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Reinsdorf, Theo lend hand to Israeli Classic fundraiser

Event's goal is to bolster country's effort to field 2013 tourney squad

CHICAGO -- The spirit of Wednesday night's event at Harry Caray's restaurant in downtown Chicago centered on a fundraiser for Israeli baseball.

But with White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and Cubs president Theo Epstein part of the roundtable question-and-answer session, the talk was bound to turn to matters affecting Chicago's baseball franchises. The questions actually produced comments from the duo about Major League Baseball in general.

Reinsdorf was asked about his thoughts concerning baseball expanding to establish teams in foreign markets as the game continues to grow internationally. But his response indicated a desire for less teams overall in the future.

"I don't see baseball expansion right now," Reinsdorf said. "If it were up to me, I would contract two teams. But I certainly don't think expansion is on the horizon."

One fan at the sold out program asked Reinsdorf to name the two teams. Another fan pushed for an answer, but Reinsdorf smiled and declined.

"You know, I have a habit of getting in trouble ...," Reinsdorf said. "So I'm not going to get in trouble."

Epstein was asked the question on the mind of most of the Cubs fans in the crowd, which was where matters stood with Ryan Dempster. Sticking with prior team policy throughout the whole proposed trade with Atlanta involving the veteran right-hander, who invoked his 10-and-5 veto right, Epstein coyly avoided the topic.

"We haven't officially commented on it yet. So... ," said Epstein before pausing for a few seconds. "We are not going to start now. He pitched a very good ballgame today."

Questions for Epstein dealt with how long he felt it would take for the Cubs to be competitive to the more humorous best possible Jewish player on the team from a pool of current non-Jews.

"Star of David-lin Castro," Epstein quipped.

Reinsdorf spoke on various topics from Jewish players who suited up for the White Sox to his expectations for an International Draft starting in the next few years that would include foreign players other than from Japan. He also talked about his advice given to White Sox icon Mark Buehrle to take the free-agent contract offered to him by the Marlins upon hearing the offer was four years, $58 million, adding with a smile it was more than Buehrle was worth at this point of his career.

"The only thing I can tell you is when Mark told me he had a $58-million, four-year contract offer, I told him he should take it," Reinsdorf said. "I really told Mark he had to take it. At this stage of your career, it's more money than you're worth. He said he was going to take it, but he'll back in four years."

Israel is one of the teams taking part in a September qualifying tournament to get to the 2013 World Baseball Classic, with Minor Leaguers, college players and even Israeli citizens set to make up that squad. If Israel does qualify, then they could draw from Major Leaguers of Jewish heritage including White Sox infielder Kevin Youkilis, Milwaukee's Ryan Braun, the Mets' Ike Davis and Texas second baseman Ian Kinsler, to name a few.

Gabe Kapler, who took part in Wednesday's event, will serve as bench coach for manager Brad Ausmus, but he'll also play for Israel's Classic squad.

"There are some really high profile, strong Minor League players that are going to compete for us. And we feel like we have a very good chance to qualify," Kapler said. "Those [Major League] guys then will have a difficult decision.

"They are going to be choosing between Team USA, where they have competed before, for example Braun and Youkilis. They have a relationship with Team USA, so they may feel a pull to participate on behalf of Team USA."

Approximately $300,000 needs to be raised to get everything in place for Israel's team, according to Steve Stone, the White Sox television broadcaster who served as emcee for the evening. But there was a greater goal Wednesday to help raise money to build a baseball facility in a country besieged by many problems.

If the Chicago Executive Committee of the Israel Association of Baseball can contribute to raising $3 million, then Stone explained that the Israeli government would add 40 percent to that total.

"For all of the young people in Israel who haven't been introduced to this game, it promotes the family staying together," Stone said. "It promotes a great deal of sportsmanship and an idea of learning competition, but learning it over a baseball field, which is a whole lot better than learning it in some other places.

"Somewhere down the line, there will be a young kid growing up right now in Israel that probably hasn't learned anything about baseball, [and he] will learn it but also know the game, play the game. We are hoping to get players that actually come out that are good enough to play professional baseball. We think what we are doing here is a great thing."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin.
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