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Israel's success igniting international interest

Team's early splash in World Baseball Classic helping to draw attention to game
MLB.com @TracyRingolsby

Team Israel could be the poster boy for the World Baseball Classic.

By not only qualifying for the Classic but also earning victories over both host Korea (2-1 on Tuesday) and Chinese Taipei (15-7 on Wednesday) to advance to Pool E in Tokyo, Team Israel reinforces the biggest hope Major League Baseball had when it embraced the World Baseball Classic idea for the first time in 2006.

Team Israel could be the poster boy for the World Baseball Classic.

By not only qualifying for the Classic but also earning victories over both host Korea (2-1 on Tuesday) and Chinese Taipei (15-7 on Wednesday) to advance to Pool E in Tokyo, Team Israel reinforces the biggest hope Major League Baseball had when it embraced the World Baseball Classic idea for the first time in 2006.

It helps to grow interest internationally.

:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::

The World Baseball Classic runs through March 22. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Marlins Park, Tokyo Dome, Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Mexico, Petco Park, as well as the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.

Bottom line is the Classic is MLB's way to create international interest in baseball. And it is doing that. The competition, after all, was a major factor in baseball being returned to the Olympics in 2020.

The more success teams such as Israel have, the more international attention the game will receive.

The 2013 Classic saw a big splash. The Netherlands not only advanced from its opening-round pool over South Korea and Australia, but it also knocked off Cuba twice in the second round to earn one of the final four spots. The Dutch lost to the eventual WBC '13-champion Dominican Republic in the semifinal game.

And now comes Israel.

Manager Jerry Weinstein first guided the group through the qualifying round in Brooklyn, N.Y., last September, which was surprising enough. Ranked 41st in the world, Israel is the only one of the 16 WBC 2017 qualifiers that wasn't ranked among the top 20. And now it's headed to Tokyo for the next round.

That's despite having lost third-base coach Jerry Narron days before the tournament began when Narron, originally scheduled to manage the D-backs' Triple-A team at Reno, was moved into Arizona's interim bench coach job until Ron Gardenhire recovers from surgery for prostate cancer. That's despite the fact that only a handful of players on Israel's roster have had any big league playing time.

That's a tribute to the approach Team Israel has adopted thanks to the focus of Weinstein, who may be 73 but is still driven by his love for the game. Weinstein, who will manage the Rockies' Double-A affiliate this year, has been coaching and teaching baseball at the professional and junior college levels ever since his playing career ended after his days as a student at UCLA.

Now, Weinstein's love for the game has been coupled with his Jewish heritage, which he remembers as a kid was never more evident than when the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.

"I was drawn to Sandy Koufax and the Sherry brothers, Larry and Norm," Weinstein told MLB.com in advance of the qualifying play back in September. "The fact Koufax didn't pitch in the '65 World Series on Yom Kippur really hit me. I thought that was significant that his religion what that important to him."

Weinstein would like to think success by Israel in this year's Classic might have an impact on the Jewish population worldwide.

It's not easy. With the Classic's rules allowing players who have Jewish heritage to play for Team Israel, Weinstein could dream about a lineup that would have the likes of Ryan Braun, Kevin Pillar and Joc Pederson in the outfield, Ian Kinsler at second base and Alex Bregman at third.

None, however, opted to play for Israel, and instead Weinstein has a roster on which the most successful big league alumni are pitcher Jason Marquis and first baseman Ike Davis.

Video: ISR@KOR: Marquis strikes out Kim to escape a jam

Marquis last pitched in the big leagues with the Reds in 2015, when he had a 6.46 ERA in 47 1/3 innings, but he pitched three scoreless innings for Israel in the Classic opener. Davis, who was 2-for-14 in eight games with the Yankees last year, drove in two runs as the DH for Israel in the 15-7 victory against Taipei.

"It's exciting to feel you can be part of helping grow the sport worldwide," Weinstein said. "And it's a pride to be able to represent Israel."

And Weinstein and Team Israel have given the country a reason to be proud.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.

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