By Isabella Olive
For the Mitzpeh
The Israeli national baseball team’s historic run in the World Baseball Classic came to an end on Wednesday, March 15. The inspirational success has been dubbed a “Cinderella Story.” Israel was the last to qualify and was ranked 41st before it went on to defeat third ranked South Korea, fourth ranked Taiwan, and ninth ranked the Netherlands.
The team then moved into Pool A with a 3-0 record and even beat Cuba, a favored winner. However, after losses to the Netherlands and an 8-3 loss to Japan, the miracle story came to a close.
Yoni Rosenblatt, a UMD alum and physical therapist for the team, said he sensed something special about this year’s team.
“This team came together as a cohesive unit quicker than any other which I have been associated,” he said. “To witness each member work not only for their individual accolades, but their focus on the team’s collective success, was inspiring.”
He described the team as focused, despite the challenge of jet lag due to flying from America to Korea and heading straight to the diamond.
For most baseball teams, the common thread is often the love of the game and nothing deeper, but the common denominator among this team came down to heritage. The World Baseball Classic’s heritage rule allows anyone eligible for citizenship in a country to represent the country on a team. Since Israel welcomes any persons with Jewish heritage to become a citizen, Jewish Americans and Israeli players suited up to play alongside one another for Israel. Major and minor league players traded in their Cardinals, Red Sox, Nationals, and various other jerseys to wear Israel’s colors.
For freshman letters and sciences student Sharon Rosenblum, seeing Israel succeed meant a lot more than homeruns and stolen bases. “American Jews developing a relationship with the country of Israel through sports is incredible,” she said.
Freshman Art Major Tal Chukrun shared Rosenblum’s pride for the Jewish world, and was surprised to see Israel excel in a sport other than soccer.
Chukrun said, “It reminds me how of how vast the Jewish world actually is and gives the Israeli people something to be proud of.”
The real MVP of the Israeli team was cultural unity. Between the team’s mascot, Mensch on a Bench, and the Star of David stitched onto every man’s uniform, it became clear that this team stood for more than just baseball. Rosenblatt explained that heritage tied the team together, saying,“Judaism is the tie that binds.”. “For years these athletes were one of the few Jews in any given locker room. To be surrounded by teammates and staff that shared similar heritage, traditions and upbringing brought a sense of comfort and solace. This was a locker room like none other.”
This year’s success inspired many, but can it be repeated? Rosenblatt expects mirrored success in the coming years.
“The team’s success came as a surprise to everyone except for the members of Team Israel,” he said. “They competed with an expectation of winning both in 2017 and tournaments to come.” Here’s to hoping that the ties that bound this team together will only grow deeper in the coming years.