Israel: Land of the Giants?

The San Francisco Giants don't just have to be my team; they can be Israel’s team.

sf giants 311 (photo credit: AP)
sf giants 311
(photo credit: AP)
Having lived in Israel for a number of years, I meet many North American olim who still retain allegiances to their sports teams in the old country.
There is no lack of Yankees or Mets fans in Israel. Occasionally, you might even run into a Red Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays, Dodgers, or long-suffering Cubs supporter in the Israel. Since I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay area, my baseball team is the San Francisco Giants. There may be a handful of other Giants baseball fans in Israel, but I have yet to meet them.
In fact, though I follow the team religiously from my home in Israel (mostly watching games online), I have not been to an actual Giants baseball game in nearly a decade.
The last Giants game I attended was in the summer of 2001 at AT&T Park in San Francisco. I remember being in awe of the new downtown waterfront ballpark, a far cry from my youth spent watching games in their previous home, blustery Candlestick Park. I recall that the Giants won that game easily and I sat in the left-field bleachers I joined in when fellow fans started heckling the opponent’s players, mainly young Philadelphia Phillies left-fielder Pat something or other, with chants of “Pa-tty! Pa-tty!” Fast forward ahead nine years to a week ago Sunday night in Israel. My younger brother and I huddled around his computer screen in Ra’anana and tuned into’s broadcast of the Giants-Padres game. Not only was it the final game of the regular season, but if the Giants could find a way to win, they’d win their division and go to the playoffs for the first time in seven years.
These are not my father’s 1960’s home run-hitting San Francisco Giants. There is no Willie Mays or Willie McCovey on this team. These are also not my late 1980’s Giants with sluggers like Will Clark and Kevin Mitchell leading the way. In fact, these Giants didn’t even bare a resemblance to my kid brother’s Giants of the early 2000’s, who had the power bats of now retired Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent.
No, the 2010 Giants are built on pitching and defense.
They feature young power pitchers like Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. They have a dominant, yet somewhat off-kilter, closer in Brian Wilson (who sports a mohawk and has dyed his beard dark black).
The team’s catcher – and clean-up hitter – is a rookie named Buster Posey, who was in the minor leagues as recently as May; and its center fielder, Andres Torres, is a 32-yearold journeyman who returned to play the last week of the season just two weeks after an emergency appendectomy.
What kind of team is this? There is no A-Rod or Jeter on this team, but their power comes from players cast off from other teams like Aubrey Huff and Cody Ross. Add to that a roly-poly Venezuelan third baseman, Pablo Sandoval, nicknamed “Kung-Fu Panda,” and you start to get the picture that this is not your standard playoff team.
But what seems to set this team apart is that it is a “team.” Each night a different hero emerges. It might be slugging shortstop Juan Uribe or lefty pitcher Jonathan Sanchez, who was the winning pitcher in the 3-0 regular season finale division clinching victory over the San Diego Padres.
This team wins low-scoring close games, which was proven in the first round of the playoffs against the Atlanta Braves where all the games were decided by one run. The Giants, behind Lincecum, won Game 1 by a score of 1-0, and then won games 3 and 4 by identical scores of 3-2. In September, the club went 18 consecutive games allowing three runs or fewer to their opponents – a streak that hasn’t been seen in nearly a century.
But as my brother and I watched online and gave each other high-fives in the quiet Israeli night, I realized something.
This Giants team doesn’t just have to be my team; it can be Israel’s team.
The Giants beat the Braves, in part, because they played better defense. Israel is a country that prides itself on defense. Our army isn’t called the “Israel Forces,” it’s the “Israel Defense Forces.”
The Giants are a team made up of many young players along with some veterans.
Israel, with its mix of new olim and Sabras, is much the same.
As for me, I’ll have a little extra incentive to root for my favorite team in the next round of the playoffs against Philadelphia.
You see, I have some penance to perform before the team can go for the pennant.
That young Phillies outfielder I heckled nine years ago is now a savvy home run hitting veteran picked up in mid-season by the Giants by the name of Pat (“the bat”) Burrell.
Go Patty! Go Giants!