The qualifying rounds for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics began last week in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria, with the opening of the European Championship B Pool. Every player on the team has to be an Israeli citizen. 12 Jewish American baseball players, including 6 players from the Team Israel WBC team, made Aliyah last year and became Israeli citizens. This team is a cocktail blend of native Israeli ballplayers who developed in the IAB program and American professional ball players.
The other teams - Bulgaria, Greece, Ireland, Serbia and Russia - also had an abundance of American’s on their squads and the games were very well played. Israel defeated each of them in the first round of action, soundly making its mark as the best team in the tournament. The finals between Israel and Russia was a nail biter till the last out. The Team Israel starting pitcher, Joey Wagman, was literally knocked out, as a batted ball hit him squarely on the back, and Israel found itself down 3-2 in the 8th inning. Simon Rosenbaum tied it up with a home run that inning, and 2 passed balls brought in the winning runs, as Israel held on to win 5-3.
Blake Gailen was the well-deserved MVP for Team Israel with a .571 batting average, ably helped by Mitch Glasser, Zach Penprase, Rob Paller, and Rosenbaum, as well as pitchers Gabe Cramer, Corey Baker, Matt Soren, and Jonathan DeMarte. The Israeli-born ballplayers, Tal Erel, Asaf Lowengart, Noam Calisar, Ophir Katz, Shlomo Lipetz, Alon Leichman, and Dan Rothem, all products of the IAB development program, played key roles in all the victories and were the most delirious after the game, having collectively suffered through at least 100 tournaments before reaching this level.
Next, Israel will face Lithuania in the playoffs to see who moves up to Pool A.