Israel's national baseball team

Israel's national baseball team at the European Championships in Germany. 

I have had enough with the politics of forming a government here and of impeaching a president in the United States. Enough of global warming and insulting a teenage girl trying to rally the world to her cause. Enough of boycott, divestment and sanctions and terror threats.

Right now I just want to think about baseball. Here in Israel the baseball is, well, Olympian.

That’s because on Sept. 22, Israel’s national baseball team qualified for a spot in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, only the second team to do so behind host Japan, which gets an automatic place.

Oh, and only six national teams from around the world will compete at the games, where baseball is making an appearance for the first time since 2008.

The accomplishment feels nothing short of miraculous. And it certainly would not have happened without the commitment of nearly two dozen Jewish-American players who made the huge commitment to join the Israeli team.

Unlike other American Jews who have played with Israel in the World Baseball Classic, who only have to be eligible for Israeli citizenship in order to participate, Olympic players must be actual citizens. And Israel is not the only country who has granted dual citizenship to American ballplayers to add experience to their national teams with big Olympic dreams.

While some of the American players already had Israeli citizenship through Israeli parents who long ago left the country to work in the United States, most have claimed their citizenship in recent months, during which time they also soaked up their new country with visits to religious, recreational and educational sites such as Yad Vashem, which reportedly has only strengthened their resolve to represent Team Israel.

Some players, such as outfielder Jeremy Wolf, 25, who played in the minor leagues and visited Israel on a Birthright trip, plan to make Israel a full- or part-time home.

Wolf and his teammates told the Washington Post in interviews that their Olympic mission also includes exciting more Israeli kids about playing baseball.

“That starts with the Olympic team acting as role models for a generation that has never seen ballplayers wearing Stars of David on their uniforms,” the Post noted.

And even though the players are not religious, they all wear blue kippot emblazoned with a white Star of David, so when they remove their caps at the beginning of the game for Israel’s national anthem “Hatikvah,” their heads remain covered.

Baseball does have a following in Israel, though mostly in communities with large populations of expat Americans. The Israel Association of Baseball, founded in 1986 by a group of former American baseball enthusiasts living in Israel, now has about 1,000 participants throughout the country from Little League to adult.

My two sons played in Little League here, and attending the games to cheer them on took me back to years of sitting on the sidelines watching my brother play in a Cleveland-area league. Same game, same enthusiasm and sportsmanship, an ocean apart. I am so grateful they had an opportunity to play America’s pastime as Israeli kids.

But lest you think the Israeli team is just a bunch of Americans playing ball in a different country, Team Israel catcher Nick Rickles, 29, whose day job is coach for the Milwaukee Brewers development teams, tried to set the record straight in an interview with Israel’s Sport 5 channel.

“They say we are Americans who play for the Israeli team, but we are Israeli in everything,” Rickles said. “We have citizenship and a passport. In the early days, a reporter asked me what it feels like to be a bunch of Americans playing for the team and I said ‘Where are the Americans? I see a bunch of Israelis, with the name Israel on our uniforms.’ None of us has his last name on the back of the uniform because we don’t play for ourselves. We play for the name that is on the front of the shirt – Israel. I am proud and happy to have played for Israel.”

He also said: “I do not agree at all with those who say that we’re a bunch of Americans playing. There’s a reason we have dual citizenship, we have earned the right to feel that Israel is a second home for us and we take it with us to the Olympics.”

Next year in Tokyo!


Marcy Oster is a former Ohio resident who covers the Middle East for the Columbus Jewish News from Karnei Shomron in the West Bank. To read more of Oster’s columns, visit columbusjewishnews.com/oster.

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