How is a World Baseball Classic Qualifier game featuring Israel and Great Britain playing at MCU Park in Brooklyn different from a typical Major League Baseball game?
Thursday night’s Israel vs Great Britain WBC game featured three national anthems and two first pitch ceremonies, and a robust Maariv minyan after the third inning with scenic views of the Coney Island cyclone, Nathan’s Hot Dogs and the fifty person-long kosher food line.
Fans draped in Israeli flags chanted “Let’s Go Israel!” – and greeted friends from summer camp, youth group and the neighborhood. Of course there were also fans cheering for Team Great Britain – mostly sitting in section three.
Team Israel received special Shabbat accommodations – they played both Thursday night and Friday at noon to avoid a potential play-on-Shabbat issue. With both games ending in victory, the blue-andwhite will play in Sunday night’s final with a berth in the WBC main draw on the line.
Welcome to the Qualifiers of the World Baseball Classic double elimination tournament.
One team – Israel, Great Britain, Brazil or Pakistan will advance to Pool B in the first round of the 2017 World Baseball Classic taking place March 7-10, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea.
It is not so easy to get to MCU Park in Coney Island, along the Atlantic Ocean, at the tip of Brooklyn.
Fans battling rush-hour traffic and a 90-minute commute from Manhattan exited the N and Q subway trains at Stillwell Station in Coney Island, affectionately marked “Last Stop.”
My train car coincidentally included Michael Zalta, the Yeshiva of Flatbush graduate selected to sing the US national anthem. Some groups in attendance Thursday night included Yachad-National Council for Jewish Disabilities, Solomon Schechter of Westchester, Manhattan Day School, Yeshiva University, USY and the choir of Yeshiva of Flatbush, who sang Hatikvah. No one seemed to mind the long security lines and extra police presence outside of MCU Park.
Once inside, fans experienced baseball with a few surprises.
Jeremy Posner, attending with wife Paulette and three sons – Harry (10), Jacob (8), and Isaac (5) – was moved when the players on team Israel removed their caps for the national anthems to reveal blue Team Israel yarmulkes on the heads of each player and coach.
Steven Cohen, vice president of the Single-A Brooklyn Cyclones of the New York-Penn League, and affiliated with the New York Mets, is pleased that Major League Baseball felt that MCU Park would be the perfect venue for the World Baseball Classic.
Making his way around the stadium, speaking with fans and watching from many vantage points, Cohen could hardly contain his excitement.
“The event is exciting, it is well-received and it is great for baseball.”
Two old friends sitting five rows behind home plate, Seth Golob and Joe Orenstein have enjoyed playing sports together since their days as campers at Camp Ramah.
“Playing in a game like this has always been a childhood fantasy. Having a chance to see Team Israel play is amazing,” said Golob.
Friday’s noon game for Israel vs Brazil game offered Jewish day schools a unique opportunity to come out and cheer on the blue-and-white.
Magen David Yeshivah in Brooklyn attended with 350 students. School principal Rabbi Alan Berkowitz saw the game as “an opportunity to fully enjoy the great American pastime at its best while connecting with Medinat Yisrael.”
While the Posner children, sporting Team Israel hats, were enjoying Team Israel’s Thursday night comeback victory, the Posner parents realized the homework they had packed for the ballpark was not yet completed.
By the time they arrived to their subway stop in Manhattan, two of three boys were asleep in their parents’ arms. They still made it to school on time Friday morning.
When Israel plays in the final on Sunday night, expect five Posners in section 3, row C, with all their homework already done!
NEW HAVEN – Even before Adam Greenberg made headlines a couple of weeks ago by signing a one-day contract with the Miami Marlins and swinging his bat as a one-day-only Major League Baseball player, the Guilford native was making the Connecticut Jewish community proud by stepping up to the plate for the State of Israel during the recent World Baseball Classic (WBC) qualifiers. And Greenberg wasn’t the only Connecticut native to do so – Josh Zeid, who grew up in New Haven, was right there with him.
It all began when Greenberg, who now lives in Branford, and Zeid were among those selected to Team Israel’s 28 player roster, which was managed by Brad Ausmus, the former Major League catcher who was born in New Haven.
Team Israel had a very strong showing in its first ever WBC qualifying tournament, held Sept, 19-21 at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla. The modified round robin format tournament featured teams from France, Spain, South Africa and Israel. Israel defeated South Africa 7-2 in game 1, and Israel defeated Spain 4-2 in its second game. Israel played Spain again in the final game of the tournament — the winner would advance to the main WBC tournament, to be held in March 2013. Israel lost a heartbreaker, 9-7 in ten innings, before a crowd of 1,500.
The World Baseball Classic is considered to be the premier international baseball tournament. Run by World Baseball Classic, Inc, it is sanctioned by the International Baseball Federation. Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Player’s Association together created the event, which has thus far been played twice. Team Japan, the reigning World Baseball Classic Champion, won the tournament in both 2006 and 2009.
Haim Katz, president of the Israel Association of Baseball (IAB) was excited when he was approached by the World Baseball Classic to “present motivation and a potential roster” for a team to potentially participate in the 2012 qualifiers. “Somewhat to our surprise, they accepted us,” notes Katz with a laugh. “We would have preferred to play the tournament in Israel, but we have no field — we’re are working on it!” Katz reports that there is an initiative underway to build a $5 million field and ballpark in Ra’anana. The city has reportedly agreed to provide land and the Israel Sports Authority will pay $1.5 million; the IAB would be responsible for the rest of the funds. Katz reports that he and the IAB have always sought to increase awareness of Israel baseball in the U.S. and Israel, to try to engage North American Jews around Israel baseball, and to build bridges with the U.S. and Israel.
Fortunately, Team Israel was able to reach far beyond the Jewish state’s borders for its pool of potential players. According to WBC tournament rules, countries are allowed to field players who are eligible for citizenship in a given country. Thus, in Israel’s case, anyone eligible for citizenship under the Law of Return was permitted to try out for Israel’s team. In fact, only three Israeli citizens actually made the team. The rest were American Jews — like Zeid and Greenberg.
Adam Greenberg, interviewed by this reporter for a Dec. 1, 2004 Jewish Ledger article, attended Hebrew school and celebrated his bar mitzvah at Temple Beth Tikvah in Madison, excelled at baseball, soccer and basketball at Guilford High, and was a scholar/athlete at the University of North Carolina. In 2002, Greenberg was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the ninth round of the First-Year player draft. He spent several summers in the Florida State League, then a Double A team in West Tennessee, then a Triple A team in Iowa.
Greenberg’s promotion to the Major League Chicago Cubs was watched with great excitement. He was called to the plate as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning of a July 9, 2005 game against the Florida Marlins. Sadly, the now 31-year old was struck in the back of the head by a 92 mile per hour fastball in his first and only major league appearance. He suffered a concussion and many months of dizziness, headaches, double vision and nausea.
In recent years, Greenberg has gotten married, started Lu Rong Living, a dietary supplements company, and returned to playing baseball. Greenberg was invited by Manager Ausmus to serve as his special (non-playing) assistant for Team Israel. When former Major Leaguer Gabe Kapler bowed out of the roster due to a groin injury, Greenberg was invited to join the 28-man roster.
Prior to the qualifiers, mother Wendy Greenberg reported, “I am so excited and proud of Adam—and even more excited that he is getting the opportunity to do what he loves to do. Adam loves the game. He plays his heart out and it shows!” After the first game, Wendy said, “I felt so many emotions—I was overwhelmed and proud—to hear Hatikvah played was just, wow! And when he had his first at bat, I had tears in my eyes.”
Adam Greenberg was pleased with the opportunity to be part of Team Israel and to play the game he loves. “I am honored to have this opportunity,” he said. “It is the start of part two of my career. It was such an amazing group of guys. They were all in it for the right reasons — it didn’t seem like we were only together for ten days.”
Greenberg is excited that plans are underway for a team trip to Israel—with possible clinics for Israelis. “It will change the game over there,” he noted. Greenberg was excited “just wearing the uniform with the word ‘Israel’ across my chest. I have always wanted to go to Israel, but I haven’t been yet.”
Following the World Baseball Classic, Greenberg decided to stay in Florida to work out with his hitting coach and stay in shape. While there, he found out that the Miami
Marlins would sign Greenberg to a one-day contract that would earn him his first and only official Major League at-bat on Tuesday, Oct. 2 against the New York Mets. While he struck out on three pitches against the Met’s ace, RA Dickey, it was a dream come true.
Zeid, 25, is a 6’ 5” pitcher who was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the tenth round of the 2009 Major League baseball June amateur draft. Zeid just finished his season with the Corpus Cristi Hooks, a AA affiliate of the Houston Astros. Zeid’s parents, Ira and Karen Zeid, currently live in New Haven and are members of Congregation B’nai Jacob in Woodbridge. Zeid lives in Houston, Tex. with his fiancée, Stephanie.
“We are very proud of our son,” says Zeid’s mother, Karen Zeid, of her son’s participation on Team Israel. “As we watched the games from our home computer, we loved seeing Josh in his uniform, spectators wrapped in Israeli banners, Israeli flags being waved, Hava Nagilah being played between innings, the sense of cultural pride – the nachas and kvelling that goes deep into our hearts. When Josh became a bar mitzvah in the year 2000, he shared during his bar mitzvah speech that his dream was to play professional baseball. He also referenced his admiration for Sandy Koufax.” Zeid was scheduled to go to Israel in 2001 to play in the Maccabia Games. “Josh was the youngest player to be named to the U.S.A. Jr. baseball team,” Karen notes. “Because of the unrest in Israel, all of the junior sporting events were canceled. This was a big disappointment as he had looked forward to playing and traveling in Israel. This was to be our first trip to Israel as well.”
Zeid has not yet traveled to Israel, but he did get several chances to play for Team Israel. He pitched in all 3 games, got out of a tough inning with one out and two on against South Africa, and earned a save in Israel’s victory over Spain. Zeid also pitched two innings in the championship game against Spain, Zeid’s size 13 New Balance game-worn cleats are currently listed on eBay, with half the proceeds from the sale going to charity.
Though baseball is a ‘Jewish sport’, its roots in Israel are still taking hold. Team Israel is taking to the baseball diamond this week in South Florida in a bid to participate in the March 2013 World Baseball Classic. How did the blue and white players get there, and what are their chances?
In the baseball world, South Florida is associated with Major League Baseball’s spring training. And September is traditionally the season of pennant races and league championships. But starting this September 19, Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida [90 minutes north of Miami and half an hour south of where the New York Yankees train each March] will host teams from France, Spain, South Africa and Israel — all part of the World Baseball Classic (WBC) qualifying round. There, a handful of well-known Jewish former Major League players will on hand as they help Israel qualify for a spot in the March 2013 World Baseball Classic.
While not as well known as Major League Baseball’s World Series or even the Little League Baseball World Series, the World Baseball Classic is considered to be the premier international baseball tournament. It is run by WBCI (World Baseball Classic, Inc.) and is sanctioned by the International Baseball Federation. Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Player’s Association together created the event, which has thus far been held twice. Team Japan, the reigning World Baseball Classic Champion, won the tournament in both 2006 and 2009. More than 1.5 million fans from all over the world have attended the tournament to date.
Between September and November, four qualifying tournaments will be held in various locations around the world. Host cities include Jupiter, FL (USA), Regensberg, Germany, Panama City, Panama, and New Taipei City, Taiwan. Six games will be played at each location, following a modified double elimination format. Teams competing include Canada, Great Britain, Czech Republic, Panama, Brazil, Colombia, Nicaragua, Philippines, Thailand, New Zealand and China Taipei.
In March 2013, the first round of the main tournament will get underway in Phoenix, Arizona. The second round will take place in Miami, Florida, and the championship round will be held at AT &T Park in San Francisco, California.
Israel is participating in its first WBC. The pool of potential players expands beyond actual citizens of the State of Israel since, according to WBC tournament rules, countries are allowed to field players who are eligible for citizenship in a given country. In Israel’s case, anyone eligible for citizenship under the Law of Return is permitted to try out for Israel’s team. This may be good news for the Jewish State — given the overall weak popularity of baseball in Israel, and Israel’s relatively poor record of producing homegrown baseball standouts.
While an article on the Israel Baseball League website, “Baseball in the Times of Our Forefathers,” satirically suggests that baseball has been played in Israel since biblical times, baseball was likely introduced to Israel on July 4, 1927, at the Sephardic Orphanage in Jerusalem when the governess of the orphanage handed out baseball equipment to her charges. Later, in the 1970s, immigrants from North America began playing baseball upon their arrival in Israel.
Baseball has been slow to catch on in Israel. Between 1,000 and 3,000 people currently play in baseball and softball leagues in Israel, though few regulation sized fields exist
Baseball has, nonetheless, been slow to catch on in Israel. Between 1,000 and 3,000 people currently play in baseball and softball leagues in Israel, though few regulation sized fields exist.
In December 1986, the Israel Association of Baseball was formed to create an infrastructure and promote baseball in Israel. In July 2005, the Israel Baseball League was formed, and in June 2007, six teams kicked off the inaugural season of the IBL.
The IBL existed as a league for only one season. The Israel Association of Baseball (IAB) currently exists to promote baseball in Israel. There are currently five leagues with teams playing in sixteen centers from Tel Aviv to Beit Shemesh, Ra’anana, Jerusalem and Even Yehuda. The IAB trains coaches and umpires, hosts coaches and teams from overseas, and sends youth teams to tournaments around the world.
Haim Katz, the IAB President, is passionate about baseball, a game he calls “the most Jewish sport in North America.” Katz, 59, moved from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Israel in 1978. His love of baseball was “handed down from my father,” reports Katz; he traces his interest in baseball to 1960, the year he attended the World Series. He attended Game 2 when his Pittsburgh Pirates lost to the New York Yankees, 16-3. He playfully notes that he is still a Pirates fan.
Katz says he and the IAB seek to increase awareness of Israel baseball in the US and Israel, try to engage North American Jews in Israel baseball, and build bridges with the US and Israel.
“We like to put Israel in a more positive light — not just to talk about nuclear bombs, but to show positive things about Israel — we have pretty much achieved our objective so far.”
Katz was extremely proud and excited when he was approached by the World Baseball Classic to “present motivation and a potential roster” for a team to potentially participate in the 2012 qualifiers. “Somewhat to our surprise, they accepted us!” notes Katz half jokingly. “We would have preferred to play the tournament in Israel, but we have no field; we are working on it!” (Katz is referring to an initiative to build a $5 million field/ballpark in Ra’anana. The city has reportedly agreed to provide land and the Israel Sports Authority will pay $1.5 million; the IAB would be responsible for the rest of the funds.)
In assembling the team for the WBC tournament in Florida, Katz has tried to offer opportunities to up and coming Israeli players, while also including well-known, Jewish former Major Leaguers.
Brad Ausmus, 43, who spent 18 years as a major league catcher and who currently works in the San Diego Padres organization, will serve as manager. While the official roster has not yet been announced, former major leaguers Shawn Green and Gabe Kapler have, according to Ausmus, “agreed to serve in some type of player/coach capacity.”
The 39-year-old Green, who played for four major league teams and hit 328 home runs in his 15 year career, will likely serve as the team’s hitting coach. Kapler, 36, played for 12 years and won a World Series with the 2004 Boston Red Sox; he retired in 2010.
Other players rumored to be considering roles with the team (either for the qualifiers, or in March 2013, should Israel advance to the tournament) include: Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, Chicago White Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis, Texas Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler, New York Mets first baseman Ike Davis, San Diego Padres right-handed pitcher Jason Marquis, Boston Red Sox Catcher Ryan Lavarnway, and New York Mets infielder Josh Satin. There has recently been some online talk about granting a spot to Adam Greenberg, 31, who, in 2005 as a member of the Chicago Cubs was hit in the head by the first pitch of his only major league appearance. Former Major Leaguer Art Shamsky, who played for the 1969 “Miracle Mets,” will serve as Israel’s ambassador to the World Baseball Classic Qualifiers.
Manager Ausmus, who grew up in a not very Jewishly connected family in Connecticut (USA), was contacted by Haim Katz over a year ago, via an email to the San Diego Padres organization. He, Peter Kurz, the Secretary General of the IAB, Green and Kapler met. Ausmus soon after agreed to be part of Team Israel.
“When I was appointed manager, it became very clear that I needed to visit Israel, since I never had. At the end of May, my wife and I spent about a week in Israel, traveling to tourist sites, seeing baseball facilities, meeting some of Israel’s baseball players. I loved floating in the Dead Sea, surfing in the Mediterranean Sea at Tel Aviv (and bragging about it to my surfer friends in Tel Aviv), and going to Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem just amazed me — the history, the ruins, the vitality of the people in Jerusalem is phenomenal — you don’t feel this type of energy anywhere else in the world. I was awestruck by my visit there. And my meeting with President Peres, arranged by the US Ambassador, Daniel Shapiro, was amazing — he is an impressive man — I get the feeling he could slide in to any situation with people of any background and make them feel comfortable.”
“We are extremely fortunate to have someone of Brad’s caliber to manage the team. His skills and knowledge of baseball are top rank — and the team has top talent. Brad sees the bigger picture here, he is a pleasure to work with, and he is a mensch!” observes Katz.
Some 18 members of the team coming from Israel are playing several exhibition games in the Miami area on September 11 and 12. The rest of the team will join on September 13 and play several more exhibition games in South Florida. Team Israel’s first tournament game will be on September 19 against South Africa and it will play a second game on Friday, September 21, against either France or Spain, with possible games on Saturday or Sunday if it advances.
Nathan Mittag of Fairfield nearly had to make that choice — between a job offer with a Manhattan investment bank and an offer to play baseball with the Raanana Express of the newly formed Israel Baseball League.
Mittag, a recent graduate with honors from Bucknell University in Pennsylvania where he majored in economics, was supposed to start his job with the firm of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods (KBW) just after July 4, but he didnt want to let the opportunity to play professional baseball in Israel this summer pass him by.
Mittag asked his new boss at the bank for a two month deferment of his start date and waited nervously for the reply.
The boss said I can play! announced the relieved right-handed pitcher.
Mittags journey to the IBL began in the Flatbush/Marine Park neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Mittag spent the first ten years of his life attending public school and Hebrew school and playing sports near his East 18th Street and Kings Highway home.
I played on travel baseball teams where I played shortstop and pitched, he said.
When Nathan was 10, his father, Barry, a math professor, received an offer to teach at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield. The family relocated to Fairfield. Now, Professor Mittag is the head of the graduate program at Western Connecticut State University, and mother Susan is executive director of Congregation Beth El in Fairfield. Sister Rachel, four years younger than Nathan, will attend Southern Connecticut State University in the fall. Nathan celebrated his bar mitzvah at Congregation Bnai Israel in Bridgeport, and the family currently belongs to Congregation Beth El in Fairfield.
At Fairfield High School (at the time, it was called Fairfield High; now, there are two schools-Fairfield Ward and Fairfield Ludlow), Mittag played on both the basketball and the baseball teams all four years. He even made the varsity squad as a freshman.
We won the State Championship my junior year – and I had three wins in the state championship, he noted.
This was a turning point for Mittag.
This was a big deal for me. At the beginning of the season, I wasnt getting much playing time. Then, after the three wins and the championship, colleges began contacting me.
Mittag faced a difficult decision when various Division I and Division 3 colleges, including Yale, Williams, Wesleyan, UConn, Lehigh and Bucknell expressed interest in him.
I realized I could use baseball, and grades and SATs to look at the best schools. And I knew I wanted to play for a Division 1 school. Bucknell sold itself. I loved it. I had an absolutely great experience, he said.
During his college summers, he played in various summer leagues including the prestigious Cape Cod Amateur League, a Newport, Rhode Island league, and for the Outer Bank Dare Devils in North Carolina. In Mittags freshman year, he was mainly a closer, pitching 38 innings. He then moved to the starting rotation. In Mittags four years at Bucknell, he threw more than 200 innings.
When they announced that at Senior Day, I started to feel my arm to see if it was still there!
In Nathans senior year, his coach forwarded an email from two representatives of the Israel Baseball League — Martin Berger, a Miami trial lawyer, president and chief operating officer of the IBL and Dan Duquette, former General Manager of the Boston Red Sox and Montreal Expos and the IBLs director of Baseball Operations.
I was invited to attend tryouts in Miami, but I didnt go. I had just gotten a job offer, and I couldnt afford the airfare, he recalled.
So Mittag was shocked and pleased when he received an offer to play – without even trying out.
I spoke with them and it was for real – I had questions about the living arrangement, the salary, and other things.
But Mittags biggest issue was his commitment to his job at the bank. He had already agreed to an early July start date, two weeks after the IBLs June 24th inaugural game.
Mittag was overjoyed when KBW agreed to let him play. Mittag, 62 and 190 pounds, who while at Bucknell was an active member of Hillel, said he is excited to be able to spend two months in Israel.
My family are Zionists, but I have never been to Israel before, he said. I always wanted to go on birthright israel, but the dates never worked out with my baseball schedule. I am so excited to see life in Israel and to be surrounded by Jewish people. I cant wait to see the Wall. And I have heard such great things about Tel Aviv.
The opening day of the Israel Baseball League is June 24. At the outset, the league will comprise six teams: the Bet Shemesh Blue Sox, the Modi’in Miracle, the Netanya Tigers, the Petach Tikva Pioneers, the Ra’anana Express, and the Tel Aviv Lightning.