Ladies and Geetles, it is I, King of All Jewish Baseball, reporting live and direct from the internet after a most righteous baseball adventure and three weeks in Asia. There were dragons. We slayed them. There were live octopuses. We ate them (some of us). And there were comparisons to the Jamaican Bobsled Team. We appreciated them.
It all started in Korea. In truth, it started in Jupiter, Florida, four years ago. If you want the whole story, the whole whole story, feel free to scroll back to the beginning, before the 2017 WBC, before the 2016 qualifier in Brooklyn, before I lived in Israel for three years, all the way back to the 2012 WBC qualifier, and witness the birth of Team Israel and the superhero idiot whose voice I now speak through. But for the sake of brevity and logic, we will begin this part of the story in South Korea, where all great stories begin, where a group of roughly 45 human beings who have devoted their lives to baseball, and more specifically, at various times, to Israel Baseball, came together with one goal, to win the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
It is safe to say, despite our common aim, not everyone believed we had a shot. ESPN wrote this article…
Wait, what? Ragtag? Wannabes? 200-1 odds? We thought we were pretty good. But the world didn’t agree, it appeared. Our first game was against South Korea, the #3 ranked team in the world, in Seoul’s Gocheok Sky Dome, home of the Nexen Heroes of the KBO, Korea’s professional league, and one of the loudest baseball stadiums in the world when it gets rocking. It was a dump. Check it out…
We had been told it would be like playing the Seahawks in Seattle. When the Korean team did anything well, a hit, a strike even, it got so loud the air around your face would vibrate. But despite the noise, we beat Korea 2-1 in extra innings, and the headlines began to change. Here is one from the New York Times…
The next day, we played Taiwan, the 4th ranked team in the world. We won the game 15-7. We scored 4 runs in the 1st innings and never looked back. We were 2 and 0, which nearly guaranteed us a spot in the next round in Tokyo.
We did not a have a sense of the impact we were having in Israel and in Jewish communities around the world. We were in our bubble, in meetings and practices, getting ready for the games, and thought we were just doing what we should be doing, winning. But after the games, there were hundreds of messages from friends and family and total strangers. And the headlines were out of control. Check this one on Yahoo Sports…
What the hell was going on? All of a sudden the whole world was paying attention to us.
We played the Netherlands next. Both teams were 2 and 0, and guaranteed to advance to Tokyo, so we were playing for 1st and 2nd place seeding and prize money. Korea and Taiwan were good. But the Netherlands team was great. They had five bonafide Major League superstars in their line-up; Simmons, Bogarts, Gregorius, Profar, and Schoop. We did not have a single player currently on a Major League roster. We won 4-2. We went 3 and 0 and won the pool. We were going to win the whole dam thing.
It was off to Tokyo to play Cuba, Japan, and the Netherlands again. Our next game was against Cuba, ON PURIM. Cuba was ranked 5th in the world. We beat them 4-1 and improved to 4 and 0.
The next day we played the Netherlands again. This time, their Big Leaguers looked like Big Leaguers, and they stomped us, 12-2, setting up a game against Japan and one last chance to advance to the semi-finals in Los Angeles. Four years earlier, we lost the qualifier in Florida and didn’t make it to the main tournament. Now we were playing the two-time WBC champions and #1 ranked team in the world in their home stadium.
The Tokyo Dome was packed (see link below). Even during batting practice, the crowd ooooed and aaaahhhhed as balls sailed over the outfield fence, some hitting the back wall of the dome.
We were tied at 0 through 5 innings. They got the offense going in the 6th with a home run, and we couldn’t catch up. The final score was 8-3.
Our run was over.
But the messages kept coming. People from all over the world were emailing, tweeting, thanking us however they could. To the fans, THANK YOU. The coolest part of the tournament was hearing from you and feeling your support. To all the players and staff, it was an honor. I love each and every one of you. I still don’t think we understand what just happened or what we accomplished.