Josh Zeid stared at the world-class batter 60 feet across from him. He was just one strike away from retiring Dae-Ho Lee and recording the final out to preserve Team Israel’s victory. Lee, the cleanup hitter for Team Korea had hit 31 home runs and knocked 98 RBI’s for the Fukuoka Hawks in 2015. Still, Zeid had no fear. His next pitch got Lee to swing and miss and Team Israel shocked the world.
Heading into the game, Team Korea was the clear favorite. Korea has been one of the more successful teams in World Baseball Classic history, including an appearance in the WBC final in 2009. Currently, there are nine players from Korea in the MLB.
Team Israel, on the other hand, was a huge underdog. In an article published on the eve of the tournament, ESPN compared the Israeli team to the Jamaican bobsled team of Olympic history. Team Israel has ZERO current MLB players. Launching a desperate call for Jewish players on social media, the recruiters for the team representing the Jewish state actually called synagogues in Colombia and the Dominican Republic in search of a miracle that might bring them the next Sandy Koufax.
Team Israel ended up turning to former MLB players such as Ike Davis, Jason Marquis, Sam Fuld, and Ryan Lavarnway, combined with young prospects Ty Kelly and Tyler Krieger, to make what everyone is calling its very own Jamaican bobsled team. Much like those Jamaican bobsledders, coach Jerry Weinstein truly believes his team can win and has instilled that confidence and fighting spirit into his players.
Just 12 hours after their win against Korea, Team Israel faced Chinese Taipei. Much to the disbelief of almost everyone, Team Israel pounded Chinese Taipei right from the opening batter. Hits by Sam Fuld, Ty Kelly and Ike Davis got Team Israel on base, and ultimately Tyler Krieger knocked them in. By the end of the first inning, Israel had chased off Chinese Taipei’s starting pitcher and Team Israel had a 4-0 lead. The rest of the game was more of the same as Israel clobbered Chinese Taipei’s pitchers, scoring a whopping 15 runs. With mascot “Mensch on the Bench” providing encouragement and entertainment to the players, Team Israel shocked the world by winning again (15-7) and starting off the tournament 2-0.
Team Netherlands’ victory over Taipei clinched Team Israel’s advancement to the second round of the Classic. Team Israel will now be placed in a group with three other teams in another round robin where the top two finishers in the group will advance to the final four. However Team Israel fares in upcoming games, they have declared themselves as competitors, and fans all over the world are proud of what these underdog players have already accomplished.
But for the Jewish fan in the Greater Washington area, it is more than just a baseball game. The tournament began with the Israeli national anthem, “Hatikvah,” being played before the first game. All the players removed their hats to reveal a kippah on each player’s head. It was an awesome moment of Jewish pride and identity.
As a member of the Berman High School baseball team, I will think about that image as I wear my own kippah under my baseball hat and proudly play a game that I love.
Roey Herzfeld is a sophmore at the Berman Hebrew Academy, where he will play for the school baseball team this year. He attends Ohev Sholom - The National Synagogue every Shabbat.