Former MLB star Ausmus takes reins of Israeli national team

Comment: Brad understands the importance the Jewish world is placing on this bid and has pledged to give it his all.

Ausmus 370 (photo credit: Adam Grossman/Courtesy)
Ausmus 370
(photo credit: Adam Grossman/Courtesy)
PETAH TIKVA – On a beautiful evening for a ballgame, Brad Ausmus, as he has so many times before in the past two decades, is squatting.
This time, however, the three-time Gold Glove winner is not crouching behind home plate of a Major League ballpark.
He is crouching in a batting cage at the Baptist Village in Petah Tikva throwing soft-toss and giving pointers to players from the Beit Shemesh Beasts.
When the forty three year old former backstop, who has been named manager of the Israel national baseball team, one of the twelve new countries invited to compete in this year’s World Baseball Classic qualifiers, is asked after forty five minutes on his haunches if he is about done, he grins, shakes his head and replies “not even close”.
This dedication and patience will serve him well at the helm of the Holy Land’s first venture into the global baseball realm.
This fall Israel will travel to Jupiter, Florida to compete in a six-game modified double-elimination tournament at Rodger Dean Stadium, the Spring Training home of the Miami Marlins and defending World Series Champion St.
Louis Cardinals, for a shot at qualifying for the 2013 World Baseball Classic. The blue-andwhite have been grouped with France, South Africa and Spain for this initial round.
For the Israel Association of Baseball expectations are high. “For the WBC we have three main goals,” IAB secretary general Peter Kurz explained.
“The first is to win the qualifiers. The second is to help develop baseball in Israel.
Bringing Brad here is going to really help develop it here. And the third thing is to build bridges between the American Jewish community and the Israeli community. A lot of Jewish Americans love baseball and Israel.
“So we can hopefully bring everything together.”
Kurz also noted that the exposure will help the IAB raise funds for their proposed state-of-the-art ‘Israel Field of Dreams’ baseball complex in Ra’anana.
It is clear that a large share of the responsibility to make these objectives a reality will fall on the broad shoulders of Ausmus, the Jewish 18-year Major League veteran. The former All Star arrived in Israel this week , his first ever visit, ready to begin the long process.
“It’s been good…I’ve been traveling around” a somewhat fatigued Ausmus said in an exclusive interview with the Jerusalem Post.
He spent a full day in Jerusalem including a trip to the Kotel Tunnel Tours and tasting the Israeli delicacy sabich, a pita filled with fried eggplant and hard boiled eggs. “By the time I got back it was midnight, which I hear is early in Tel Aviv but for me it was late.”
At this point in the interview two players from the Ra’anana adult team cut in to take a picture. In a jokingly scolding tone Brad cried “a picture mid-game?” while posing for the excited parent with an Iphone. It was a true test of Israeli aggressiveness for the former big-leaguer and he handled it with aplomb. He was also as diplomatic as he was polite, showing no confusion and asking no questions after a ten year old kid responded to his “how you doin’?” with a “great, Baruch Hashem!” While this job is Brad’s first venture as a manager, he feels well prepared for the task thanks to playing under some of the most revered skippers in all of baseball, including future hall-of-famer Joe Torre with the Dodgers in 2009 and 2010.
Torre once said of Ausmus, “there’s no question he can be a manager, he’s a smart cookie, everybody knows that, and he has an engaging personality.”
When I asked Brad about this glowing endorsement he quickly responded with a self-deprecating “when they say I’m smart , that’s a nice way of them saying I didn’t hit very well.”
All joking aside, Ausmus has internalized a great deal from his past managers. “I think one of the things you learn from watching managers like Joe Torre is that the X’s and O’s of baseball aren’t that difficult.
“It’s more about managing people than it is managing a baseball game.
“It’s about understanding that they’re people, not just assets, whether they’re making five million dollars or the minimum, they are still people and you have to treat them that way.”
The exact scheduling of the qualifying tournament will determine if any active Major League ballplayers will play for Israel.
If the games take place in November, the MLB season will have concluded and the WBC allows countries to field any player who is eligible for citizenship in that country.
This would qualify Ryan Braun, Ian Kinsler and Kevin Youkalis, among others.
“[Former Jewish Major Leaguers] Shawn [Green] and Gabe[Kapler] are on board, they are definitely playing” Brad explained, “but if the dates change we will have to shift our focus more towards minor leaguers.”
Select players from the current Israel national team will be chosen as well.
When asked whether or not he could find some Jewish blood in reigning Cy Young award winner and former teammate Clayton Kershaw, Brad grinned and replied “I don’t think so but I would like to have him.”
Ausmus explained that his Jewish heritage will always be linked to baseball because it was his mother’s side of the family who raised him to love the game. “My dad would play catch with me in the backyard,” Brad was quick to add, “until I broke his hand one day.”
When asked about his squad’s chances in their first WBC appearance, Ausmus remained optimistic. He explained that although the team has never played in this arena before they will have “baseball savvy.” He also made it clear that there will be no player/manager action. “I’m done” he said with a chuckle.
While he may be done as a player, his work as the manager of this trail-blazing team has only just begun. Brad understands the importance the Jewish world is placing on this bid and has pledged to give it his all.
“You come to realize, because of the fans that approach you, little boys to full grown adults, from the Jewish community, you realize how important the game of baseball is to those families.”
“I was one of those boys too” he said with pride.
That is his motivation for taking the reins of the blue-and-white dugout and that is why there is no better man to lead Israel into the global batter’s box.