Bleeding blue-and-white, baseball style.
(photo credit: JOSH SOLOMON)
Israel’s national team gets its World Baseball Classic campaign underway on Monday when it faces South Korea in Seoul.
Israel will be participating in the event for the first time in its history, qualifying after one previous failure. The competition’s eligibility rules, which permit a player to represent a nation as long as he is qualified for citizenship or to hold a passport under the laws of that nation, allow Israel to benefit from a large pool of American-Jewish players. Of the roster’s 29 players, only three are Israeli citizens, with 11 of the players having MLB experience.
“It is the first time in the history of Israeli sports that a group of Jewish-American players have come forward and are playing for team Israel, proudly representing our country and bringing us to a level that we can compete at a World Championship,” said Peter Kurz, the president of the Israel Association of Baseball.
Israel plays Chinese Taipei in its second game on Tuesday before wrapping up Pool A action against the Netherlands on Thursday. The top two teams in the pool advance to second round Pool E which will be played in Tokyo, Japan.
The top two in Pool E will progress to the semifinals at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
Major League veteran Jason Marquis will be Israel’s starting pitcher against Korea and he is expecting an especially tough encounter in the tournament opener.
“At the end of the day, we know what Korea is about,” said the 38-year-old Marquis, who pitched through four shutout innings in the qualifier final in Brooklyn last September and has appeared in 11 postseason games, including three starts.
“We had a real good scouting report that helped us put together a game plan, and it’s really my job to go out there and execute.”
Israel pitcher Josh Zeid believes Marquis is the perfect man to take the mound for the blue-and-white’s opener.
“We’re very excited about the game against Korea,” said Zeid.
“We’re looking forward to having Jason go for us in Game 1.
He’s pitched for 15 years in the Major Leagues and has a World Series under his belt. That should set him up well to not be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the game on Monday.”
Israel coach Jerry Weinstein has been impressed with the South Koreans.
“It’s a very well-rounded team,” he said, “They catch the ball well and they pitch well, and they have got some power.”
The WBC boasts more than 60 former Major League Baseball All-Stars across the 16 national teams.
Four pools of four teams each contest the first round in Seoul, Tokyo, Miami and Guadalajara, Mexico.
Pool B, comprised of Japan, Cuba, Australia and China, begins on Tuesday in Tokyo.
Powerhouses Dominican Republic and Team USA are in Pool C, which also includes Canada and Colombia and begins on Thursday in Miami.
Mexico hosts Pool D and an impressive Venezuela team, Puerto Rico and Italy.
Japan won the first two WBC tournaments in 2006 and 2009, beating Cuba and South Korea in the respective finals, while the Dominican Republic raised the trophy in 2013 after defeating Puerto Rico for the title.
The best showing by the USA , birthplace of the game, was a fourth-place finish in 2009 and Team USA manager Jim Leyland would like to see that change.
“This is not a party. We want to win,” said Leyland. “I can’t imagine what that would feel like. I’d love to find out.”