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For Israel’s first Olympic baseball team, it’s wait until next year

Cody Decker, a former star at Santa Monica High, embraces Israel team mascot The Mensch after a victory over South Korea in the 2017 World Baseball Classic game.
Cody Decker, a former star at Santa Monica High, embraces Israel team mascot the Mensch after a victory over South Korea in the 2017 World Baseball Classic game.
(Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images / Menemsha Films)

Never has Israel won an Olympic medal in a team sport. The chances would have been 50-50 this summer.

Israel had qualified for one of the six spots in the Olympic baseball field. On Monday, Team Israel announced that four-time All-Star Ian Kinsler had obtained Israeli citizenship and signed up for the team.

On Tuesday, the Olympics were postponed, a particularly cruel blow to Israeli baseball officials who have toiled for years to establish the sport in a country that loves basketball and soccer above all. In the 2017 World Baseball Classic, an underdog Israeli team and its “Mensch on the Bench” mascot beat powers Cuba and South Korea in a magical run.

While the WBC is a niche event, the Olympics command a worldwide stage. Because of the size of a baseball team, Israel would have sent its largest delegation ever to the Olympics. And, with Israeli baseball officials planning youth fields outside Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the Olympics could have spurred the development of the sport in Israel like nothing else.

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“Baseball is not popular in Israel,” outfielder Jeremy Wolf said. “This was going to make a huge impact with the kids who would see us on television.

“So, when you get rid of the eyeballs of the Olympics, we’re just going to have to keep momentum going so, in 2021, when it happens, people are still going to be interested.”

While the team itself is good to go for 2021, the players might not be. Kinsler, 37, is a retired major league millionaire, but the current roster is loaded with players like Wolf: Jewish Americans who have competed in the minor leagues and obtained Israeli citizenship to play for the team.

Wolf last played in the minors in 2017. He quit his job at a youth training facility in Texas, moved to Israel for a time, played in the European qualifying tournament, then returned to his family home in Arizona to train. He planned on playing in an independent league this summer to stay sharp before the Olympics.

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“This year was set up perfectly,” he said.

He will turn 27 in November. He has no idea when he might next see his teammates, or even if this year‘s Israeli team will be the same as the one that represents Israel next year.

“I’ve got to figure things out,” Wolf said. “What kind of job do I get? Do I get into a career? Do I consider telling my employer about the Olympics? It leaves a lot of things unanswered.”


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