Interview: MLBer and Team Israel Hero Ryan Lavarnway

When Ryan Lavarnway got called up to the Majors, Jewish baseball fans were psyched.  The catcher for the Boston Red Sox. Wow! But we didn’t get enough of him. We knew we could hit, play the hardest position in baseball, and lead. Then Team Israel formed and Lavarnway found himself in the middle of the lineup crushing the ball at the highest level. Meet Mr. MVP Ryan Lavarnway.

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1) How did you get your start in baseball?

My dad always played baseball and softball, so I was always around it. And then when I was in Kindergarten, my teacher told my parents I wasn’t great at sharing, and recommended I get involved in team sports. That was that.

2) You have been with several teams; which has been the most fun clubhouse?

Each group of guys I’ve had the opportunity to play with has been so different. And I have been at such different points of my life and career that I was so different myself in each situation. All the guys I got drafted with and grew up in the game with throughout the minors. Getting to be a part of the team that won the World Series with the Red Sox in 2013 was an absolute dream come true. The Orioles were awesome to play with also. I’d have to say Adam Jones is the most down to earth, hard working and relatable superstar I’ve ever played with. And then Team Israel was incredible to be with a bunch of guys I had SO much in common with. I’ve made a lot of great friends along the way.

3) Looking at your career what has been the most rewarding moment(s)?

The most rewarding times are when I get to meet and talk to people who love baseball as much as I do. When I am at the batting cage or the mall back home in Denver during the off season and I see someone with a Red Sox shirt… or a Team Israel hat… and we get to talking about how they were up at 6 am watching the WBC games in Korea… or how they named their dog Fenway when they got him in 2013. Baseball has been such a huge part of my life, and I love to feel and share that connection with people.

4) What is the hardest thing about transitioning from the minors to the major leagues?

The hardest part as a catcher is trying to work with pitchers as seamlessly as possible after not seeing them for a while. If I get called up mid-year, these pitchers have been going through ups and downs and working on their game the whole season. I want to be able to support them and give them what they need to be their best, so the faster I am able to catch up with what they’ve been working on and get on the same page, the better.

5) Why did you commit to playing for Team Israel and what was the experience like?

It was an easy decision for me.  The tournament is the most prestigious international baseball tournament in the world right now. It was a great opportunity to play, and also a chance to explore my own relationship with Judaism.

6) You were a vital member of the team and the MVP. What did that mean to you?

My relationship with the guys and what we accomplished as a team honestly mean more than anything individual.  We set out with three goals: To make it out of the Korea pool into the second round in Japan, to help grow the game of baseball internationally and especially in Israel, and to represent ourselves and the country of Israel the best we could. And I am confident that we were able to accomplish all three!

7) Do you have post playing day plans? Can you see yourself coaching Team Israel one day?

I don’t know what life will look like after I’m done playing. But I would definitely love to continue to be a part of Team Israel as long as they’ll have me! 

8) What was your Jewish upbringing like?

Religion was not a big part of my family growing up. We would celebrate holidays to have something to celebrate, but it was never important to connect with the religious meaning of the holiday or to be members of the religious community. As I’ve grown up and my wife, Jamie, and I have been creating our own family, it is important to us to have a Jewish household and be members of our Jewish community.

9) What do readers not know about you?

 I love to work with my hands. Whether its experimenting with different art mediums or doing remodeling/building on my house… I always love having a project to work on.

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