Israeli entrant into Classic has big league roots

Israeli entrant into Classic has big league roots

Israeli entrant into Classic has big league roots
NEW YORK -- Sixty-four years after the foundation of the State of Israel, it will finally compete on baseball's biggest international stage ... with a little help.

Former Major Leaguer Shawn Green will join fellow American-born former big leaguers Gabe Kapler and Brad Ausmus on Team Israel later this year as it participates with 27 other teams in the qualifying round of the World Baseball Classic.

Green, who retired from the big leagues in 2007 after 15 seasons, said in addition to qualifying for next year's Classic, he wants to raise the profile of the Israeli national baseball team.

"To be labeled a Jewish player in sports, it's a big deal because obviously there's not a ton," Green said at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday. "If we can get there, it'll be probably be the most interesting story of the WBC. You can almost picture [David] Letterman and some of those others talking about it."

If the Israeli squad can make it through the qualifying round, its chances in the competition are intriguing. Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, White Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis, Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler, Mets first baseman Ike Davis and Padres right-handed pitcher Jason Marquis are all current Major Leaguers with Jewish backgrounds. While nobody has agreed outright just yet, all the players listed have been contacted to play for Team Israel, and none have declined.

"These are guys that we've all approached, we've all spoken to them, and they are all very enthusiastic about playing for team Israel," Israel Association of Baseball Secretary General Peter Kurz said.

Green, Ausmus and Kapler were contacted about heading the nation's first entrance into the competition last November, when Israel Association of Baseball President Haim Katz and Kurz met with the three ballplayers in Los Angeles. The representatives from the State of Israel offered the opportunity to participate in whatever capacity the three players wanted. They dove in headfirst. Ausmus will be the team's manager -- a role Green said he expects the former catcher to eventually receive in the Majors -- and Green and Kapler are both going to serve as player/coaches for the both the qualifier and the tournament, should the team make it.

"I've always been connected to my Jewish roots," Green said. "It's been pretty well documented throughout my career, whether it's Yom Kippur or through Jewish organizations that I've been tied to at different times. I've always felt like the World Baseball Classic, even before it came into existence, would be a great idea not just for Israel, but to really grow baseball throughout the world.

"This is an opportunity to do it for a country that represents myself and all the other Jewish players out there. It's a way for all of us to come together and help Israel and help baseball, and also have a chance for several different generations of Jewish baseball players to get together and put on the same uniform."

With the qualifier in September, while the Major League season is still in swing, Team Israel will have to rely on Green, Kapler and a limited list of Jewish Minor Leaguers to get through to the tournament. Ausmus and Kurz have already downsized a list of 100 Jewish Minor Leaguers down to the final 35. At some point in August, they'll have to cut down to the final 28 players. The question remains whether Israel can take players from Major League teams' 40-man rosters if the players are not a part of September callups.

Red Sox Catcher Ryan Lavarnway, 24, remains an option if he isn't called up, and New York Mets infielder Josh Satin -- called up earlier this season -- was recently removed from the team's 40-man roster.

Israel's first game will be on Sept. 19 against South Africa and it will play a second game on Friday, Sept. 21, against either France or Spain, with possible games on Saturday or Sunday if it advances. The draw is lucky for Israel, as the games will take place at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla., where a large Jewish population exists in the surrounding areas.

"If we had gotten Tel Aviv, it maybe could have been a little bit better," Kurz said. "But I think Jupiter, Fla. is the next best place."

As Kurz likes to say, Israel is a country where baseball is played on an assortment of soccer fields. There's one playable, lit field in the state, which lies in the Baptist Village of Petach Tikva, about 15 minutes due East of Tel Aviv. While there's a National team that participates in the European Championships -- where 34-year-old Israeli baseball legend Shlomo Lipetz pitched 16 straight scoreless innings in the same day -- there's a sense that any Israeli will be far behind in talent to Jewish-American players from the Minor Leagues. A professional baseball league existed in Israel five years ago, but it shut down after one summer of minimal interest.

Still, Ausmus -- who made a pilgrimage to Israel in May and met with President Shimon Peres -- wants a few Israelis on the team, and he has dreams that one day the team will be made-up of at least 50 percent Israelis. The Israel Association of Baseball is currently traveling around the United States attempting to raise funds for a $4 million dollar facility that will be located in Raanana Park, Israel, for a national baseball hub to grow talent.

"I told Brad two conflicting things. I told him I want to win the qualifiers, and I told him I want to have as many Israelis as I can on the team," Kurz joked. "It's nice having a WBC team, and it's nice having Shawn Green play for our team and nice putting Jewish Americans on the field there, but it'll be a lot nicer to have baseball in Israel. That's the goal of MLB -- to expand baseball around the globe."

If Israel makes it out of the qualifiers, Ausmus, Green and Kapler will get to work recruiting the active Jewish Major Leaguers to join their cause.

"If there's a connection that I have, I'll reach out to those guys," Green said. "Assuming we get past step one, I'm willing to reach out to players for step two."

Ethan Asofsky is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.