When you consider the odds, the idea that Israel’s national baseball team could qualify for a spot at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo seemed like an impossibility.
First, only six countries qualify. Second, Israel has never qualified to play baseball at the Olympics and rarely qualifies for team sports at the Olympics. Lastly, Israelis simply don’t play baseball. In fact, some Israelis didn’t even realize they had a national baseball team until that team started making headlines Sept. 22.
That was the day when the Jewish state added another miracle to its roster and became the first team (after Japan, which automatically qualified as the host nation) to qualify to play baseball at the 2020 Olympics. That day, the team won its last game at the Europe/Africa qualifier.
“We were an underdog. No one really expected us to go very far,” said Jake Rosenberg, a player on the team hailing from the Philadelphia area. “Every tournament we have, the common goal is just to get to the next one. Now, we can say we finally reached our end goal, which is to make the Olympics, (which) is a dream come true. No one on this team thought at the beginning of this summer we’d come out as Olympians.”
The team has had a long journey to get to this point, Rosenberg explained. It started the tournament in the B pool, based on the team’s past performance, and had to win that pool to move on to the A pool.
From there, the team had to place in the top five to move on to the Europe/Africa Olympic qualifiers. Then it had to play everyone in a round-robin tournament, with the team with the best record making the Olympics.
The team won its first three games against Spain, the Netherlands and Italy, then lost a fourth game to the Czech Republic.
After that, it all came down to the game against South Africa. Israel wound up winning 11-1, securing the Jewish state’s Olympic spot.
“We didn’t really know one another,” said Rosenberg, son of Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia Chief Marketing Officer Steve Rosenberg, who serves as the Jewish Exponent’s publisher’s representative. “We met each other once. A couple guys knew each other more than others, but we all had that one common goal, to play for Team Israel and to get to the Olympics.”
Baseball isn’t a mainstay at the Olympics. It has come and gone over the years and hasn’t been played at the Olympics since Beijing in 2008. With the games taking place next summer in Japan, where baseball is popular, the sport has made a comeback.
The other four countries that will play will be decided in future qualifying events.
And now, the players — many of whom are American college and pro baseball players — are headed home. For Rosenberg, that means Philadelphia. Then the team will start working toward its next goal — winning a medal in Tokyo.
“We’re going to the Olympics,” Rosenberg said. “That’s all I can say. Crazy.”
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