Team Israel's Baseball Roster Has a Westchester High School Graduate
Team Israel includes Hudson Valley players in its bid for glory on the diamond.
Photos by Margo Sugarman
Soccer and basketball dominate sports culture in Israel. So, when the country’s baseball team entered the 2017 World Baseball Classic (WBC) for the first time, ESPN dubbed them the “Jamaican bobsled team” of the tournament and perhaps the biggest underdogs ever.
The team shocked the world, however, by reaching the event’s second round, defeating powerhouses like South Korea, Taiwan, and Cuba.
Most players on Team Israel consisted of Jewish American professionals who met the criteria for Israeli citizenship, including former Major Leaguers Ty Kelly, Ike Davis, and Jason Marquis, along with former St. Louis Cardinal and Clarkstown South High School star Corey Baker (’07), who pitched for the Israeli team.
The David vs. Goliath story is chronicled in the award-winning documentary Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel, produced by Garrison-based Ironbound Films and released in December 2018.
“They’re fantastic characters who love the game. Their presence conveys a strong story and speaks to something universal.”
The team’s ultimate goal is to field the best players possible in order to qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, but because the Olympic qualifying tournament is being held this month in Bulgaria — smack in the middle of the MLB season — it won’t be possible to include current Major Leaguers.
Instead, Olympic team manager and White Plains resident Eric Holtz has recruited “many Minor Leaguers, as well as a tremendous amount of independent baseball players,” including former Lakeland High School phenom Jonathan DeMarte (’11), who pitches for the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, the highest level of baseball after MLB.
“We have a sense of purpose after what happened in the WBC,” says DeMarte. “We want to prove it was no fluke and establish a presence on the international stage.”
To maintain momentum, the self-described “Jew Crew” must qualify for Tokyo by winning games in Bulgaria this month. Should they fall short, the team remains eligible for the 2021 World Baseball Classic.
“These guys are competing against all odds and playing for something greater than winning a tournament,” says Ironbound producer-director Seth Kramer. “They’re fantastic characters who love the game. Their presence conveys a strong story and speaks to something universal.”
Ironbound is revisiting the topic in a sequel, Heading Home 2: Return of the Mensch.
Team Israel baseball’s Olympic bid involves more than just skill. Raising the necessary funds is vital to help pay for travel to and from the Olympic qualifiers, field rentals, equipment, etc. To help, visit www.jewcer.org/project/israelbaseballolympics