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Israel national team
Photo: Margo Sugarman
Mensch on the Bench 2: Israel takes on the World Baseball Classic
Team Israel opens play Monday in Pool A against South Korea, Taiwan and the Netherlands; despite being the long-shot bet at 200-1, Team Israel could bring the nation and the Jewish people the biggest miracle since the Hannukah oil lasted eight days.
Team Israel has taken the field Monday in the World Baseball Classic (WBC), where they are facing off against the three teams in Pool A: South Korea, Taiwan and the Netherlands.

 

 

"We have the best team we could put together. We strengthened our weak spots, particularly our offensive capabilities, and together with our pitchers, we have a very good team," Jerry Weinstein of the Colorado Rockies and the current manager of Team Israel in the WBC told Ynet. 

 

Israel national team practicing    (צילום : AP)

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"Our advantage is the experience of our players. All of our players have a higher level of experience in baseball than many of our opponents. Our players are used to playing under pressure and know how to handle it," he added.

 

The Israel national baseball team (Photo: Israel Association of Baseball) (Photo: Israel Association of Baseball)
The Israel national baseball team (Photo: Israel Association of Baseball)
 

  

Weinstein continued, saying, "Regarding preparations for the WBC, my approach will be no different than the qualifying round. We're trying to put our players in the best possible position to succeed to the best of their abilities.

 

Israel qualifies for the WBC (Photo: Margo Sugarman) (Photo: Margo Sugarman)
Israel qualifies for the WBC (Photo: Margo Sugarman)

 

"From the first day of training camp we had last year in New York, there was an instant connection between the players. It was a big emotional investment, especially for players who participated in the previous tournament in 2012 and didn't qualify. The emotions they displayed affected the other players and led us to where we are today."

 

Is there pressure leading up to the tournament?

 

"I never feel pressure. You feel pressure when you aren't ready, but we're ready. Although we're still unsure of the abilities of the Koreans and the Taiwanese, it's more about us than it is them. We just need to be good at what we do. It's all about the process and the results come on their own. The players need to enjoy the experience and cherish this period."

 

Team Israel (Photo: Margo Sugarman) (Photo: Margo Sugarman)
Team Israel (Photo: Margo Sugarman)

 

How far can the team go?

 

"It's baseball. It’s a game where you can't really predict the results. Time will tell."

 

Israel national baseball team

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'We have a strong connection to Israel'

The World Baseball Organization allows what is dubbed the "Heritage Act," which stipulates that players who are eligible for citizenship of another country, even if they do not possess it, may play for that team.

 

As the President of the Israel Association of Baseball, Peter Kurz, points out, players who are Jewish or are married to Jews are eligible for citizenship under the Israeli Law of Return.

 

"When I find a player, I need to prove that he is eligible for Israeli citizenship. I need to make contact with him and with his family to get things such as records of circumcision or a Bar Mitzvah for example," Kurz explained.

 

Manager Jerry Weinstein (Photo: Margo Sugarman) (Photo: Margo Sugarman)
Manager Jerry Weinstein (Photo: Margo Sugarman)

 

However, due to this same law, many have cast doubt on the players' connection to Israel.

 

Weinstein however, rejected these doubts outright, saying, "We are the Israeli national team in every sense of the world. This team has Jewish American personnel and we are representing Israel. We feel a strong connection to the State of Israel and we hope our efforts will increase awareness and development of baseball in Israel."

 

Photo: Margo Sugarman (Photo: Margo Sugarman)
Photo: Margo Sugarman

 

"I came to Israel for the first time for Maccabiah in 2005 and I was in Israel for a month," he recounted. "I immediately felt the connection to the country and the connection of the young guys we brought with us. Each time I go back and visit, I feel like Israel is my second home."

 

Is there a chance for the team to make the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo?

 

"Baseball is coming back to the Olympics, but it will be very difficult to get there. What that means is that Israel has to be one of the eight best teams in the world. I would be very happy if that happened."

 

 (Photo: Margo Sugarman)

 

After the WBC is over, is it possible to further develop the sport and bring better players?

 

"Easy answer. Like in anything or any sport, you need to devote more resources to the development of baseball in Israel, from the government to the public. There aren't many (baseball) fields, and I hope they continue to invest in infrastructure. From there, we can grow more athletes who can hopefully be the future generation of the team."

 

Photo: Israel Association of Baseball (Photo: Israel Association of Baseball)
Photo: Israel Association of Baseball

 

Where do you see the Israeli national team in another few years?

 

"The Israel Association of Baseball, headed by Peter Kurz and his dedicated staff, and with the excitement around the WBC, will lead to major growth in baseball in Israel. My hope is that it will be similar to soccer industry in the United States."

 

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