Powered by two home runs from San Diego Padres prospect Nate Freiman, Israel built a 7-0 lead en route to defeating South Africa, 7-3, in its first game of the World Baseball Classic’s (WBC) qualifying round on Wednesday in Jupiter, Fla.
Israel will square off next against either Spain or France on Friday, and the winner of the four-team bracket advances to the next phase of the international tournament in March 2013.
Before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish state finalized its 28-man roster for the WBC. The group is headlined by former Major League Baseball (MLB) outfielders Shawn Green and Gabe Kapler.
Second baseman Josh Satin, currently part of the New York Mets’ minor league system, is the team’s only other player with MLB experience, “Team Israel” said in a Sept. 14 press release. Green and Kapler are both player/coaches, and former MLB catcher Brad Ausmus manages the squad.
Israel is among 16 countries participating in the qualifying stage of the tournament.
“[Israel’s Word Baseball Classic team] impacts the North American and Israeli Jewish communities more than the athletes themselves,” Kapler told JNS.org last year. “Those people are going to be psyched. It’s worth dreaming about what could happen because this creates momentum and excitement, which in turn gets more people who want to participate [in the Israeli team’s efforts].”
This is Israel’s first WBC qualifier. The team is mainly comprised of American-born Jewish players who are allowed to compete because they can claim Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return. Three of the team’s 28 players were born in Israel—Shlomo Lipetz, Alon Leichman and Dan Rothem—and 10 are from the Los Angeles area.
While baseball was introduced to Israel in 1927, it has been slow to catch on. Currently, between 1,000 and 3,000 Israelis play in organized baseball or softball leagues, according to the Times of Israel. A number of attempts have been made to grow the sport in the Jewish state, including the Israel Baseball League (IBL), an experiment that ended after one year in 2007.
If Israel advances past the qualifying round, several current Jewish MLB stars may join the team, including Chicago White Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, and Texas Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler.