about it until, in 2007, a small professional league was created in Israel by American businessmen. While it folded after one season, its level of play was apparently pretty good, although only a small handful of the players in the league were actually Israeli. In fact, it has been rare for actual Israelis to play for Team Israel. Thanks to lax eligibility rules as well as the fact that it is quite easy for those of Jewish descent to be eligible for Israeli citizenship, most of the Israeli national teams that have competed in large tournaments have been made up of Americans and Canadians.

Israel lost to Spain for a spot in the 2013 WBC before making the tournament in 2017, where they made it to the second round with a stream of upsets. Dean Kremer, a pitcher born to two Israeli parents and who has lived in Israel at times during summers where he hasn’t been pitching, became the first Israeli citizen drafted by MLB in 2015 and the first Israeli citizen to play in MLB when Kremer made his debut with the Orioles in 2020.

Olympic History: This is, of course, Israel’s first appearance in Olympic baseball. It isn’t the first time that there was an Olympic baseball team primarily made up of people from outside the country they were representing, however: the Greek national team in 2004 was made up primarily of Americans of Greek ancestry (most notably Nick Markakis).

For decades, Israel’s Olympic history had been (and continues to be) centered around 1972’s Munich massacre. It would not be until 1992 that an Israeli would win a medal, and to this day the country has won only one gold (windsurfer Gal Fridman in 2000). Every medal for Israel has come in either judo or a boating sport like sailing or canoe.

This year’s baseball team will be the first Israeli representation in a team sport since the Israeli soccer team made it to the quarter-finals of the 1976 Montreal games.

Road to Tokyo: Israel was actually the first team to qualify for the Olympics aside from the host nation of Japan. They came out on top of a 2019 qualifier in Italy for teams from Europe and Africa, winning the round robin thanks to holding a head-to-head tie-breaker against the Netherlands.

Notable Names: The former MLB players on Team Israel are, of course, Americans of Jewish heritage. The most notable is certainly Ian Kinsler, the four-time all-star second baseman and two-time Gold Glove winner. He was a member of Team USA’s WBC title team in 2017. He’s played a bit in the Atlantic League this year in preparation for the tournament.

Other players with MLB experience include Danny Valencia, who played third base for a variety of teams over a nine-year career and who is perhaps best known among degenerate baseballaholics like me for the fact that he always hit David Price exceptionally well (a career .600 BA) to the point where the Orioles, Red Sox and Blue Jays all made points of having him in the lineup for series against Tampa. Catcher Ryan Lavarnway played parts of 10 seasons in the big leagues and remains active in the affiliated minors on Cleveland’s AAA team in Columbus. Utilityman Ty Kelly played parts of three seasons between the Mets and Phillies and is a career .275 hitter in the minors. While less notable, the team also has MLB-experienced pitchers in Jeremy Bleich, Jon Moscot, Zack Weiss, and Josh Zeid.

Ones to Watch: First off, I want to the pay tribute to the actual people born in Israel that are on the team simply because on a team mostly of Americans they stand-out for… actually being from the country they are representing.

Shlomo Lipetz was born in Tel Aviv, fell in love with baseball during visits to New York, and later moved to the USA to pitch in college. He’s since played semi-pro ball and in the short-lived Israeli Baseball League while also working as a music booker at City Winery in New York City. Now 42, this is probably his last ride… but a ride it has been. Another Israeli-born pitcher on the team is Alon Leichman. Born in a kibbutz in the late 80s, Leichman fell in love with the game thanks to American relatives and moved to America to pitch in college. He’s since gone into coaching, where he is currently the pitching coach for Seattle’s AA Arkansas Travelers.

Among position players, there is catcher Tal Erel, born in Ramat Gan (near Tel Aviv). After playing in leagues in the Czech Republic and Netherlands, he moved to Florida where he played college ball on the JuCo and Division II levels. The final Israeli-born player is Assaf Lowengart, who now plays for DII Mansfield University.

Among the Americans on the team that haven’t played in the big leagues, names that stand out include LHP Jake Fishman (Miami’s AAA team in Jacksonville), LHP Alex Katz (Cubs organization), RHP Ben Wanger (University of Miami), SS Scott Burcham (AAA Colorado), utilityman Mitch Glasser (hitting .345 in independent Sioux Falls), and long-time minor league/indyball journeyman outfielder Blake Gailen.

Outlook: On paper, Israel is undoubtedly the worst team in the field. No other team in the tournament is rolling out college and semi-pro players to fill the back-end of their rosters, and most of their top professionals (such as Kinsler and Valencia) are in states of near-retirement. However, although it is unlikely that they can get to the medal stand they are still a good enough team where they may be able to pull an upset or two against stronger but potentially overconfident opponents.

You can find all the current Olympic Baseball previews here.

World Baseball Classic Update (9-30-16)

It’s time for a WBC Update!

First off, as you probably saw, Israel won it’s qualifying pool and is headed to the main WBC tournament.

Secondly, White Sox instructor Luis Sierra, who was a first-base coach for Colombia in the WBC Qualifiers, will again coach for Colombia in the main tournament next year.

Adam Jones says he will play for Team USA again if asked. Also in Team USA news, they are said to be looking at Brian Dozier of the Twins as a possible member.

The Seattle Times ran an article on Mariners who may be playing in the WBC. Robinson Cano is all-in for the Dominican, of course, and so is Nelson Cruz. Dae-Ho Lee says he’ll play for Korea is he’s asked, and Felix Hernandez wants to play for Venezuela again (he wasn’t able to in 2013 due to contract stuff). Reliever Edwin Diaz wants to play for his native Puerto Rico. As for Americans, Kyle Seager said he’d love to play, although he admits the depth of American baseball means he could end up staying in Spring Training or sitting on the bench.

While not “news”, per se, you should still read Lindsey Adler’s awesome article on Pakistani baseball.

Until next time, this has been Dan Glickman with your WBC update.

 

World Baseball Classic Qualifier Preview: Brooklyn (Brazil, Israel, Great Britain, Pakistan)

The final spot in next year’s main WBC tournament is up for grabs this week in Brooklyn, in an eclectic pool of four countries that lack major baseball facilities and thus sort of have been thrown into Brooklyn in hopes that New York’s diverse population will come out to see the games. While Brazil and the American-heavy Israeli team should be considered the favorites, GB shouldn’t be totally counted out. The biggest mystery (and likely last-place finisher) is Pakistan, a newcomer to the WBC that has rarely participated outside of the regional level. You can see the rosters (which have since changed slightly due to call-ups and injuries) here.

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World Baseball Classic Update for February 26, 2016

Hello, everybody. Here’s some WBC news from the last few weeks, in no particular order:

The Mexican League and the Mexican Baseball Federation continue to squabble, making it unlikely that any Mexican leaguers will partake in the qualifying. However, I’ve also seen some tweets that indicate that this has been solved and that Mexican League players will take part. I’ll let you know when I have it cleared up.

Yovani Gallardo had said that he was going to play for the Mexican team in the qualifiers, but that was before he signed with the Orioles, so that may change. Another iffy Mexican pitcher is Julio Urias, a top prospect for the Dodgers, who has said he will skip the qualifiers if it looks like he has a good chance of making the team.

A preliminary roster for Team Nicaragua (thanks to Max Wildstein) was released. This roster has since changed (you can find how it has in some of the other items) and would be pared down to 28 anyway, but it gives you a good idea of some of the players who will be on the team:

Omar Vizquel will be the manager of Team Venezuela next year. Bobby Abreu and Magglio Ordonez were candidates for the batting coach position, and it appears that Magglio won the job. Other tweets have confirmed that Eduardo Perez will be a bench coach, Roberto Espinoza will be the pitching coach, and Henry Blanco will be a bullpen coach. Also in Venezuelan news: Gregor Blanco wants to play for his country in the 2017 WBC.

The Spanish have announced their coaching staff for the upcoming qualifiers, led by Tigers Latin American director Manny Crespo.

Quebecois closing great Eric Gagne, meanwhile, will helm Team France.

Mike Griffin will manage the Czech team, while Trot Nixon (!) will be hitting coach.

Speaking of the Czechs, it appears that they will have more players with North American experience than last time thanks to players of Czech ancestry, such as John Straka, Brett Tomko, Mike Cervenak, and Alex Sogard. However, apparently Eric Sogard has been denied, unless if he hasn’t. I find it much less likely that he will take part, though. The Czechs will be playing exhibitions in Arizona ahead of the qualifiers.

Donovan Solano, now in the Yankees organization, is still deciding whether he will play for Colombia in the qualifiers or if he will stay in camp. However, he is listed in a list of MLB-affiliated players who are “confirmed” for Colombia:

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Dilson Herrera of the Mets, as said above, will definitely suit up for Team Colombia. Others listed in the above tweet (if it doesn’t show up): William Cuevas, Carlos Mario Diaz, Kevin Escorcia, Tayron Guerrero, Gregory Nappo, Jesus Posso, Mauricio Ramos, Reynaldo Rodriguez, Tito Polo, Harold Ramirez, and Carlos Vidal. Apparently a complete list for Colombia will be out on Saturday.

David Ortiz doesn’t think he’ll play for Team Dominican Republic next spring.

Carlos Ruiz has been authorized to play for Team Panama, which is huge, even if he isn’t as good as he used to be.

Dean Kremer, a pitcher for UNLV who’s parents are from Israel and who lives there during summers when he isn’t playing, hopes to play for Team Israel in the WBC qualifiers.

Elmer Reyes of the Braves organization will play for Nicaragua. Wuillian Vasquez, a Venezuelan-born player who has lived and played in Nicaragua for several years while also playing in Europe, is also eligible.

The German National team will have a exhibition game against the Tijuana Toros on March 9.

Quick run-down of other players who have been confirmed in/out for certain qualifying teams (from various Twitter sources found by @MaxWildstein):

Randall Delgado is out for Panama but Andy Otero is in.

Cheslor Cuthbert is out for Nicaragua, as is Wilton Lopez, who has an injury.

Luis Guillorme is in for Spain.

Now, this was a lot of news. Maybe too much. And I probably missed some. And for that reason, I’m glad to say that starting now, WBC Updates will be FAR more frequent, occurring AT LEAST once a week, but at times happening on a daily or every-other-daily basis.

(Blogathon ’16) Nate Fish: Ezra, the Ballplayer

This guest-post is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer are not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

I got this email on November 18th, 2015.

“Hi Nate,
My name is Ezra Schwartz, I’m at yeshiva and heard about the baseball league. I played four years of high school baseball and would love to join the spring league if there is space. If you can send me details of how to register that would be great.
Thank you.”

I am the national director for the Israel Association of Baseball and get emails like this a lot, kids wanting to play, or invites to tournaments, and I breezed over it. I was not in Israel at the time. I was in New York, where I used to live, visiting family and friends for Thanksgiving, and was not in the mood to deal with work. When I did reply the next morning, it was short.

Great. Will add you to our list and send you a mail when spring training is getting ready to start. We should start Feb 10ish, season will start about a month later.”

But Ezra never got my e-mail.

I was on my parent’s couch looking at Facebook on my phone seeing what my friends were doing later. People were still talking about the Paris attacks that had happened a week earlier. And there were more stabbings back in Israel. I was more interested in my friends than news or people’s opinions on terrorism, but the forth or fifth time it came up on the screen, I saw it, “American Teen Ezra Shwartz Killed in Israel.” Shit, I said loud enough that my dad came in the room to ask what was wrong. I pulled up my e-mails to make sure. It was him.

Ezra was attending a gap year program at a school in Bet Shemesh, near Jerusalem. He was taking food and water to Israeli soldiers in the West Bank with some of his classmates and a teacher. For those of you who have never been to the West Bank, it is not a war zone. You could drive there a thousand times and nothing would happen. We have baseball teams there so I go out to see the fields and meet with coaches. I do not particularly like going. I find it a bit eerie, the check points and fences and security vehicles. There is a tension, but it is not by definition dangerous, no more dangerous than neighborhoods in Chicago or most major American cities, for example. It was a routine trip for the students. On their way back to the school, their car stopped at a red light, and they were ambushed by a Palestinian fighter who fired several shots at the cars lined up at the light. Along with Ezra, one Palestinian man, and an Israeli Jewish man were killed and five others were injured. Ezra was taken to a hospital. By the time I replied to his e-mail, he was dead.

I posted a note on Facebook about Ezra. Hundreds of people shared it, thousands liked it. I started hearing from Ezra’s former coaches and people who wanted to help The press and all the Jewish organizations got on the story. And Ezra quickly turned from a kid to an idea.

Ezra’s family came to Israel last week (Editor’s note: Nate got this to me in on January 8), his parents and four younger siblings. His three brothers threw out ceremonial first-pitches at our Junior League all-star game, and we will hopefully build a field in his honor in Raanana where some of Ezra’s family lives. It’s all good PR. But there is one thing Ezra’s family would like more than good PR, and that is to have their son and brother back. So when I take the field this spring to play one of my final baseball seasons for the Jerusalem Lions, I will try to remember Ezra the kid, not Ezra the idea – Ezra, the ballplayer.

Nate Fish is the director of the Israel Association of Baseball, his Twitter is @KingOfJBaseball.

This guest-post was part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer were not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

World Baseball Classic News for 9-17-2015: Qualifier Pools Announced!

Well, I told you that more news was probably coming, and today it was confirmed, as the World Baseball Classic qualifying pools have been announced! They are (all qualifiers in 2016):

 

Qualifier 1 (Sydney, Australia on February 11-14th):

Australia

New Zealand

Philippines

South Africa

Qualifier 2 (Mexicali, Mexico on March 17-20th):

Mexico

Czech Republic

Germany

Nicaragua

Qualifier 3 (Panama City on March 17-20th):

Colombia

France

Panama

Spain

Qualifier 4 (Brooklyn on Sept. 22-25th):

Brazil

Great Britain

Israel

Pakistan

As you can see, they’ve mixed up the locations (only Panama is a return qualifying host), the pools (no pool has more than two teams that were in the same individual pool last time), and also teams (Pakistan has replaced Thailand). Some things to note here:

  • MLB players will be able to participate in Qualifiers 1-3, but not Qualifier 4.
  • It is again a modified double-elimination, meaning it’s double elimination until there are only two, at which point it’s a winner-take-all championship game. I’ve always had a problem with this format and feel a straight-up double-elimination would be better, but I understand how the organizers would like the drama of a winner-take-all game.
  • Qualifier 4, in Brooklyn, is clearly meant to be a pool of teams that don’t have pro-worthy stadiums in their countries. It’s likely Brooklyn was picked due to New York’s diverse nature, with MLB and the other WBC organizers no doubt hoping that the city’s large Jewish population will turn up for Israel games.
  • Looking at this right now, I’d say that Qualifier 2 will probably have the highest level of talent, Qualifier 3 will be the hardest for any one team to get out of, and Qualifier 4 will be the hardest to predict. Qualifier 1, by contrast, looks like it should be a fairly easy draw for Australia.
  • I’m somewhat surprised that the Philippines is in Qualifier 1. I had a feeling they might make it an All-Commonwealth pool and have the Philippines be in New York City. At least, that’s what I thought after reading Jon Paul Morosi’s original post before it was official.

 

So, look in the coming days and no doubt more news will come out and I’ll take a look at some of the teams and other aspects of the qualifying tournament- like Pakistan’s baseball program.

 

WBC News for September 8, 2015: Managers/Coaches for Teams Nicaragua, Panama, New Zealand, and Israel, possible reveal of when qualifiers will be?

Yes, it’s been awhile, but it’s time to start up the ole’ World Baseball Classic news machine, as over the past few weeks we got some of the first news about the 2017 WBC and it’s 2016 qualifiers!

First off, Brewers bench coach Jerry Narron will have some sort of coaching position on the Israeli national team. Narron’s daughter lives in Israel and all of this apparently was set into motion when she off-handedly remarked about her father’s baseball pedigree to the Israeli Baseball Association’s president. The manager for Team Israel, meanwhile, will be Jerry Weinstein, a coach in the Rockies system. Shawn Green will also be a member of the coaching staff. It’s mentioned that the heads of Israeli baseball hope that it’s qualifying round will take place during the off-season- in 2012 (for the 2013 Classic), it took place during the season.

Meanwhile, former Giant Marvin Benard, now a coach in the Padres organization, has been named manager for Team Nicaragua for the qualifying round for the 2017 Classic. According to the article (or at least my Middle School Spanish and a google translation), the qualifying tournament that Nicaragua will be in will be held in Panama in March of 2016, in the same bracket as Panama, Brazil and Colombia (in other words, the same four that were in this bracket in the previous WBC qualifiers). I haven’t seen any confirmation either way whether this is true, but at the very least the teams in the group sound about right.

New Zealand has also named it’s coaching staff.  Chris Woodward, a coach for the Mariners, will be the skipper in the qualifier. Ron Roenicke will be a bench coach, Josh Bard will be a hitting coach, NPB veteran Naoyuki Shimizu will be the pitching coach, and Chris Prieto and D.J. Carrasco will also help coach.

Finally, Carlos Lee will be managing Team Panama.

So, that’s your first news update on the 2017 World Baseball Classic. If you know any news that I don’t have here, let me know by e-mailing me at djgwriter@yahoo.com or on Twitter (@DanJGlickman).

Until next time!

World Baseball Classic Qualifier Preview: Jupiter, Florida (Israel, Spain, France and South Africa)

The World Baseball Classic starts soon! Well, the qualifiers do, anyway. For the first time ever, there are four qualification pools to decide who reaches the Round of 16. Two of those pools- in Panama and Taipei- will be in November. But first there are two pools that start in about a week. One of them is in Jupiter, Florida (mainly because the teams in it don’t exactly have baseball fields in their countries) and the other is in Regensburg, Germany. The Jupiter pool starts slightly before the Germany pool, so I’ll be covering that one first, covering the baseball heritage (or, in some cases, lack thereof) of the the countries and looking at their teams and chances.

So, go after the jump for my preview of the 2012 WBC Qualifier in Jupiter, Florida. All rosters are from Baseball America.

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