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Dispatches from the World Baseball Classic Qualifier: Day four (the final)

In which DRB’s Malinowski dons a straw hat, grabs a Coney Island hot dog, and settles in for a few rounds of World Baseball Classic qualifiers

Outside MCU Park
Ian Malinowski

I try to avoid supporting favorites, but I’ve got to root for Israel now. World Baseball Classic rules make a person eligible to play for a country if they could have citizenship in that country, rather than if they actually do have citizenship. Based on Israel’s Law of Return, that means anyone with one Jewish grandparent, or anyone married to a Jew.

Here in Brooklyn, in the heart of American Jewry, rooting against a team full of American Jews would be wrong.

Baseball has been a part of the Jewish American story for a long time. Arguably baseball’s first professional, Lipman Pike played for the Philadelphia Athletics in the 1860s. And in the 1930s and 1940s, there was Hank Greenberg, practically the real-life Captain America, who helped batter down the stereotype of Jews as weak and unmanly.

Greenberg marked himself as Jewish in 1934 by refusing to play on Yom Kippur, even though his team was in a pennant race. Then he proved himself a big, strong man by hitting a ton of homers, including 58 in 1938, all while enduring and accepting antisemitic abuse. And then he left baseball and volunteered to fight Hitler with the Army Air Force.

Greenberg played his career in Detroit and Pittsburgh, but he’s beloved here in Brooklyn, and not only for his religion. Late in Greenberg’s career, in 1947, he was one of the few MLB players to publicly support Jackie Robinson, and the two became friends, prefiguring the historic alliance between the Jewish-American left and the African-American Civil Rights movement.

American Jews are more fully assimilated (other than in a few Brooklyn enclaves) and accepted now than they were in 1934, but that doesn’t mean the stereotypes and the antisemitism are gone.

So maybe it’s not quite fair that Israel gets to hop on the coattails of the long and storied history of Jewish-American baseball, and to claim former Mets and Cyclones players like Ike Davis and Josh Satin.

But on this day, in this borough, go Jewish Americans (Israel).

This is part four, so if you’re the type of person who likes things to happen in an order:

The man walking through the stands hawking “all-natural ices” has added a new line to his call: “Wild cherry. It is kosher.”

I haven’t seen anyone buy an all-natural ice all tournament, and now it’s way too cold, but he did get some chuckles.

There’s a decent crowd here. Lots of yarmulkes. Not as many people as for the first Israel-Great Britain game on Thursday evening, though. And practically no children this time. School day tomorrow.

There’s a friendly pair of Jewish guys in front of us who chat about the scorecard I’m keeping, and help out when I wasn’t paying attention. They know the players on team Israel, including where they play their minor league ball.

Just a reminder that there really are people who follow this sort of thing.

Jason Marquis started for Israel, just like on Thursday. But unlike his first try, Marquis was sharp, working quickly and throwing strikes. Great Britain took too many pitches in the zone, but they also missed when they swung, so credit Marquis and his old-man pitching experience.

Marquis had thrown 40 pitches three days ago on Thursday, so while he’s working a perfect game through four innings (with five strikeouts!), it seems pretty reasonable to pull him at the top of the fifth.

Bit of an odd play in Marquis’s last inning, where leadoff Antoan Richardson hitter laid down a very good bunt down the first base line. He had a good chance of turning it into a hit, but as he ran out of the box it caught him with the second bounce for the out.

I’ve never scored a play where the runner is out but no fielders touch the ball. Do I write “0?”

The bats were been pretty quiet throughout this whole tournament. Up to this point, there had been no home runs, other than an inside-the-parker against Pakistan, and not a lot of close fly balls, either. Some of that might have had to do with the wind, which seemed to alternate between blowing in from the left and across the field from the right.

But somewhere in the middle innings that wind died, and right on cue, the Israel bats came alive.

The first score came off the bat of Blake Gailen, a small lefty with giant forearms. With Scott Burcham standing at first, Gailen lifted a very high fly ball down the rightfield line. It seemed too high to carry, but it just kept going, leaving the stadium maybe ten feet fair. It’s not a very big stadium—315 to right, 325 to left, 412 to center—but the height on Gailen’s fly ball made it impressive.

Zach Bornstein walked, and then Ryan Lavarnway took the second pitch he saw out of the park as well. This one was a no-doubter, carrying clear over the scoreboard and roller-coaster facade in left. If it’s possible to say that a baseball hit that far was on a line, Lavarnway’s homer was on a line.

The scoreboard, which Israel kept hitting it over.
Ian Malinowski

Israel didn’t let up in the sixth. Burcham laid down a perfect bunt down the third base line for a single, and then Bornstein hit a line drive to straight center field. The British center fielder, Champ Stuart, took two steps in before realizing his mistake, at which point he was sunk. Bornstein ran it into an RBI triple.

Then in the seventh, Cody Decker hit a home run to nearly the exact same spot Lavarnway had—high over the roller-coaster scoreboard in left.

While the ball was flying out of the park for Israel, Josh Zeid had taken over for Marquis, just as he had in Thursday’s game. That may be a step down in moxie, but it’s a step up in stuff.

Zeid held the perfect game through two more innings before losing the strike zone completely and walking Jasrado Chisolm on four pitches in the seventh.

He was relieved by Jeremy Blythe in the eighth, who promptly lost both the no-hitter and the shutout. Albert Cartwright broke it up with a bloop single into right field, which Bornstein then let bounce by him for an error, sending Cartwright to second base. Chavez Young squeezed a groundball into right, scoring Cartwright.

After Blythe walked another batter, Israel called for veteran Craig Breslow to come on and clean things up, which he did.

I’ve been impressed with Champ Stuart, England’s center fielder, in this tournament, but this wasn’t his game. After he misplayed the line drive, he came to the plate in the seventh, took two strikes (one of which was a close, possibly wrong, call), and then struck out swinging.

Then he started an animated argument with the home plate umpire. His manager, Liam Carroll hustled out but didn’t get there in time. Stuart got himself tossed, and then Carroll followed him for good measure.

It’s rare to see a player thrown out for arguing balls and strikes when the ball/strike he’s arguing isn’t actually strike three.

Israel tagged on three more runs in the eighth inning, which meant that rather than go to their closer, Brad Goldberg, they instead sent out Dean Kremer to finish off the game. Which is kind of a nice bookend for the tournament.

Israel celebrating
Ian Malinowski

Kremer was born in California, but he really is an Israeli citizen. That makes him the first Israeli to be selected in the baseball draft.

It’s sort of hard to go back to the real world, now.

I’ve been heading to Coney Island to watch baseball every day for four days, and that’s enough time for it to start to feel normal.

There are some nuggets of wisdom I’ll be able to take back to my normal life, though:

  • In baseball, experience matters.
  • In baseball, definitions of eligibility for citizenship matter.
  • In photography, quality of camera and quality of photographer matter (sorry, y’all).
  • People are mostly good.
  • But Red Sox fans still suck.
  • If you want to achieve “regular” status and stop being carded at the beer stand, wear a funny hat.