MLB.com Columnist

Jonathan Mayo

'A huge honor': Players embark on Israel tour

'A huge honor': Players embark on Israel tour

LAS VEGAS -- If you will it, it is no dream.

Theodor Herzl wrote those words at the turn of the 20th century, when big thinkers merely dreamed about the creation of the state of Israel. Perhaps 10 American Jewish players -- many of whom will play for Team Israel in Korea for the World Baseball Classic in March -- didn't have quite as lofty ambitions when they boarded a plane to Israel on Tuesday. They are hoping, however, to have a lasting impact on the country and in the efforts to grow baseball there.

"It's surreal, to be in this position," said pitcher Josh Zeid, who threw for Team Israel in its unsuccessful qualifying attempt for the 2012 WBC and in the successful bid this past fall in Brooklyn. "To be playing for Team Israel, it's a huge honor. We can show Israel we really mean what we say: We want to win for Israel. So we're excited for the opportunity to go there, and hopefully they're happy to see us."

World Baseball Classic tickets

In addition to Zeid, others on this six-day tour include Ike Davis, Cody Decker, Ryan Lavarnway,  Jon MoscotSam Fuld and Ty Kelly -- all players who've spent time in the big leagues. Minor Leaguers Corey Baker and Jeremy Bleich also made the trip, as well as former big leaguer Gabe Kapler, who is now the Dodgers' farm director.

The players, accompanied by spouses, fiancees, friends and mothers, are also being joined by filmmakers from Ironbound Films, who will be shooting for a documentary film project titled "Heading Home." There will be meetings with dignitaries, a visit to an air force base, exploration of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, a trip to the Dead Sea and Masada and, of course, some baseball mixed in. The players will get to see the top young players in Israel, sign autographs for Little Leaguers and even practice a little.

"I tried not to look at the itinerary too much because I want to be surprised a little bit," Decker said. "I'm looking forward to seeing Tel Aviv the most. All I've heard for the last 20 years of my life is how beautiful a city Tel Aviv is.

"I'm looking forward to being in that part of the world. I've never been anywhere near that part of the world. I've never crossed the Atlantic. It's going to be really special."

Zeid's great relief outing

"Beyond just the baseball and meeting those kids, signing autographs and seeing the smiles on their faces, I'm really excited to see all of the holy sites," Zeid added. "Growing up Jewish, that's a big deal, going to Jerusalem and seeing the Wall will be amazing. Even seeing the other sites -- my wife is not Jewish, so I'm looking forward to being able to enjoy that with her and seeing all that we have in common. Israel is a wonderful country and it offers a lot of people a lot of homes."

Both Zeid and Decker also see this trip as making up for opportunities to visit Israel in the past. It's righting an old wrong.

"In 2001, I was supposed to go with Team USA to the World Maccabi Games in Israel against other teenagers," Zeid said. "There were some big issues in Israel and around the world at the time. I was upset I wasn't able to go. Getting this chance now to go and do something my sister has done, my mother has done, I can't wait to explore and continue down that path."

"I was offered a Birthright trip when I was much younger," Decker said. "I never could go because I was always playing baseball. It's almost like I'm getting that opportunity now. I get to do it for something I'm as passionate about as this WBC team. I can't really express how I feel about it. Ask me again in about 5 days."

Weinstein on growth of baseball

It's not just about seeing the sites. Even though for all but Moscot, who was there when he was eight years old, Bleich, who went on a Birthright trip in 2011, and Baker, who did Birthright a year ago, this is their first trip to the Middle East. This trip will allow players to continue to build that connection and help baseball grow in Israel.

"I hope it builds a ton of excitement," Decker said. "I hope every bar in Tel Aviv has our games on. I hope that everyone, if they aren't baseball fans, they become baseball fans. I hope they see what we're trying to do and that there's an overall excitement because we're excited.

"I was lucky enough to win a championship in low [Class] A and in Double-A. I was lucky enough to go to the big leagues. No moment was better than celebrating that win against Great Britain in the [WBC] qualifier. I can't quantify why it was more exciting. It felt bigger than anything I'd ever done."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.