Original Article Published On The Jewish News Syndicate

With the loss against Spain in the last game of the European Championships only days ago still fresh, Israel came out determined to start strong against the team that left Israel in third place in Europe.

Joey Wagman pitched a complete game shut-out to help take down Spain in Team Israel’s first game of the World Baseball and Softball Confederation Olympics Qualifiers 3-0 in Bologna, Italy. Danny Valencia dominated the offense, batting in all three runs, including a first-inning two RBI home run.

With the loss against Spain in the last game of the European Championships only days ago still fresh, Israel came out determined to start strong against the team that left Israel in third place in Europe. And they did. In the top of the first inning, after outfielder Blake Gailen was walked, DH Valencia stepped up and crushed a homer deep into left field, immediately putting Israel ahead by two runs.

Wagman followed up on Israel’s strong offensive start by retiring Spain in order in the bottom of the first. He maintained the pressure on the Spaniards throughout the game, not giving them a foothold and allowing only three hits in the game.

In the top of the fifth inning, Zach Penprase singled to deep center field and advanced to second on a single from Mitch Glasser. Gailen singled to center field, loading the bases. A sacrifice fly to right field from Valencia added another RBI as Penprase scored Israel’s third run.

“I just pitched my game,” said Wagman in a post-game interview. “(Nick) Rickles called a great game behind home plate. We were on the same page all night. It’s a lot easier for me when I can trust him and trust the defense.”

Wagman also won the award for the pitcher with the best earned run average in the European Championships last week, after pitching 10.2 innings with an impressive zero ERA.

“Everything was great tonight,” said Valencia. “It was important to start well, and we did.” I helped the team with the RBIs, but the credit goes to Wagman, who was amazing on the mound.”

“This was a fantastic start,” says Peter Kurz, Team Israel general manager and president of the Israel Association of Baseball. “We have every intention of competing for every run over every inning of the rest of the games against Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Italy and South Africa. Our goal is no less than winning this tournament and representing the State of Israel in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.”

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Original Article Published On the Jewish News Syndicate

The five top teams in the European Baseball Championships, plus South Africa, have advanced to the Olympic Qualifiers taking place in Parma and Bologna, Italy, through Sept. 22.

When the Miracle Mets won the World Series in 1969, baseball was virtually unknown in Israel. Israel had come out victorious in the Six-Day War only two years earlier, the first field was built at Kibbutz Gezer in 1979, and the Israel Association of Baseball (IAB) would be established less than a decade afterwards, in 1986.

Fifty years later, the New York Mets may need to share their “miracle” nickname with Israel’s National Baseball Team. Team Israel shocked the world in last week’s European Championships and now has its sights on the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

Israel got off to an unexpected 4-0 start with victories over the Czech Republic, Sweden, Germany and Great Britain. Israel then lost on Sept. 11 to current European champions, the Netherlands.

Israel finished second in its pool with a record of 4-1 and advanced to the quarter finals, held last Friday through Sunday in Bonn, Germany.

On Sept. 13, Israel faced France, which Pool B with three wins and two losses. Team Israel handily beat France 8-2 in the quarter finals, securing a coveted place in the Olympic Games qualifiers for this week in Italy.

But over last weekend, Israel dropped two games to Italy and Spain, finishing fourth overall in the European Championships. This was the first time that Israel has even gotten that far.

A Team Israel pitcher in its victory against France in the European Championships. Photo by Margo Sugarman.
A Team Israel pitcher in its victory against France in the European Championships. Photo by Margo Sugarman.

“We faced some extremely strong teams this week,” says general manager and IAB president Peter Kurz. “The fact that we were able to beat these tough competitors is a great credit to all the players and the staff. We are ready for the next phase, and look forward to representing Israel in general and Israeli baseball in particular with pride.”

The five top teams in the European Championships, plus the already qualified South Africa, advanced to the Europe/Africa Olympic Qualifiers, which take in place in Parma and Bologna, Italy, through Sept. 22. Israel beat Spain on Wednesday in a 3-0 complete game by Joey Wagman. Israel now faces the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Italy and South Africa.

One Olympic spot will be awarded to the winner of the Europe-Africa qualifier tournament in Italy, which will feature the five European teams and South Africa, the winner of the 2019 African Baseball Championship. The second-place team in Italy will get another qualification opportunity for the Olympics in the final world qualifying event.

Continuing its storied run

The Miracle Israel Team continues its storied run, which started with the World Baseball Classic qualifiers in September 2016. Israel won all three of their games in Brooklyn, N.Y., beating Great Britain twice and Brazil once. It then advanced to Pool A, playing in South Korea in March 2017 against South Korea, Taiwan/Chinese Taipei and the Netherlands.

Israel then advanced to the second round (Pool E), playing Tokyo in March 2017. In that first game, Israel beat Cuba, then lost to the Netherlands and Japan. Israel’s storied World Baseball Classic run to the quarterfinals is chronicled in the recent documentary, “Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel.”

The team is currently qualified for the 2021 World Baseball Classic.

While the World Baseball Classic only requires that players be eligible for citizenship of the country they represent, for Olympic qualifying tournaments (and for the actual Olympics players themselves), they must be actual citizens of the country they represent. Several American Jewish players, including Valencia, Blake Gailen, Ty Kelly, Corey Baker, Jeremy Bleich and Jeremy Wolf, recently got Israeli citizenship. Most will continue to reside in America.

Despite Team Israel’s incredible success thus far, competing in the Olympics is still a distant dream. The winner of the qualifier tournament will get a bid to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The runner-up will have another opportunity to qualify for Tokyo at a future qualifying event.

In an interview from Germany with JNS following the team’s Sept. 13 victory, Kurz deconstructed the meaning of the team’s recent success for Israel, as well as the experience of playing in Europe.

Q: What does the team’s recent success mean for Israel, for the players and for baseball?

A: When any Israeli sports team excels in international tournaments, it excites the country. While baseball may not yet be a mainstream sport, when Team Israel starts grabbing headlines for exceeding so many expectations, people take notice.

This is a team that has worked hard to achieve their goals. We have players who have left their wives, their young children and their full-time jobs to come and represent Israel at the tournament. They are all committed to winning.

When our teams excel abroad, the first and most palpable result is that it raises the professional level of our players in Israel. We saw this phenomenon after the excellent sixth-place result of Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic in 2017. In the two years since, our youth players have become more dedicated and have understood the need to focus on increasing their skills. In July, our Under 18 national team competed in the European Championships Qualifiers for the first time and won the tournament. The success of our Senior National Team will give our players a lot to strive for. Our teenage players now have a goal: to be a member of the SNT in the coming years.

This can only be positive for Israeli baseball. The great results of this team are also being noticed outside of the immediate community. This type of exposure increases awareness of baseball in Israel and can attract new players who may not have thought about the sport. We are building two new fields in Beit Shemesh and in Ra’anana; this will only add to the excitement we are generating here in Europe now.”

Q: Can you describe the experience of playing games these past two weeks in Europe?

A: Most of Israel Baseball’s international competition takes place in Europe. Israel is a member of the Confederation of European Baseball, or CEB. It is a tight-knit baseball community, and a good atmosphere exists between the players once the games are over. In most of Europe, baseball is also still a niche sport, so the players share a common love of it and work to support one another.

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Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

The 32-year-old catcher played for Team Israel during its run through World Baseball Classic qualifiers and tournament in 2017

Ryan Lavarnway is one of the lucky ones – if you consider switching jobs every few months on average “lucky” – though he doesn’t take his success for granted.

The 32-year-old catcher, who played for Team Israel during its stellar run through the World Baseball Classic qualifiers and tournament in 2017, has bounced around Major League Baseball, but mostly in the minors – with 10 teams in 10 years. Still, Lavarnway represents the roughly 10 percent of minor league baseball players who ever see action in the majors.

The California-born Colorado resident has been blessed with memorable moments with several major league teams, and has faced often unexpected, last-minute call-ups and cross-country moves – including three in the past month alone.

“It has been crazy!” exclaimed Lavarnway to The Jerusalem Post during a phone interview from his hotel room in Louisville, Kentucky following a Sunday game in which he went 1-for-3 for the AAA Louisville Bats in a 12-0 loss to the Toledo Mud Hens.

“One day you are in Triple-A in Scranton, Pennsylvania [for the New York Yankees]. The next day, you are in the big leagues.”

In July, Lavarnway was released by the Yankees and immediately signed with the Cincinnati Reds, where he hit two home runs and had six RBIs in his Reds’ debut on July 19, becoming the first Reds catcher to tally three hits, two homers, and six RBI in a game since the legendary Johnny Bench did it in 1973. He went 5-for-18 in five games with the team before being sent down to Cincinnati’s AAA affiliate in Louisville.

Given Lavarnway’s chaotic past month and the 140-game minor league baseball schedule, it is impressive that he was able to commit to a day and time to speak with a reporter. He was upbeat, friendly and forthcoming in recounting his exciting and fulfilling baseball journey so far.

He vividly recalled career highlights, including his first two-homer game with the Boston Red Sox, and a similarly exhilarating walk-off homer with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Lavarnway also spoke fondly about his great run with Team Israel, and his amazing trip Israel.

Lavarnway was born in Burbank, California, grew up in Woodland Hills, California, and has mainly been a catcher – with stints in the outfield and first base – since his little league days. He attended Yale University in Connecticut for three years, where he juggled his academic studies with a very successful baseball experience.

Lavarnway earned Ivy Player and Rookie of the Week honors in March 2006 as a right fielder before switching to catcher full-time. In 2007, he led the NCAA in batting average (.467) and slugging percentage (.873), set the Yale single-season record in batting average, slugging percentage, home runs (14), hits (70), doubles (17), RBIs (55), and total bases (131). He also had an Ivy-League-record 25-game hitting streak and won the G.H. Walker, Jr. Award as Most Valuable Player.

In his junior year in 2008, Lavarnway led the Ivy League in home runs (13), RBIs (42), walks (29), slugging percentage (.824), and on-base percentage (.541), while batting .398. He missed the last 11 games of the year after breaking a bone in his left wrist while diving into home plate in April. He finished his three-year college career with a .384 batting average, 33 home runs, and 122 RBIs in 120 games, and he became the Ivy League’s all-time leader in career home runs.

Lavarnway left Yale 11 credits short of graduation as he was drafted in the sixth round of the 2008 MLB Draft by the Boston Red Sox. He played at every level of the minors within the Red Sox organization –from the Class A South Atlantic League Greenville Drive, to the Class A+ Carolina League Salem Red Sox, to the Class AA Eastern League Portland Sea Dogs. He racked up many honors, including 2010 Red Sox co-Minor League Offensive Player of the Year. Lavarnway spent the 2011 season between the AA Portland Sea Dogs and the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox.

Lavarnway got his first big break on August 18, 2011 when he was called up to the Red Sox; fellow Jewish player, Kevin Youkilis, went on what was then called the disabled list (now known as the “injured list”). He got his first major league hit the next day, and started for the Red Sox on September 27. Lavarnway still proudly remembers this game as he hit his first two major league home runs and had four RBIs in an 8–7 victory over the Baltimore Orioles.

Lavarnway returned to the minors and again saw action with the Red Sox on August 1, 2012, when he was called up from the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox. Lavarnway and fellow Yalie, fellow Jew (and in 2017, Team Israel battery mate), Craig Breslow, were Boston Red Sox teammates during part of the 2012 season. Lavarnway returned to Pawtucket where he was named best power prospect in the International League as well as the 2012 International League All Star starting catcher.

Lavarnway continued to be part of the Red Sox organization through 2014. In June, he had surgery to remove the hamate bone from his left wrist. He was designated for assignment in November, and his dizzying “see-the-country” baseball career continued as he was claimed off waivers in the winter, first by the Los Angeles Dodgers, then by the Chicago Cubs, and was signed by the Baltimore Orioles – his fourth team in 18 days. He played 10 games with the Orioles early in the 2015 season, then chose to become a free agent over accepting a minor league position in the Orioles’ organization.

He signed a minor-league contract with the Atlanta Braves in May 2015 and had 49 plate appearances for AAA Gwinnett before being called up to the majors. He was released by the Braves in May 2016. Lavarnway signed a minor-league contract with the Oakland Athletics, started the season with the Triple-A Nashville Sounds, and was called up to Oakland in July. He played in one game – covering for a catcher on paternity leave – and then returned to the minors before being called up again by the A’s on July 27. He was designated for assignment in August and chose to become a free agent at the end of the season.

Lavarnway continued to find major league clubs interested in him. In January 2018, Lavarnway signed a minor league contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he had a decent 77 games for Triple-A Indianapolis before being called up to Pittsburgh on September 4. He had four hits in six at bats.

In November, Lavarnway again became a free agent – and was again picked up by another club. The New York Yankees signed him to a minor-league contract for the 2019 season, where he played with AAA Scranton, before being released July 18, and rushing off to Cincinnati. The next day, he hit two home runs for his new team.

Lavarnway continues to enjoy the excitement of playing baseball – and the potential to be called up for that dream moment.

“I am with my 10th organization since 2014,” he said. “I go where the job is, I don’t think about it. Every time I am called up – that’s what makes it worth it. Hopefully, I will help get a team to the World Series – it is an opportunity I don’t take for granted.”

Lavarnway feels his experience over so many years in different organizations and at different levels has made him a “quick-learn” on the job.

“It helps that I’ve been around a while and have so much experience catching different types of pitchers. I can catch guys I’ve never seen before, and I can build trust with new pitchers.”
As Lavarnway looks back on the 11 years since leaving Yale, he is proud of his professional and personal accomplishments.

He reported that he and his wife of six years, Colorado native Jamie Neistat Lavarnway, have gotten used to the “ups and downs.” She has had jobs in each town, has written a food blog in the past [“The Fork and Knife of a Baseball Wife”on] and has most recently done volunteer work in animal rescue in Nashville.

“It is hard to find something portable,” notes Lavarnway, indicating that Jamie has done an amazing job coordinating their personal travel and professional moves and “could be an excellent travel secretary” for a baseball team.

Ryan and Jamie love to travel and try new restaurants.

“We are trying to cross off the top 50 restaurants in the world,” reports Lavarnway. They recently visited the well-known Israeli restaurant in Paris, L’As du Fallafel (“it was so good!”). Next up on the Lavarnway’s off-season travel agenda is Thailand.

“In each city, [Jamie] finds the best restaurants for us to explore.” Lavarnway truly appreciates how fortunate he is to have a job with a long off-season. “We have a great life-where else can you have four months to travel?!”

The Lavarnways’ travels have also taken them to Israel, though that trip, with other members of Team Israel, was different from the others—Ryan recalls it as being “life changing.”

The blue-and-white’s impressive run in the World Baseball Classic and the team’s trip to Israel, was chronicled in the recent film, “Heading Home.” Lavarnway – who served as Team Israel’s starting catcher, went 8-for-18 (.565) with two doubles, a home run, and six RBIs, while walking five times – loved the movie.

“They did an amazing job, and it’s cool that a moment that was so important in my life is on video so I can relive it.”

Lavarnway can barely contain his excitement when speaking about the trip to Israel. While he always thought of himself as Jewish (his mother is Jewish and his father is not) and connected to the religion in his youth, he proudly stated that “the Team Israel experience and going to Israel helped me find my Jewish identify and reaffirm my own Jewishness.”

Lavarnway never got to participate on a Birthright Israel trip as he was busy playing baseball each summer. He refers to the Team Israel trip as “our baseball Birthright.” He especially enjoyed “seeing Israel, feeling the love, and seeing the people,” and liked learning about Jewish and Israeli history.

The Lavarnways continue to be connected Jewishly and are members of Temple Emanuel in Denver.

Lavarnway still feels very connected to Team Israel and to Israel Baseball.

“Our goal is for Israel Baseball to continue to grow. We didn’t want to just be a one-time WBC highlight. We wanted to grow the game internationally and domestically. Our whole goal was to get homegrown Israeli baseball players to keep playing at the highest level.”

While Lavarnway is willing to consider future involvement with the team as it works to qualify for the 2020 Olympics, he notes that he “hope[s] to be on a big league team in September – that is when the qualifiers are. But if I’m not, I’m totally willing to participate.”

Lavarnway loves baseball and hasn’t given much thought to life beyond. As he playfully commented, “Plan B distracts from Plan A.” While completing college is not itself a Plan B, he is taking steps in that direction. Lavarnway said that Yale has recently begun offering credit for online courses. Despite his busy 2019 baseball season, he recently completed two courses – Movie Physics and The Genius Course. “I just submitted my final paper for two Yale credits – I am now two credits closer to graduation,” though he still has seven more classes to complete to earn his degree.

For now, Lavarnway will focus on the rest of the baseball season – and dream of the call-up which may bring him back to the majors for a pennant race and another twist in his whirlwind tale.

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Original Article in Jerusalem Post:

Team Israel’s Cody Decker continues his playful ways – even in American professional baseball.

Cody Decker was arguably the heart, soul and class clown of Israel’s baseball team, which took the world by surprise in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Decker and his teammates won the qualifiers in Brooklyn and they beat three opposing teams (South Korea, Chinese Taipei and the Netherlands) in the first round in Korea. Team Israel then lost two of three games in Round 2, played in Japan.

“Cody Decker played for all three teams that Israel has fielded in the WBC and there is no doubt that he has been a vital cog in all of them. Aside from his playing skills and ability to play a multitude of positions, it’s his personality, his way to keep the guys loose, his perspective on life and the game, that have made him most valuable. He ‘gets it’ and he’s able to get others on board.”

Decker and nine teammates visited Israel last year before the tournament.

“I think that having Cody and Jenn [his wife] on the trip to Israel made ‘the cause’ that much more real for him. For the first time, he really understood what he was playing for and the speech he gave at the Beit Shemesh field dedication exemplified that commitment,” adds Kurz.

Decker currently plays infield for the Reno Aces (the AAA affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks) in the Pacific Coast League, where he is batting a solid.261 with eight home runs and 24 RBIs.

The love and admiration felt for Decker during the World Baseball Classic continues in Reno.

Aces catcher Anthony Recker observes, “Cody is a blast to be around. He’s always one of the first guys in the building and last one out. He’s the kind of guy who knows when to have fun and when to get down to business. I’m glad to have him as a teammate.”
Aces manager Greg Gross adds, “Decker has provided us some offense off the bench this year and is always a threat to go deep. His personality is obviously there and is fun for the guys in the locker room. He’s a talented ballplayer and has been for a long time in this league.”

The Magazine caught up with Decker in the dugout after the Reno Aces defeated the Sacramento River Cats (the AAA affiliate of the San Francisco Giants) 8 to 2. Decker struck out in the bottom of the sixth, his only plate appearance, when he appeared as a pinch hitter.

Have you seen the 2018 documentary film Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel yet?

Yes, about four times now. Jenn did a Q and A for a group; I’ve done some Q and As and will be doing another in Orange County (California) in the off season, so that will be fun.

My impression is that the film is good. I am very glad they made it; they need to work on marketing. It is far less a Jewish story than a baseball story. It is about putting together a ragtag bunch of players who had been overlooked their entire careers. We had a chance to go out in front of the world and show that we were better than they thought. That was the story, but it was more that – we happened to all be Jewish. I kind of love that this is how it was all put together. I think that is the right story to tell; there are plenty of Jewish elements. It is as much that as it is the other story.

You and Jenn both got to go to Israel? You recently got married?

We went to Israel – Tel Aviv, then Jerusalem and stopped in Beit Shemesh. At no point did I think that I would enjoy Jerusalem more than I enjoyed Tel Aviv – this big, beautiful thriving city. I was expecting Jerusalem to be old and very historic but not as grand as it was. WOW – was I way wrong! I loved every second in Jerusalem. It was beautiful, amazing watching all faiths throughout. That was really cool when the Muslims were praying. My wife (we got married six months ago) is Christian, so seeing a lot of the old churches and going with the tour guide and learning. This right here is where Jesus was. The whole trip was very fascinating. It was fantastic and we loved every second of it.

When you think about what it has done for your relationship with Judaism, and Israel – what is it like looking back?

I can’t wait to go back! I wouldn’t say it necessarily made me more religious or spiritual or anything but it makes you appreciate… I have always appreciated my heritage. Going over there and seeing the Western Wall – it was probably the most striking thing to me. We went on a Friday night. There were so many people praying and dancing. It was crazy – it was great – I loved every second!

Do you think Team Israel will be part of your future down the road?

Peter [Kurz], the team president, is hoping that I am coming back to Team Israel!

Do your teammates on the Aces know about this Team Israel and Jewish part of you?

Not really – it is not something that regularly comes up in conversation. The fact that I am Jewish almost never comes up. Unless I make a joke about it – every time we have Sunday chapel, I say like, “When is the rabbi getting here so I can pray too? Can I join?” They say, “It’s nondenominational.” “You mean that Sunday Christian chapel you guys are doing? Nondenominational, huh? Cool. Yeah, I’m busy…

Sounds like there are not that many Jewish ballplayers…

There just happens to not be a lot of Jewish baseball players. I don’t think there is any particular reason for it, other than that there just aren’t that many of us. I grew up in Santa Monica [California], a huge Jewish community, and I played with a lot of Jewish kids. I’m not going to lie to you. Most of them were terrible! It is not because they were Jewish. They just weren’t very good at baseball.
Then when I got older and started traveling the country, and occasionally the world, you find out there just aren’t a whole lot of Jews playing baseball.

You go around the country, in Texas and certain spots in Florida, there just aren’t that many Jews around. It’s not like Santa Monica, where it is just normal. A large Mexican community, a large Jewish community, a large African American community, and for whatever reason, I was just unique, I was just brought up with that.

Has your role as team prankster continued with the Aces?

No, I’m leaving guys alone. People are watching me too closely. They know I’ll do it! I’d love to but… I’ll even say something and they’ll give me the side eye. They’ll think I’m lying or trying to set them up. I’m not. I’m actually enjoying that more than anything, that people are very suspicious of me at all times. It keeps them alert, I think.

Do they know about the Mensch on the Bench? Are they aware of that?

They are. The Mensch on the Bench was over in Jackson. He is back home in Santa Monica. We shipped him in a huge box. He is in my parents’ office and it’s just a gigantic box that happens to have a Mensch in it. I was thinking of selling it. I think it is time to sell it. Or auction it off for a charity. I don’t know how to do it.

But your teammates here don’t know about the Mensch on the Bench?

Yeah, they do. It was in my locker in spring training. It had its own locker in spring training. I had my locker, which said “Cober Commander” on it, and the next locker next to me was the Mensch. The Mensch was there.

How has the experience been with the Aces? I heard you had some injuries, pitched a little bit…

I pitched because we were out of pitchers. I don’t think I am too worried about my arm going to pieces, pitching 52 miles per hour! I am just going up there to throw strikes and let them get themselves out. Injuries? I’m good.

This is my seventh season in the PCL [Pacific Coast League], my fifth or sixth PCL team…Tucson, El Paso, Albuquerque, Omaha, Vegas… seventh! I’ve always had a lot of success playing here as an opposing player. Coming here I got off to a really hot start. Important guys in the Diamondbacks organization got activated so my playing time took a pretty hefty dip. I had to work on being off the bench, which is not the easiest of jobs. I had a DL [disabled list] stint during that time. I’m having a pretty good year all things considered. I know what I can do on the field. I’ve always felt I belonged in the big leagues; that’s why I’m doing this.

But I will say the Aces have been fantastic. The front office has been good. The stadium is always beautiful. Our locker room is great. Our jerseys have gotten better. We had a jersey issue… we had two jerseys that weighed roughly 35 pounds [15.8 kg.}. Luckily, we fixed one of them. The other one still weighs a solid ton and a half.

The Diamondbacks organization has been nothing but the most classy, honest and well-put-together organization. I really appreciate being a part of this organization. Hopefully I will get out there more consistently eventually and get a shot at the big leagues.

Any plans for All-Star break [which started the day after the interview]?

I’m actually flying to Las Vegas to meet up with my wife, which I am very excited about. Four nights with my wife will be very nice. Take her out to dinner, maybe go to a show or something. I look forward to seeing her.

Is that where you are living?

No, we are based in Los Angeles, but she is going there for work stuff. I’m flying there. She is driving there as we speak. I’m going to meet her there.

Has the Jewish community in Reno reached out to you?

Is there one here? I’m not gonna lie to you, I don’t know of one. So I have been reached out to by no one. Normally when I go play in a place, I’ll be stretching before a game, and I’ll have like five people yelling “Cody, Cody, I’m Jewish.” I don’t know, I don’t know of a Jewish community here. But in fairness, I haven’t been out trying to find it.

Do you think that Team Israel is something that can be in your future?

That’s a couple of years down the road. I guess we’ll address it when it comes up. The qualifier was a really great experience. Loved every second of the qualifiers. It was a special group of guys.

Are you still in touch with those guys?

I was already in touch with them to begin with. Nate Freiman and I had played together for years. Nate is one of my dearest friends. He was at my wedding. And I have known Zach Bornstein for a long time. Ryan Lavarnway is a good friend. There are not many of us. We kind of all have friendships. Blake Gailen, we would hit together every off season. He is still one of my good friends. He was almost in my wedding. He was on standby in case somebody went down. It is a good group of guys, every one of them. I miss them and look forward to seeing them all again. I’m sure I’ll some them again, somewhere down the road. All in all, it is a good deal.

Will I be back in a couple of years? We will see…

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