Ten Jewish-American players and staff will visit Israel ahead of the country’s first appearance at the World Baseball Classic (WBC) in March.
Former New York Mets players Josh Zeid and Ike Davis, Oakland’s Ryan Lavarnway, Corey Baker of the Cardinals and free agent Cody Decker - all pivot players in Israel’s WBC Qualifier triumph in September - will make the trip. Ty Kelly (Mets), Jon Moscot (Reds), free agents Sam Fuld and Jeremy Bleich, as well as Gabe Kapler, Los Angeles Dodgers Director of Player Development, round out the group.
"The team is clearly the most impressive Jewish baseball team ever assembled, and we are very proud that they will be representing our country at the WBC,” Peter Kurz, president of the Israeli Baseball Association, said. “The trip will be an excellent opportunity for them to learn about Israel and to meet the teams and players in Israel who will be supporting them at the WBC.”
The visit, commencing January 3, 2016, will last a week and feature Israel’s premier attractions including Jerusalem, the Masada and the Dead Sea. The group will meet with baseball officials and work out on fields around the country. At Baptist Village outside Tel Aviv they will meet with little leaguers to help grow the game in Israel. MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo says, “It’s been slow going so far…[we are] trying it introduce it to a new generation - I think this will go a long way.” Israel has 80 teams spread across 16 cities and five leagues, and over 1,000 regular players.
A documentary of the tour titled Heading Home is being made by Mayo, in partnership with acclaimed film producers, Ironbound. The goal, according to Mayo, is to “get a sense of what the country is like… and to see what it means to play for team Israel and be a Jewish baseball player… and to help them bond with those playing in Israel.”
Israel finished 2016 ranked #41 in the world. The WBCQ roster included 20 MLB-affiliated players and former all-star starting pitcher, Jason Marquis. For the upcoming WBC the team has already added major leaguers Ty Kelly and Seattle Mariner Danny Valencia. Other options include Ian Kinsler and Alex Bregman, who have expressed a desire to play in the tournament. The 28-man roster will be announced on February 6, 2017.
Led by Jerry Weinstein of the Colorado Rockies, the coaching staff is already set. It includes the self-proclaimed, ‘King of Jewish Baseball’, Nate Fish and Justine Siegal, the first female coach in MLB history.