Team Israel will play in the World Baseball Classic for the first time ever, and last weekend, before heading to games in Seoul, South Korea, the team held a mini-camp in Scottsdale.
The Colorado Rockies Baseball Club hosted Team Israel at its spring training facility Feb. 24-26. Jerry Weinstein, manager of Team Israel, is also the manager for the Hartford Yard Goats, the Double-A Eastern League affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.
The World Baseball Classic is an international baseball tournament formed by Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association to pay tribute to the growth and internationalization of the game.
A lot of interesting things had to align in order to make this happen, according to Doug Liebman, a member of Jewish National Fund’s Project Baseball Committee and Valley resident.
About three weeks ago, Liebman was contacted by Peter Kurz, who is the general manager of Team Israel, as well as the manager of JNF’s Project Baseball and the president of the Israel Association of Baseball (IAB).
IAB is a nonprofit organization founded in Israel in 1986 to develop and promote baseball in Israel. JNF’s Project Baseball is one of the significant funding sources of the IAB.
Although the cost of Team Israel’s trip to Korea for the World Baseball Classic is covered by Major League Baseball, the cost of the mini-camp wasn’t, Liebman said. One thing led to another, people made calls and the three-day mini-camp was arranged, giving the first-time ever Team Israel going into the World Baseball Classic a chance to bond as a team in Scottsdale.
“Some magic happens in the desert,” Liebman said. “We have, as a people, a history of coming together in the desert.”
To help provide support for this mini-camp, visit jnf.org. Any funds that are received after the camp is paid for will go to JNF Project Baseball to raise funds to build a baseball field in Beit Shemesh, where a number of American Jews settle in Israel after making aliyah, Liebman said.
(To learn more about Project Baseball or to donate, visit bit.ly/ProjectBaseball.)
Chompie's provided the food during the team's stay.
Team Israel is made up of veteran major league players, major league free agents, minor leaguers and two players who have never played in the minor leagues, Liebman said.
To be eligible to play on a team for the World Baseball Classic, players must be eligible to become a citizen of the country, he said. Therefore, all the players for Team Israel must be Jewish and have a parent or grandparent who is or was Jewish.
One member of the team, Ike Davis, used to play for Arizona State University.
This is “a bunch of Jewish guys who play baseball for a living and who have come to represent Israel,” Liebman said.
George Weisz, a co-owner of two minor league teams for the Arizona Diamondbacks, remarked: “It was an incredible uplifting feeling to watch Team Israel, with a Star of David proudly displayed on their batting helmets, practicing right here in Scottsdale. As someone involved in the spirit and industry of baseball, I know that this team carries the pride of Israel and Jews everywhere on their shoulders as they enter the world stage of sports.”
Weisz said that he hopes the Valley’s Jewish community can work with JNF’s Project Baseball, which sponsors this team, “to bring them together every year at spring training, a Jewish field of dreams, which will enhance Arizona’s title as baseball capital of the world and provide a unique opportunity for Phoenix’s Jewish community.”
To learn more about Team Israel, visit worldbaseballclassic.com/teams/isr.