A failed attempt by Team Israel to qualify for next year’s World Baseball Classic was disappointing for former Phillies prospect Josh Zeid, but the experience is one that he is proud of and the Tulane University product is confident that the sport is headed in the right direction for the country that has limited experiences with America’s national pastime.
The righty hurler, Zeid, described his time representing Israel as a true highlight, not only in his career but in his life as a whole. Additionally, he stressed his level of enjoyment playing along side players with such similar backgrounds.
“Playing with 27 teammates, who all are very similar to myself, religiously and socially, was a tremendous and very unique experience,” Zeid said. “I’ve had Jewish teammates before, but to have a whole team of Jewish men, really brought a cohesiveness that I’ve never quite felt in the locker room before. It was as if we had been teammates for a whole year or years. It was the most fun I’ve had on the mound in a long time and it was also the hardest loss I’ve ever had to deal with in my career.”
Zied, who was part of a package of prospects dealt by the Phillies to Houston for All-Star outfielder Hunter Pence last season, was a stud on the mound for the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws team that won the South Atlantic League championship in 2010. With the ‘Claws that year, Zeid posted an 8-4 record with eight saves and a 2.93 ERA. He tossed a four-inning save, during which he allowed no baserunners, in Lakewood’s title clinching win over Greenville in September that year.
Managed by former major leaguer Brad Ausmus, who spent 10 seasons with Houston, Team Israel won its first two contests to advance to the final game for their bracket, allowing them to face Spain, a team that had already fallen to Israel two days earlier.
Zeid, who had made scoreless appearances in each of Israel’s previous contests, took the loss in the deciding match up this past Sunday in Jupiter, FL, as he surrendered a two-run single to Spanish shortstop Yunesky Sanchez in the top of the 10th inning. Spain was victorious by a score of 9-7.
Citing immense pressure in representing the nation’s first foray into World Baseball Classic action, the 25-year-old Zeid expressed a great deal disappointment in the loss.
“The whole Israeli Baseball Federation spent months putting together this team of Jewish American (and Israeli) baseball players, to try and get us into the real WBC in March,” Zeid stated. “And to lose collectively, it felt like we let them down. But we left everything on that baseball field every day of that tournament. We really wanted to win this for them, but you can’t build a kingdom overnight.”
The World Baseball Classic is, of course, a tournament sanctioned by the International Baseball Association which features 16 countries competing against one another, once every four years, to be crowned as the world champion. Teams’ rosters can consist of players that are residents or citizens of the country as well as players that have heritage from that country.
Israel’s roster, should the nation have advanced to participate in next Spring’s big tournament might have included several well-known players such as Ian Kinsler, Ryan Braun and Kevin Youkilis. Invitations to join the Israel team in the 2013 WBC were reportedly extended to every big league player of Jewish descent.
The WBC qualifying round was not the first instance that Israel has fielded a national team. They have also participated in tournaments in Europe as well as the United States. Popularity of baseball is increasing in Israel, thanks to plenty of American immigrants’ love of the sport, although a professional league lasted just one season as recently as 2007.
Developing Israeli children into fans and players will be a key to the future of baseball in Israel. Zeid and the entire Israel roster are prepared to do their part for the country they represented briefly and are anxious to get another opportunity to help the sport grow.
“For Israeli baseball to flourish, it’ll take time and I can’t wait to, hopefully, get another chance to play for them or watch them compete four years from now.”
Jay Floyd is PhilliesNation’s minor league insider. You can read more from Jay by visiting his site, PhoulBallz.com.