Team Israel’s baseball journey a stirring story of sports, patriotism

Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel is the David-and-Goliath story of Israel’s national baseball team as it competed for the first time in the World Baseball Classic.

The documentary premiered in Israel last week and will screen in Jerusalem on June 4.

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After years of crushing defeats, Israel finally ranked among the world’s best in 2017. Its roster included many Jewish-American major leaguers, most with a tenuous relationship to Judaism, barely any ever having set foot in Israel.

Their odyssey took them from the Holy Land, where they were hailed as modern-day Maccabees, to the tournament in South Korea, where they had to debunk their reputations as has-beens and wannabes.

The connection to Israel that the players forged pushed them to unexpected heights as they represented the country on the world stage.

Perhaps the Hollywood script writers would have preferred to finish the story with a trip to, well, Hollywood, with this rag-tag group of scrappy Minor Leaguers somehow willing its way to Los Angeles for the semifinal.

Put aside the fact that such terms misrepresented how good this roster actually was, thus kind of negating the Cinderella storyline for a minute. The more important point is that this team was always about more than just trying to win the tournament. It was about raising awareness of the sport in Israel (and funding for it).

It was about rallying the Jewish community in the United States around them. It was about overachieving and showing the world that Jewish baseball players can compete at this level.

“Maybe there will be kids who want to be the next Sam Fuld or the next Ryan Lavarnway,” said Israel manager Jerry Weinstein. “It gives them role models. The players were put on a pedestal worldwide. That will inspire all kids, but especially Israeli and US Jewish kids.”

In the baseball world, Israel’s surprising firstplace Pool A and overall 4-2 record will likely become a distant memory. But rest assured it will not be forgotten by the American Jewish community, by a new generation of Jewish kids inspired by this team, by Israelis who perhaps had never watched baseball before and by the Israel Association of Baseball, which hopes to take this spark and build it into a fire for the sport back home.