Underdog Team Israel is Making Noise at the World Baseball Classic
Everyone loves an underdog, but many people refuse to cheer for the world’s biggest underdog; Israel. However, at the risk of trying to be apolitical about a topic that is always political, even people that hate the nation and her politics should be rooting for Team Israel when it comes to the World Baseball Classic.
[Quick (and I mean it) tangent on Israeli slang/the title of this article. “Yalla” is actually an Arabic word, but Israelis deploy it as much as a stoner says “dude.” It pretty much means “let’s go,” but can mean about 25 different things depending on tone (as my most recent girlfriend, a former Drill Sargent in the IDF, was fond of saying, “Jacob, stop wasting time. YALLA!” All in Hebrew, and all so sexy–Shalom Chamudi)]
(Click below for the newest “Bagoon’s Barrage”)
Israel kicked off the latest iteration of the WBC by taking on South Korea. South Korea was supposed to roll over Israel. South Korea is the third ranked team in the world and has appeared in all four WBCs… Israel is one of two teams making its first appearance and is ranked 41st in the world (Columbia is also making its first appearance and is the next lowest ranked team in the tournament… at 19th). However, as the old adage goes, “there is a reason they play the games,” and Israel clipped South Korea 2-1 in 10 innings (coming out victorious against daunting odds is par for the course for Israel–DAMNIT… not supposed to be political).
The extra inning win made for a fun and cute story. Scott Burcham (who still goes by “Scotty” according to his Baseball Reference page and was a 25th Round pick of the Colorado Rockies in the 2015 Draft) plated the go-ahead run with an infield single in the tenth inning. Israel left 14 men on the base paths and had to overcome a slightly questionable strike call on a 3-1 offering with the bases loaded. Despite all those obstacles, Israel prevailed to win their first ever WBC game in their very first WBC game.
One win is one more victory than most people thought Israel would come away with and still nobody took Israel’s chances seriously (and rightfully so). However, after a quick turnaround, Israel had to take on the fourth ranked team in the world, Chinese Tapei. Going from third to fourth proved an easy task for the Mensches on the Benches and Team Israel clobbered Chinese Tapei 15-7 (my Jewish Studies degree compels me to mention the actual plural of the the Yiddish word “Mensch” is actually “Menschen”).
While the rules of the WBC make it so Team Israel is essentially a bunch of Americans with Jewish backgrounds, it is still no less impressive that a team consisting of neophyte minor leaguers and over-the-hill major leaguers has found ways to beat the third and fourth ranked teams in the world. The roster is filled with guys who once played in the show that make you go, “Hey, I remember that dude!” The roster has names like Jason Marquis, Craig Breslow, Sam Fuld and Ryan Lavarnway. Not exactly a star studded roster even if they were all in their prime, and they definitely are not.
On the other end of the spectrum are guys like Burcham and Tyler Krieger; players you have probably never heard of (I was actually broadcasting in Lynchburg, VA when Krieger made his Advanced-A debut with the Hillcats in June of 2016. He is a very solid player and the Indians are going to be the best team in baseball for the next 10 years with the guys coming up that pipeline.).
Team Israel started the tournament at a 200-1 shot. However, unless about 150 different things happen (first and foremost Israel losing to the Netherlands in their final Pool A game), Israel will advance to the next round of the tournament. Sure, there is almost no prayer in the world, not even the Shema (pretty sure this line is blasphemous) that Team Israel can win or even medal in the tournament. But who cares? The WBC is a fun and unique tournament that highlights players you completely forgot about and players you never knew existed. So tune in to the games, toss your politics aside, and root for the biggest underdog story in the tourney. Say it with me; YALLA, YALLA YISRAEL! YALLA, YALLA YISRAEL! YALLA, YALLA YISRAEL!