Team Israel is coming to the tri-state area to play nine exhibition games in preparation for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. This trip will serve as a promotion for the team, as well as a training camp. Another function of the trip will be to decide which players will travel to Tokyo. Out of the team’s 32-man roster, only 24 will be allowed to participate, per Olympic rules.
The current president of the Israel Association of Baseball (IAB), Dr. Jordy Alter, is extremely proud of the efforts of the IAB in Israel, saying that a medal would be “so meaningful for the people in Israel—not just for baseball but for the country in general.”
When he first made aliyah 16 years ago from Fair Lawn, Alter tried to find a baseball league in Israel for his children. After finding out that most leagues were full, he was told that his kids could play if he coached. Alter progressively got more involved, dealing with issues such as games on Shabbat. Alter became involved with the IAB after its previous president, Peter Kurz, assumed the role of Team Israel’s general manager.
Olympic players must be citizens of the country they are representing. Israeli citizenship can be fairly simple; if you have a Jewish grandparent, you can be granted citizenship. However, some players decide to take the next step. After Team Israel competed in the World Baseball Classic in 2017, where they became the first team to go undefeated in the first round, Kurz asked if the players would be willing to make aliyah, and many did.
This year’s Olympic games will be Israel’s first appearance for a team sport since 1976 and its first time ever for baseball. Due to continuing COVID restrictions, Team Israel will remain in its own “bubble” for the duration of the Olympics, aside from practicing and playing with other teams, and will get tested for COVID-19 before and after entering the country.
Since the Tokyo Olympics were originally scheduled for the summer of 2020, Team Israel actually qualified in 2019. The team’s second baseman, former San Diego Padres player Ian Kinsler, flew into Israel just 72 hours before the borders closed. Practices were on hold for the next 14 months, until the team met again in Arizona for training camp in May of 2021, amid Israel and Gaza’s recent conflict. The players came together and were “discussing it,” Alter said, “questioning how there could be such negativity to Israel.”
Other teams competing in Olympic baseball this year are the United States; Mexico; the Dominican Republic; the host country, Japan; and South Korea, against whom Israel will play first, on July 29.
While winning a medal would be a terrific honor, just an Olympic appearance will likely have a positive impact on Israeli culture, said Alter. It will “excite people back home,” he said, “the Israeli population, the kids and younger kids,” who will hopefully one day participate themselves. Alter hopes “for home-grown kids playing in the Olympics.”
On Sunday, July 11, at 4 p.m., Team Israel will be playing “New York’s Bravest,” the Brooklyn Cyclones, at Maimonides Park in Brooklyn, and on Monday, July 12, at 6:30 p.m., the team will be playing the New York Boulders at Palisades Credit Union Park in Pomona, New York.
To purchase tickets, visit www.brooklyncyclones.com or call 718-507-TIXX for the Cyclones game, or contact mpv.tickets.com or 845-364-0009 for the Boulders game.
Jonathan Hirschhorn is a student at Yeshiva University and a summer intern at The Jewish Link.