While Israel has had some notable sporting achievements in the past year, the words “Israel” and “baseball” do not naturally seem to go together. But all that is changing, as Israel, the lowest ranked team at the 2017 World Baseball Classic, have turned heads with two incredible wins in their opening games.
Israel is appearing at only its second ever WBC, and on paper, its team is the weakest in the competition. Made up from a mix of Israeli and American Jews (who can represent Israel because they are legally allowed to emigrate to the country), the team does not feature a single player who is currently on the forty-man roster of a Major League Baseball team. The team is ranked number 41 in the world, and their group in the opening round of the tournament features South Korea, Chinese Taipei and the Netherlands, all far stronger teams than Israel (South Korea is also the host). At the beginning of the tournament, Israel’s chances of winning the tournament were given to be 200-1. But in the opening game, Israel stunned the hosts, defeating South Korea 2-1. 12 hours hours later, Team Israel took to the field again, beating Chinese Taipei 15-7.
For the players on Team Israel, the WBC is more than just a sporting experience, but it is an opportunity for them to show their pride in the Jewish state, whether they live there or not. “It was the easiest decision I could make,” said third baseman Cory Decker of his decision to join the team. “I personally feel part of this, of Israel. I feel a big part of this,” said catcher Ryan Lavarnway. A delegation of American players on the team visited Israel in the build up to the WBC, taking in the sights while also coaching and inspiring baseball fans in the Holy Land.
And the WBC team’s pride in the Jewish state has continued on during the tournament. As the Israeli national anthem, HaTikvah, began at their second game, the entire Israel team removed their caps, and put on kippot (the Jewish skullcap) as a mark of respect and Jewish pride. This group of outsiders (who have been compared by ESPN to the legendary Jamaican bobsled team) are openly demonstrating their pride in the Jewish state, and are part of a story that will stir Jewish hearts around the world.
Israel, you have a baseball team!
Contributed by CAMERA intern Aron White