Fun-loving Decker revels in Israel's ride to WBC

September 25th, 2016

NEW YORK -- is a career Minor Leaguer who finds joy in everything he does in life. A Jewish kid, who grew up Santa Monica, Calif., and still lives there, Decker found plenty of joy this week playing third base for the victorious Israelis in the Brooklyn World Baseball Classic qualifier.

Israel defeated Great Britain, 9-1, on Sunday night to close out the tournament, sweeping its three games -- one against Brazil and two over the English.

In the clincher, Decker hit a homer and made a diving catch in foul territory on a pop fly to open the ninth.

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The next stop for Israel is Pool B, beginning next March 7 in Seoul, against host South Korea, Chinese Taipei and The Netherlands.

A free agent on his way down to Venezuela in a few days to play winter ball, Decker said no matter what happens he's going to Seoul to do some damage.

"I'm in 100 percent," said Decker, who also played for Brad Ausmus with the Israelis when they lost a heartbreaker to Spain in 2012 and missed the main event.

"He's going," added Israel manager Jerry Weinstein.

Decker is a fun-loving guy, who at 29 is still trying to make it in the big leagues. On Sunday night, when the Israeli players doffed their caps while standing along the first-base line during the national anthems, he was wearing a yarmulke on his head, the Jewish religious skullcap.

All through the three games, he talked about the team's mascot, the Mensch on a Bench. A mensch is translated in Yiddish as simply a good person. At the media conference after Sunday's victory, Decker placed the Mensch sitting in a cardboard box in front of his microphone. He said he had "rush ordered it" for the tournament.

"So that's the mensch you've been talking about?" he was asked.

"He's a mensch sitting in a bench," he said. "If you'd like there's a book here which you can probably find on Amazon or any store and tells you the entire backstory of the Mensch on the Bench. Feel free, I will loan this to you, but I'm going to want it back.

"As far as his identity, I will not tell you. Does Batman tell you he's Bruce Wayne?"

Safe to say, the Mensch is going with Decker and the Israelis to South Korea.

"No question about it," Decker said.

Why not have a little fun? Decker played 761 games in the Padres organization before they finally brought him up as a surprise late last season.

He was at the airport in Los Angeles after finishing the Minor League season awaiting luggage when his cellphone rang, a voice telling him to join the team immediately in Phoenix.

"I thought somebody was punking me," he said.

They weren't. He went 0-for-11 and since then hasn't played another day in the Major Leagues.

This year, he has run the gamut from Kansas City to Colorado to Boston, playing in the Minor Leagues in all three organizations. He had a great Spring Training for the Royals, but failed to make the cut, Kansas City ultimately trading him to the Rockies, who gave him his release. He had to wait a month before signing on to play Double-A ball for Boston.

Now he's not sure where the road will lead him save for another trip with Israel to the promised land. The back of his baseball card now reads 845 Minor League games and counting. He's hit 173 home runs and has a slash line of .262/.341/.520.

But he remains undaunted.

"It's been a really roller-coaster year, a crazy year," Decker said. "There was some demoralizing moments there. I hate to admit that I was starting to question what I was going to do. Coming here I felt great and I just wanted to have fun playing ball. We had a blast. Finishing like this makes it all worth it."

Considering the dual roller coasters -- Thunderbolt and Cyclone -- beyond the ballpark's left-field fence, the imagery and metaphor couldn't have been more complete.

For the last four days, Decker was really the Mensch on Israel's Bench.