Musings from an All-Star baseball lifer

Newest Team Israel member Ian Kinsler reflects on 14-year MLB career, Olympic opportunity

Ian Kinsler is the son of a Jewish father and Catholic mother. The 37-year-old played last season with the San Diego Padres and retired after a 14-year MLB career, before deciding to suit up with Team Israel in the Olympics.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ian Kinsler is the son of a Jewish father and Catholic mother. The 37-year-old played last season with the San Diego Padres and retired after a 14-year MLB career, before deciding to suit up with Team Israel in the Olympics.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Israel Baseball National Team created a huge buzz in March when four-time Major League Baseball All-Star second baseman Ian Kinsler received Israeli citizenship and qualified to play for the blue-and-white at the Tokyo Olympics. With the 2020 Games being pushed off to July 2021, Kinsler spent time talking to Israel Association of baseball players this past week about his career, some of the players he followed growing up and what it means to him to now play for Israel.
Kinsler spent the majority of his MLB years with Texas Rangers, making his debut in 2006 at age 23 and finishing seventh in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. But to get to that point he needed the tutelage of his father, who supported him the entire way through.
“Baseball is something I have been playing whole life,” said Kinsler. “My father was a basketball player, but he said it was his sport and didn’t introduce it to me. When I was young he would take me to play for two-three hours with other kids as I used to knock on their doors to see who was available to come out and have a good time.
“During my early childhood my father would spend a lot of time practicing the basics with me, including fielding ground-balls. Up until I was 12 years old, I played in Little League and then between the ages of 13 and 14 I moved to Pony League and my dad coached me all the way up to Pony and was my influence up to high school. My dad taught me the instincts of baseball.”
Kinsler had a number of coaches who influenced him in high school as well as in junior college, where he picked up the nuances of hitting for power and taking the skills he had learned from his father and putting them into practice.
He also followed baseball while he grew up in Arizona.
“I was constantly watching baseball, either the Atlanta Braves and the Chicago Cubs. You could say I was a Braves fan. I loved watching Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones and Marquis Grissom. I also liked to see Walt Weiss because he was a shortstop like me at the time as well as Cal Ripken Jr. But the guy I really liked to see on the highlight reel was Ken Griffey Jr.”
To eventually get to the same stage as some of his heroes, Kinsler was actually drafted three times.
“I was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of high school in 2000. At that point they had something called ‘draft-and-follow’ where they had my rights up until the 2001 draft. I then went to junior college and after my freshman year the D-Backs tried to sign me but it didn’t work out. They drafted me again in the 2001 draft, but a few rounds earlier and once again it didn’t work. After that I went to a Division I school and I was drafted as a junior by the Texas Rangers.”
Once in the majors, Michael Young was one of the players who took a young Kinsler under his wing.
“I was able to ask him questions and I was able to look up to him. That’s my guy.”
After just a couple of seasons, Kinsler was elected to play in his first All-Star Game in 2008.
“My first All-Star Game was at Yankee Stadium. My dad grew up in the Bronx and he was there. Josh Hamilton went crazy in the home run derby and the game went well into extra innings. It was a cool experience and I was pulled in many directions, but it was crazy fun.”
In 2010 Kinsler’s and the Rangers’ arcs continued to trend upwards as the franchise played in its first World Series, which was Kinsler’s proudest moment as a player.
“This was the first Rangers teams that won a postseason series. Up until that point the Rangers had been swept by the Yankees three times in the playoffs. For many of us on the team it was big because we came up through the organization and we were able to help change the club. We made it all the way to the World Series and the whole city of Arlington lost its mind. All the billboards had Rangers on them and everything was just Rangers across the town.”
Kinsler’s Rangers fell to the San Francisco Giants in the 2010 Fall Classic, but made a return trip in 2011. However, this resulted in the most disappointing moment of his career, a loss in Game 6 against the St. Louis Cardinals in one of the greatest World Series games ever played.
“We were the best team in the league that year hands-down, but we just didn’t win the Wold Series. We had Game 6 in control from innings one through eight. It was pretty intense. In the ninth inning we were winning by two runs and we brought in our closer Neftali Feliz, who was dominant. He got the first guy and then Albert Pujols hit a double on a 1-2 pitch. I was right by second base and he said ‘congratulations.’ I didn’t say anything. Then it was walk and a strikeout for the second out of the inning. But David Freese hit a ball off the right field fence for a game-tying triple.
“Josh Hamilton hit a two-run homer in the top of the 10th to give us the lead, but the Cardinals again tied it up on some crazy plays and things just continued to unravel. Freese came up to lead off the 11th inning and hit a home run to win the game. When we got back to the clubhouse, all of the plastic was still up waiting for us to celebrate and they had to get rid of the champagne as fast as possible.”
After stops with the Detroit Tigers and the Los Angeles Angels, Kinsler found himself heading to the Boston Red Sox at the trade deadline in 2018 and yet another trip to the World Series, where his American League squad defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the title.
“Success always comes with winning and that’s what it’s all about.”
Kinsler’s final season saw him play for the San Diego Padres and as he thought his playing career came to an end, he moved up to the front office. But then came the call from the Israel National Team.
“It feels awesome and when I put on the jersey when I was at the field in Israel it felt great. When I played for Team USA and won the World Baseball Classic in 2017 all of the games were in America and it was catered to the US. For the Olympics and WBC with Israel we will be playing outside of the country. We want to continue what Israel has done at the WBC level and the goal is to build on that, and the opening ceremonies at the Olympics will be really cool.”
As Kinsler wrapped up the call he offered this piece of advice: “Just give your best effort. If you give your best and you do everything that you can then that is great. Do your best every time, it’s tough to live with yourself if you don’t give 100% of yourself.”