Top Jewish ex-baseball players join Israel WBC bid
Three Jewish former major leaguers have joined Israel’s bid for
the 2013 World Baseball Classic, a move that could transform the
baseball backwater into a legitimate contender.
Shawn Green, Brad Ausmus and Gabe Kapler met this week in Los
Angeles with Israeli baseball officials and committed to helping
Israel field a competitive team in next year’s WBC qualifying
round, the three players told The Associated Press.
While it remains unclear if the recently retired players will
take the field themselves, their involvement provides an immediate
boost to Israeli baseball, which remains a niche sport in a country
where soccer and basketball reign supreme.
The 39-year-old Green, a two-time MLB All-Star, did not rule out
playing, saying he would help the team ”in any capacity.”
”If I felt like that was a role that the team needed, I would
prepare for it … I’m pretty confident that it wouldn’t be too
huge a mountain to climb to get back and play,” he said. ”I feel
a strong connection to Israel and it would be an honor to put on
In Israel, a small, devoted group of American ex-pats make up
the majority of the local leagues and the country has had moderate
success in international youth competitions. A professional league
was launched in 2007 but was dominated by foreign players and
lasted just one season.
But thanks to WBC tournament rules that allow countries to field
players who are eligible for citizenship – even if they are not
actual citizens – Israel can tap into the formidable pool of
Jewish-American baseball talent that includes 13 major
Ausmus said that, if Israel gets through next year’s qualifying
round, it ”could be a contender” in 2013. He said he would try to
reach out to Jewish major leaguers.
”My gut says they would consider playing,” he said.
”Today, the idea of bridging the gap between the generations of
American/Jewish baseball fans and baseball fans in Israel is an
enticing prospect,” Ausmus said in an email. ”Hopefully, this is
the beginning of renewed and long interest in baseball in
The current crop of Jewish major league talent includes stars
such as Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers, Kevin Youkilis of the
Boston Red Sox and Ian Kinsler of the Texas Rangers. An Israeli
”Dream Team” could also feature Ike Davis, Jason Marquis, Sam
Fuld, Danny Valencia and Scott Feldman.
”I think there will be a big interest. There are going to be a
good number of guys who want to participate,” said Kapler. ”I
think it makes sense to dream about it and imagine what could be if
the stars align.”
Israel is among 16 countries invited to play in next year’s
qualifying round, with the top four teams advancing to the WBC. The
2013 tournament will be the third World Baseball Classic. Japan won
the first two competitions, in 2006 and 2009.
Peter Kurz, the secretary-general of the Israel Association of
Baseball, said Israel would likely have to make it past the
qualifiers before any professionals would consider suiting up for
the team. He said the qualifying team would recruit recently
retired Jewish major leaguers as well as players in the minor
leagues and top U.S. colleges.
The star power of Green, Ausmus and Kapler makes the team ”much
more attractive,” Kurz said. He said one of the three is expected
to become the team manager, and all are going to contribute in
coaching, recruiting and fund raising.
”Our main goal is developing baseball in Israel by putting
together a team that can compete,” Kurz said.
Israeli baseball officials are hoping the trio will help draw
quality players to upcoming team tryouts, as well as donations for
a $3 million baseball complex being built in Raanana, in central
Israel, which will become the country’s central baseball hub.
According to the association, some 2,000 youths and adults play
baseball in Israel and it says the sport has enjoyed growth in
recent years since the experiment with the professional league. But
adding the former major league standouts takes the sport to a whole
new level in the Holy Land.
Green was perhaps the greatest Jewish baseball player since
Sandy Koufax, hitting 328 homers in a 15-year career with the
Toronto Blue Jays, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets and Arizona
Diamondbacks. Ausmus played 18 years in the big leagues, including
in the 1999 All-Star Game, and was a three-time Gold Glove winner
at catcher for the Houston Astros. Kapler had a productive 13-year
career and won a World Series title with the Boston Red Sox in
Kapler, known during his playing days as ”The Hebrew Hammer,”
is very open about his pride in being a Jewish role model. He has a
Star of David tattoo on his left calf – with the inscription
”Strong Willed, Strong Minded” in Hebrew – and the post-Holocaust
motto ”Never Again” with a flame and the dates of the Holocaust
tattooed on his right calf.
He said he is eagerly anticipating his first visit to
”It is a great thing when you can introduce a new sport to a
place that doesn’t have it in its blood yet,” he said.