Just 40 years after a tragic terrorist attack on Israeli athletes, Israel is stronger than ever on the international athletics scene. In the 2013 World Baseball Classic, Israel fielded a team that nearly qualified for the big tournament next spring.
Featuring a group of scrappy Jewish-American baseball players coupled with a few Israelis, the team was one of the more talented ones at the tournament. They all stood up for their Jewish heritage and represented it on the international scene, wearing the colors of Israel.
Some of the notable players include Shlomo Lipetz, one of the true Israelis on the team, Adam Greenberg, known for his quest for his first Major League at-bat, and Shawn Green, former MLB player who hit 328 career home runs.
The Jewish-American contingent has been important for the Israelis, as the sport is still in its infancy over there. According to Peter Kurz, Secretary General of the Israel Association of Baseball, the sport is played by roughly 1,000 people in Israel ages 7-60.
“If only we could get a nice Jewish girl to marry Albert Pujols, he could be at first base for us,” said Kurz in an interview with the New York Times.
For now, however, the team is made up of mostly minor league players. The Israeli team was not particularly menacing on the surface, but that does not mean they didn’t pack a mean punch.
They were able to win their first two games by scores of 7-3 and 4-2 respectively over South Africa and Spain, and appeared ready to qualify for the World Baseball Classic if they could beat Spain again in the final. The game was hard fought, and Spain would come out on top 9-7 in 10 innings, eliminating Israel in heartbreak fashion.
Even though the team was unable to win the tournament, does not mean that it was unimportant to both the players and the fans?
One blog written by the team’s bullpen catcher Nate Fish, named King of Jewish Baseball, talked about the experience firsthand.
“I cannot shake the feeling that I want to turn back time and do it again, or that I am going to wake up and it will be the morning of the finals and we’ll get a chance to replay the game. I cannot comprehend that it is over and that we did not win. Reality has splintered and the trajectory of each of our lives will ricochet off this loss. There were life altering implications for every single person involved if we had won. The team would have been flown to Israel for a trip. We would have started preparing for March for the World Baseball Classic in Tokyo or Puerto Rico or Australia or wherever the first round will be played.”
The what-ifs will always be painful for any situation, but no matter what could have been, one must not forget. Many great things came from this: Adam Greenberg got his first big league at-bat, friendships were formed and the entire team was able to really connect to its Jewish heritage.
The team is a step in the right direction for Israel, as it should compete in many World Baseball Classics in the future.
Despite its small population and lack of baseball players, Israel found a way to shine through and field a team that came within a few outs of qualifying for an international competition, after playing together for brief period of time . They were able to bring pride and joy to a country that is constantly reminded of its dire situation.