Israel's “national” baseball team beat South Africa late Wednesday in the opening qualifying game of the World Baseball Classic, being held in Florida. With a good combination of pitching and hitting, Israel beat South Africa 7-3, with Israel going on to the next leg of the tournament. Israel's next match will be on Friday, against either Spain or France, depending on who wins Thursday night's game.
Although the team flies the Israeli flag, most of the players -25 out of 28 – aren't Israelis, but American Jews playing in baseball's minor leagues. As Jews, however, they are eligible for Israeli citizenship – which is good enough for the WBC, created by Major League Baseball to spread the word about the “American pastime.”
Israel's win was powered by two home runs from Nate Freiman, who plays in the AA League for the San Antonio Missions, a farm team for the San Diego Padres. Team Israel's pitching was also instrumental in the win, with reliever Josh Zeid (who played this year with Double-A Corpus Christi in the Astros organization) pitching his way out of a potential run situation for South Africa. All of South Africa's runs came, ironically, at the hands of one of the few Israeli members of the team, pitcher Shlomo Lipetz, who gave up the three runs in the ninth inning.
The manager of Team Israel is Brad Ausmus, whose mother is Jewish, and Shawn Green is a player-coach. Green has hammered more home runs than any other Jewish Major Leaguer since Hank Greenberg decades ago.
Peter Kurz, the American-born secretary general of the Israel Baseball Association (IBA), is hoping success in the World Baseball Classic will help the IBA raise approximately $4 million for a real baseball stadium in Ra’anana, located in metropolitan Tel Aviv. The IBA claims that “Team Israel will make history in having the first-ever Jewish Major Leaguers representing Israel, creating new Jewish athlete role models for the Jewish youth worldwide.”