The main goals of bringing Jewish-American baseball players to Israel were to help those who will be representing Team Israel in the upcoming World Baseball Classic connect on a deeper level with the country while at the same time helping to grow the sport in a nation not used to
The main goals of bringing Jewish-American baseball players to Israel were to help those who will be representing Team Israel in the upcoming World Baseball Classic connect on a deeper level with the country while at the same time helping to grow the sport in a nation not used to playing it.
By all accounts, the mission was accomplished on both fronts.
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In a whirlwind six-day tour, the 10 players were completely immersed in Israeli people and their culture, meeting dignitaries and young baseball players along the way. The itinerary was jam-packed, and the players surely made the most of it. Veteran outfielder Samuel Fuld may have summed it up better than anyone with this tweet:
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"This trip turned into something spectacular, an opportunity to immerse ourselves in Israeli culture, go back in history, learn about our heritage and explore a part of the world we may never have had a chance see," said Reds right-hander Jon Moscot, who won't be able to play for Team Israel as he is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. "Days were filled with one incredible experience after another, and the sights, smells, people and friendships we have taken home with us will be with us for the rest of our lives."
On the tour, the players were able to see Tel Aviv and Jaffo, explore much of the Old City of Jerusalem, head to the Dead Sea and Masada in the south and sample much of the country's cuisine. They took batting practice at a field at the Baptist Village and were on hand for the groundbreaking of what will be Israel's first legitimate baseball facility in Beit Shemesh. Interacting with baseball-starved kids, many of whom are the children of Americans who have moved here, clearly had an impact on the players.
"Seeing those kids when we dedicated the field at Beit Shemesh, those kids' lives might be changed because they're playing baseball, which is a game," said Cody Decker, who just signed with the Brewers. "It's a stupid kids game that has the ability to change lives and change your outlook on things and build bridges where there weren't any."
Added Moscot: "From the young Jewish kids' faces who got their baseballs signed by us, or received used bats or cleats, the look of pure joy in their eyes is something all of us will never forget."
While there was a lot of fun and games, the tour group also got a healthy dose of reality while in the country. There was a terrorist attack in Jerusalem, killing four, something the group was informed about while exploring Masada.
"Everyone here, if there's one thing I've learned, is strong and resilient," Decker said. "Nothing will break anyone's spirit here, even a tragedy like this.
"I do not have any fear for safety. If anything, I have more pride. I'm very proud to be Jewish, I'm very proud to be representing this unbelievable country, this beautiful country. Someone asked me why I'm not scared. It's because it's not about me or about the players. We're playing for something so much more. Coming here and seeing it first hand, it really feels like we're playing for so much more."
The players' experiences were captured by Ironbound Films and eventually will be turned into a documentary about the tour and about playing for Team Israel in the 2017 Classic.
"I feel like the documentary was a huge part of the trip, a major reason of why we went," Moscot said. "I really can't wait for the movie."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.