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June 25, 2021 12:43 pm
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Pittsburgh Pirates Coaching Staffer Heads to Tokyo Olympics With Team Israel

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Jeremy Bleich pitching for Team Israel. Photo: Margo Sugerman/Israel Baseball.

A former Major League Baseball (MLB) player and current staffer for the Pittsburgh Pirates is heading to Japan with Team Israel to compete in the 2021 Olympics.

Left-handed pitcher Jeremy Bleich, 34, played professional baseball for 11 years before beginning to work as a pitching analytics for the Pittsburgh Pirates coaching staff in 2020. During his MLB career, he pitched for 14 different teams and his first game in the majors was for the Oakland Athletics in 2018.

“Jeremy Bleich has been an integral part of our national team going back to the World Baseball Classic qualifiers in 2016. He has been valuable not only for what he brings the team on the mound, but also for his experience, insight and leadership,” Frankie Sachs, director of public relations at the Israel Association of Baseball (IAB), told The Algemeiner.

“Since he joined the Pittsburgh Pirates staff, Jeremy and team general manager Ben Cherington have worked in concert to make sure he could continue to train and arrive at the Olympics in peak shape,” Sachs continued. “We are grateful to the Pirates for allowing Jeremy to grow in his current position and to leave midseason to chase our Olympic dream.”

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Bleich pitched for Team Israel at the 2017 World Baseball Classic. In 2018, the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) announced that baseball would return to the Olympics, IAB President and Team Israel General Manager Peter Kurz told Israel’s KAN radio on Thursday. After the announcement, Kurz began building what he calls “the best baseball team that Israel has ever had.”

Bleich went on to pitch for Team Israel in the 2019 European Baseball Championship and the 2019 Europe/Africa Olympic Qualifier, which Israel won to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. Discussing the upcoming Olympic Games, Kurz said, “We’re ranked #18 in the world, but 18 is chai (Hebrew for ‘life’) and that’s a good number for us. We’re gonna be the underdog but I really do think we’re gonna surprise a lot of people.”

The Olympics in Tokyo will mark the first time Israel’s national baseball team has competed at the Olympic finals since 1976. The Games this summer will include six baseball teams: the host team Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Israel and the United States. The sixth team has not been announced yet. Team Israel opens Olympic play on July 29 against South Korea followed by a game on July 30 against the U.S.

Bleich will wear the number 30 jersey for Team Israel, which has only four native-born Israeli team members. In order to compete in the Olympics, the players must all be Israeli citizens, so Bleich and the rest of the American Jews on the team were required to make aliyah and acquire dual citizenship.

Bleich told the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle that the entire Pirates organization has supported him on journey with Team Israel. Pitching for Team Israel “was a perfect match for me to stick to my roots,” said the athlete, whose grandparents were Holocaust survivors. “Joining the Israeli Olympic team allowed me to be proud of my family and the path that my family has taken, while also playing baseball.”

Update: The Dominican Republic earned the sixth and final spot in the baseball tournament at the Tokyo Olympics after defeating Venezuela 8-5 on June 26.

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