By Scott Barancik, Editor

Israel’s national baseball team went 6-0 last week to win its pool in the European Championship, a preliminary qualifying tournament for the 2020 Olympics.

Led by tournament MVP Blake Gailen, a Triple-A prospect with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Israel’s 24-man roster ran through opponents Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria and Ireland but had a tougher time against Russia. Israel scored 5 runs in the 10th inning for a comeback win against Russia on July 4, then narrowly defeated it again in the championship game.

The games were played before tiny crowds in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria, but Israel had a strong contingent of fans.

Many steps remain to make the Olympics. Next up, Israel faces Lithuania in a three-game playoff that begins July 26. If successful, Israel will advance to the European Championship’s A-Pool tourney in September. The top 5 teams there will move on to the Olympic qualifiers, and so on.

As a team, Israel hit .289 last week (second to Russia’s .367), led all squads with a 3.63 ERA, and tied for first with a .967 fielding percentage.

Gailen, a 34-year-old outfielder and the team’s most experienced player, hit .571 with 2 HRs and 8 RBIs — including a walk-off single in Israel’s July 4 win over Russia. Zach Penprase, a shortstop who last played pro ball in 2015, ranked second among all tourney players with 12 RBIs. On the mound, former Kansas City Royals prospect Gabe Cramer was stellar in an 11-1 win over Serbia, pitching 5 no-hit innings and yielding just one baserunner, a walk, while striking out 6.

Thanks to differing eligibility rules, Israel’s roster boasted fewer Major League prospects and more homegrown talent than when the country fielded a team for the 2017 World Baseball Classic. While the WBC allowed teams to field players who merely qualified for citizenship, last week’s European Championships tourney required players to be citizens of the countries they represented.

Israel Baseball president Peter Kurz deepened the country’s talent base over the past year by persuading roughly a dozen American players of varying experience — including Gailen, Penprase and Cramer — to obtain dual Israeli-American citizenship.

Last week’s roster also included seven native Israelis, a significant accomplishment given that baseball is a new and, so far, decidedly marginal sport in Israel. They included 3B/DH Noam Calisar, C Tal Erel, DH Ophir Katz, 3B/SS Asaf Lowengart, and pitchers Alon Leichman, Shlomo Lipetz and Dan Rothem.

The team also included players who never advanced beyond college baseball or whose only pro experience was in an independent league not affiliated with Major League Baseball.

Here is the full roster:

  1. Corey Baker (P)
  2. Eric Brodkowitz (P)
  3. Noam Calisar (IF-OF)
  4. Gabe Cramer (P)
  5. Jonathan Demarte (P)
  6. Tal Erel (IF)
  7. Ari Fabian (IF)
  8. Blake Gailen (OF)
  9. Mitch Glasser (IF)
  10. Danny Grillo (IF)
  11. Ophir Katz (IF-OF)
  12. Alon Leichman (P)
  13. Shlomo Lipetz (P)
  14. Asaf Lowengart (IF-OF)
  15. Rob Paller (OF)
  16. Dean Pelman (P)
  17. Zach Penprase (IF)
  18. Simon Rosenbaum (IF)
  19. Jake Rosenberg (OF)
  20. Dan Rothem (IF)
  21. Matt Soren (P)
  22. Joey Wagman (P)
  23. Ryan Willen (IF)
  24. Jeremy Wolf (OF)

If Israel makes it to the European Championship’s A-Pool Tourney in September, the team might be joined by three experienced pitchers: former Cincinnati Reds hurler Jon Moscot, current Minnesota Twins prospect Zack Weiss, and Dean Kremer, the Baltimore Orioles’ 9th-ranked prospect and the first Israeli-born player to be selected in an MLB draft.

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