Is this the end for Team Israel Baseball? The answer is empathically NO! The Olympic results were heartbreaking. It was easy to see that Israel fielded a worthy team, one with an uphill climb but not impossible. If one or two calls or balls go differently Israel beats Korea and the Dominican Republic. Losing Jon Moscot in the first inning of the first game was brutal but the team did what this team always does; it fought back. So where are we now after the first (second) saga of this incredible story has come to a close?
It seems all but likely we have seen the end to the giant career of Ian Kinsler. But what an incredible way to go out. A legendary player came to the aid of Team Israel bringing it incredible notoriety and opening the door for other stars in the future. Danny Valencia showed he can still rake but he too, even in two years from now, might not be the same player. I have not spoken to Valencia but my guess is that this caps his storied career.
Some of our mainstays like Nick Rickles, Ty Kelly, Shlomo Lipetz, Zach Weiss, Jeremy Bleich, and others will likely not be back for the World Baseball Classic supposed to be played in 2023. Sadly, Moscot will hang up his cleats again due to injury but forever an Olympian. Maybe most significant to all of this will be Josh Zeid, who has worn this logo just as proudly and loudly as anyone else. Zeid has meant as much to Jewish Baseball as anyone without the last name Koufax or Greenberg. I can imagine him coaching or even managing this team in the future.
So who will be back? I believe there will be guys on this roster back in 2023. Ryan Lavarnway is the biggest question mark. His MLB career might be over but it is not out of the question that he picks up a bat in two years and captains this team for one last hooray. Blake Gailen could return as well. He is still playing and is in as good of shape as anyone on the team. Scottie Burcham, Alex Katz, and Jake Fishman seem the most likely to return. They are currently in Triple-A and regardless if they are in the Big Leagues or not they would easily be in shape and ready for the WBC.
Now who is the next crop of players? With the way Israel played and just as important the connections they built, I think Team Israel is a destination for players. Dean Kremer (Orioles), Josh Wolf (Indians/Guardians), Jacob Steinmetz (Diamondbacks), and Evan Kravetz (Reds) should figure in the pitching rotation. I believe we could see Kevin Pillar who has gone on record saying he would play, also possibly Hunter Bishop (Bishop) and Braden Bishop (Giants) who are brothers but only Hunter considers himself Jewish. We will await Rowdy Tellez (Brewers) and Garrett Stubbs (Astros) as well. There are of course other Minor Leaguers we will learn more about in the coming years.
All eyes will be on Alex Bregman (Astros) who couldn’t play a few years ago and Max Fried (Braves). Both could be asked by the USA but may choose to play for Israel. These are two of the very best Major Leaguers, and like Kinsler and Valencia their appearance would mean for more to Jews than Americans.
Others names to explore are Ryan Braun whose career seems to now be over but like Jason Marquis may give it one more go and Joc Pederson, who also in two years may be seeing his final at-bats. Pederson laced up for the original WBC run, though has not joined the team since and Braun knows Jewish fans have supported him but he has yet to return that love publicly. And finally Jason Kipnis and Paul Goldschmidt, both with one Jewish parent so they are eligible. In two years both will also be winding down their careers. With my little knowledge about them both, I think Kipnis is more likely to take the offer.
Finally, yesterday the team announced that Eric Holtz was stepping down as manager. Beloved by his players, Holtz’s shoes are big ones to fill. Team Israel Baseball has a lot of options. Sam Fuld was in the mix but has more responsibilities now in the Bigs. The team could look Gabe Kapler’s or Brad Ausmus’ way to see if they are interested. It is possible the team slides over Andrew Lorraine, Nate Fish or brings back Jerry Narron. But my prediction is that the team looks inwards. My leading candidate is Zeid. He will instantly have the players trust and knows the road traveled better than anyone else. His experience gives him validity and would be a great representation of Israel. An outside idea is former player Cody Decker. While Decker doesn’t have too much managerial credit but his enthusiasm for baseball and Team Israel could be a spark.
Regardless of who comes or goes here is what I do know; Peter Kurz is going to hustle to ensure a competitive team is on the field. Team Israel is now a known entity, not just for baseball but for spirit, ruach, and brotherhood. And we owe, all of us watching a great deal of gratitude to these incredible athletes, Jordy Alter, and of course Peter Kurz. They made baseball and sports so meaningful. I was not fortunate to be alive when Sandy Koufax skipped Game 1 of the World Series, but I did shed a tear with my daughter while watching Israel walk off the field for the last time during this Olympic run. To see them hug it out with the Dominican Republic, two countries who gave it their all for the spirit of competition was a beautiful moment in Israeli history. I got to see names on jerseys like Katz and Fishman. I saw Israel across the chest of giants. A great deal of love and respect to all of these guys who made not just their dreams come true but the dreams of so many fans. As Theodore Herzl said, “If you will it, it is no dream.” Peter Kurz heard him loud and clear.
Yasher Koach and Mazel Tov to everyone involved. No let’s go win that World Baseball Classic!