Baseball in Israel began to be a true thing about 45 years ago within the very unlikely place, the Baptist Village in Petah Tikvah. The short-lived Israel league started there. Recent successes have encouraged more players at every level. The Jewish National Fund, or JNF, a long-time supporter of the league, has joined with the Israel Baseball Association to create two new fields — in Ra’anana and in Beit Shemesh. quite 1,000 players of all ages are now engaged during this sport, whose popularity is growing and would definitely be cemented by an Olympic medal.
2017 was a breakout year — the formerly 41st ranked Israel team jumped to 19th within the worldwide competition, despite being called the Jamaican bobsled team of baseball by ESPN. Doing even better within the European sphere, the team’s rankings jumped to fourth from 16th. In 2019, at the ECU Baseball Games, the Israeli team won the ECU B-Pool competition 5-0. Israel went on to win the ECU Qualification Playoff series 2-0. Coming in fourth during the ECU Baseball Championship, it moved on to compete within the 2020 Olympic Qualification tournament, which ensured Israel an area within the Olympics – one among six teams to try to do so. The six are us, Israel, Mexico, Dominican Republic, South Korea, and Japan.
Israel was to play South Korea on July 28 and bully-off with the U.S. on July 29. they’re going into the Olympics, says GM Peter Kurz, with every intent to medal. They certainly have determination and chutzpah. The team has had little chance to practice together, because of COVID and distance. Also, going from the ECU competitions where team members had to only meet the qualifications for citizenship, the Olympics requires everyone to be a citizen of the country they represent. So, in 2018, 10 players made Aliyah, and 4 more followed suit in 2019, thus fulfilling the Olympic requirements, by becoming Israeli citizens.
This process helped many of the players connect with their Judaism and learn more about the State of Israel, helped by the Israeli-born sabras on the team. Team members have commented on how quickly they need bonded despite all the challenges, feeling a robust connection soon. the extreme and frank conversations they shared about Israel were an element in creating this cohesiveness. Representing Israel, five of the team’s 20 players have ties to Connecticut. Josh Zeid, born in New Haven, who pitched for the Astros, was delighted to be back home for the exhibition games. Ian Kinsler, a star second sacker of big-league fame, has an aunt, uncle, and cousins in West Hartford, who enthusiastically cheered him on at Dunkin Donut stadium when Team Israel was here for his or her exhibition games on July 14 and 15.
Jeremy Bleich’s brother, Dr. Steven Bleich, maybe a respected cardiologist here in Connecticut. Jeremy himself may be a minor and big-league player. His mother, Karen, extols his persistence and marvels at the life lessons baseball teaches, smiling broadly as she cheers him on and prays for his safety and health. this is often a true concern during this time of accelerating anti-Semitism and security is tight for the team, alongside tight restrictions to guard against COVID which could derail all their hopes and dreams.
Danny Valencia, another former big leaguer, played for the New Britain Rock Cats. he’s joined on Team Israel by Scott Burcham, a former Yard Goats infielder. As Ben Gurion said, “In Israel, so as to be a realist, you want to believe miracles.” Team Israel represents the Jewish dreams in numerous ways starting with a belief within the miracle that they even exist to the truth that this team has close from most corners of the Jewish diaspora also as Israel to collect into one amazingly dynamic and cohesive team.