Baseball

Israel’s WBC success story making waves at home

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

The Israel fans took up only a small number of the seats at Tokyo Dome, which holds over 45,000 people, but they still made their presence felt by making a lot of noise and waving the Star of David flag during Sunday’s game against Cuba at the World Baseball Classic.

The Israel team, making its debut in the tournament, improved to 4-0 with a 4-1 victory over the Caribbean nation.

Some of Israel’s enthusiastic fans — including the Jewish American parents of the team’s players, and Israeli embassy employees — said that they thought the squad would play well going into the tournament, but not as well as this.

“It’s like being in a Disney movie,” Adam Orlan, whose son, R.C., is a pitcher for the team, said after the Sunday game. “It’s very special and almost unreal.”

Israel shocked the world in Pool A of the competition in Seoul. It had a perfect 3-0 record in the qualifiers to get to the main tourney as well.

“(We are now) 7-0, it’s magic,” said Orlan.

Perhaps having expected the team to play well before the tournament, Orlan, a company executive in the United States who used to go to university in Japan, now wants “more,” meaning a berth for the final-four round in Los Angeles.

“Absolutely,” he said. “It would be great. We have beaten the Netherlands (in the first round), so we know we can do that. Japan will be a very tough challenge. But we’re hoping to get at least one of those two games. And that would set us up nice to get to the United States for the final round.”

Israel will take on the Netherlands on Monday night and Japan on Wednesday night.

Orlan’s wife, Margie, was on the same page as her husband and said it would be a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to see Team Israel compete for the championship.

“It really is an amazing experience, these boys who come from all over the world come together to play baseball,” Margie said. “And today’s world, where it seems more divisive than inclusive, they come together with something they have in common and love.”

Peter Kurz, CEO of the Israel Association of Baseball, said that he didn’t foresee the team going undefeated so far, but that it was not a huge surprise either.

“The strength of this team is the experience of the veterans,” Kurz said. “Because you’ve got the veterans with a lot of experience, they know how to be in these kind of contests. And just the enthusiasm of the younger kids, they’re looking up to the veterans, they’re seeing how they hold themselves. They’re seeing how to present yourselves in the game, how to not be too high and not be too low. And they know how to play. They are doing it professionally. That’s what’s great about it.”

Kurz added that the team did a good job in putting the players together leading up to the tournament.

“We have brought 10 people to Israel and another 10 players to Israel last month,” said Kurz, who also serves as the team’s general manager. “We also played together in Brooklyn (for the qualifiers last September). We added some new guys, but most of them played (there). And most of them also played four years ago in Florida.

“Josh Zeid who was on the mound in the ninth inning (in Sunday’s game), he played in Jupiter, Florida, five years ago in the qualifiers. He lost the last game of the qualifiers. Six months ago in Brooklyn, he won the winning game. Now he’s on the mound and he’s helping us a lot.”

And the Israeli team’s unexpected run could help boost the game in the country, inspiring more children to begin playing.

“Everybody is going crazy,” Kurz said. “There’s thousands of kids and adults playing baseball today (in Israel). And I hope when I get back in two weeks, there’ll be two thousands and three thousands. That’s what’s important to build up in Israel baseball.”

Amit Kurz, Peter’s son who is a board member of the IAB, insisted that it would be a jump start for the country’s game.

“We’re really growing steadily over the last few years,” Amit said. “Obviously, winning this (brings) financial advantages, so we can expand and build fields, which is very important for us. And Israel is also going crazy. The prime minister of Israel tweeted good luck for the national team after they won in Korea. So the whole country is going crazy, and there’s articles everywhere. So it gives a lot of good propaganda for Israel and Israel baseball. So we hoping more and more kids come out and play. We are hoping to be like Japan.”