Cody Decker was arguably the heart, soul and class clown of Israel’s baseball team, which took the world by surprise in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Decker and his teammates won the qualifiers in Brooklyn and they beat three opposing teams (South Korea, Chinese Taipei and the Netherlands) in the first round in Korea. Team Israel then lost two of three games in Round 2, played in Japan.
Decker’s banter and playful style, his athleticism and his “Mensch on the Bench” mascot were assets for Team Israel. Peter Kurz, president of the Israel Association of Baseball and general manager of WBC Team Israel, speaks glowingly of Decker.
“Cody Decker played for all three teams that Israel has fielded in the WBC and there is no doubt that he has been a vital cog in all of them. Aside from his playing skills and ability to play a multitude of positions, it’s his personality, his way to keep the guys loose, his perspective on life and the game, that have made him most valuable. He ‘gets it’ and he’s able to get others on board.”
Decker and nine teammates visited Israel last year before the tournament.
“I think that having Cody and Jenn [his wife] on the trip to Israel made ‘the cause’ that much more real for him. For the first time, he really understood what he was playing for and the speech he gave at the Beit Shemesh field dedication exemplified that commitment,” adds Kurz.
Decker currently plays infield for the Reno Aces (the AAA affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks) in the Pacific Coast League, where he is batting a solid .261 with eight home runs and 24 RBIs.
The love and admiration felt for Decker during the World Baseball Classic continues in Reno.
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Aces catcher Anthony Recker observes, “Cody is a blast to be around. He’s always one of the first guys in the building and last one out. He’s the kind of guy who knows when to have fun and when to get down to business. I’m glad to have him as a teammate.”
Aces manager Greg Gross adds, “Decker has provided us some offense off the bench this year and is always a threat to go deep. His personality is obviously there and is fun for the guys in the locker room. He’s a talented ballplayer and has been for a long time in this league.”
caught up with Decker in the dugout after the Reno Aces defeated the Sacramento River Cats (the AAA affiliate of the San Francisco Giants) 8 to 2. Decker struck out in the bottom of the sixth, his only plate appearance, when he appeared as a pinch hitter.Have you seen the 2018 documentary film Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel yet?
Yes, about four times now. Jenn did a Q and A for a group; I’ve done some Q and As and will be doing another in Orange County (California) in the off season, so that will be fun.
My impression is that the film is good. I am very glad they made it; they need to work on marketing. It is far less a Jewish story than a baseball story. It is about putting together a ragtag bunch of players who had been overlooked their entire careers. We had a chance to go out in front of the world and show that we were better than they thought. That was the story, but it was more that – we happened to all be Jewish. I kind of love that this is how it was all put together. I think that is the right story to tell; there are plenty of Jewish elements. It is as much that as it is the other story.You and Jenn both got to go to Israel? You recently got married?
We went to Israel – Tel Aviv, then Jerusalem and stopped in Beit Shemesh. At no point did I think that I would enjoy Jerusalem more than I enjoyed Tel Aviv – this big, beautiful thriving city. I was expecting Jerusalem to be old and very historic but not as grand as it was. WOW – was I way wrong! I loved every second in Jerusalem. It was beautiful, amazing watching all faiths throughout. That was really cool when the Muslims were praying. My wife (we got married six months ago) is Christian, so seeing a lot of the old churches and going with the tour guide and learning. This right here is where Jesus was. The whole trip was very fascinating. It was fantastic and we loved every second of it. When you think about what it has done for your relationship with Judaism, and Israel – what is it like looking back?
I can’t wait to go back! I wouldn’t say it necessarily made me more religious or spiritual or anything but it makes you appreciate… I have always appreciated my heritage. Going over there and seeing the Western Wall – it was probably the most striking thing to me. We went on a Friday night. There were so many people praying and dancing. It was crazy – it was great – I loved every second!Do you think Team Israel will be part of your future down the road?
Peter [Kurz], the team president, is hoping that I am coming back to Team Israel!Do your teammates on the Aces know about this Team Israel and Jewish part of you?
Not really – it is not something that regularly comes up in conversation. The fact that I am Jewish almost never comes up. Unless I make a joke about it – every time we have Sunday chapel, I say like, “When is the rabbi getting here so I can pray too? Can I join?” They say, “It’s nondenominational.” “You mean that Sunday Christian chapel you guys are doing? Nondenominational, huh? Cool. Yeah, I’m busy...Sounds like there are not that many Jewish ballplayers…
There just happens to not be a lot of Jewish baseball players. I don’t think there is any particular reason for it, other than that there just aren’t that many of us. I grew up in Santa Monica [California], a huge Jewish community, and I played with a lot of Jewish kids. I’m not going to lie to you. Most of them were terrible! It is not because they were Jewish. They just weren’t very good at baseball.
Then when I got older and started traveling the country, and occasionally the world, you find out there just aren’t a whole lot of Jews playing baseball.
You go around the country, in Texas and certain spots in Florida, there just aren’t that many Jews around. It’s not like Santa Monica, where it is just normal. A large Mexican community, a large Jewish community, a large African American community, and for whatever reason, I was just unique, I was just brought up with that. Has your role as team prankster continued with the Aces?
No, I’m leaving guys alone. People are watching me too closely. They know I’ll do it! I’d love to but… I’ll even say something and they’ll give me the side eye. They’ll think I’m lying or trying to set them up. I’m not. I’m actually enjoying that more than anything, that people are very suspicious of me at all times. It keeps them alert, I think.Do they know about the Mensch on the Bench? Are they aware of that?
They are. The Mensch on the Bench was over in Jackson. He is back home in Santa Monica. We shipped him in a huge box. He is in my parents’ office and it’s just a gigantic box that happens to have a Mensch in it. I was thinking of selling it. I think it is time to sell it. Or auction it off for a charity. I don’t know how to do it.
But your teammates here don’t know about the Mensch on the Bench?
Yeah, they do. It was in my locker in spring training. It had its own locker in spring training. I had my locker, which said “Cober Commander” on it, and the next locker next to me was the Mensch. The Mensch was there. How has the experience been with the Aces? I heard you had some injuries, pitched a little bit…
I pitched because we were out of pitchers. I don’t think I am too worried about my arm going to pieces, pitching 52 miles per hour! I am just going up there to throw strikes and let them get themselves out. Injuries? I’m good.
This is my seventh season in the PCL [Pacific Coast League], my fifth or sixth PCL team…Tucson, El Paso, Albuquerque, Omaha, Vegas… seventh! I’ve always had a lot of success playing here as an opposing player. Coming here I got off to a really hot start. Important guys in the Diamondbacks organization got activated so my playing time took a pretty hefty dip. I had to work on being off the bench, which is not the easiest of jobs. I had a DL [disabled list] stint during that time. I’m having a pretty good year all things considered. I know what I can do on the field. I’ve always felt I belonged in the big leagues; that’s why I’m doing this.
But I will say the Aces have been fantastic. The front office has been good. The stadium is always beautiful. Our locker room is great. Our jerseys have gotten better. We had a jersey issue… we had two jerseys that weighed roughly 35 pounds [15.8 kg.}. Luckily, we fixed one of them. The other one still weighs a solid ton and a half.
The Diamondbacks organization has been nothing but the most classy, honest and well-put-together organization. I really appreciate being a part of this organization. Hopefully I will get out there more consistently eventually and get a shot at the big leagues. Any plans for All-Star break [which started the day after the interview]?
I’m actually flying to Las Vegas to meet up with my wife, which I am very excited about. Four nights with my wife will be very nice. Take her out to dinner, maybe go to a show or something. I look forward to seeing her.Is that where you are living?
No, we are based in Los Angeles, but she is going there for work stuff. I’m flying there. She is driving there as we speak. I’m going to meet her there. Has the Jewish community in Reno reached out to you?
Is there one here? I’m not gonna lie to you, I don’t know of one. So I have been reached out to by no one. Normally when I go play in a place, I’ll be stretching before a game, and I’ll have like five people yelling “Cody, Cody, I’m Jewish.” I don’t know, I don’t know of a Jewish community here. But in fairness, I haven’t been out trying to find it. Do you think that Team Israel is something that can be in your future?
That’s a couple of years down the road. I guess we’ll address it when it comes up. The qualifier was a really great experience. Loved every second of the qualifiers. It was a special group of guys.
Are you still in touch with those guys?
I was already in touch with them to begin with. Nate Freiman and I had played together for years. Nate is one of my dearest friends. He was at my wedding. And I have known Zach Bornstein for a long time. Ryan Lavarnway is a good friend. There are not many of us. We kind of all have friendships. Blake Gailen, we would hit together every off season. He is still one of my good friends. He was almost in my wedding. He was on standby in case somebody went down. It is a good group of guys, every one of them. I miss them and look forward to seeing them all again. I’m sure I’ll some them again, somewhere down the road. All in all, it is a good deal.
Will I be back in a couple of years? We will see…
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