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How they built Team Israel’s roster

By Sam Brief, Correspondent

In September’s qualifying round for the 2017 World Baseball Classic (WBC), Colorado Rockies prospect Scotty Burcham tallied a .455 batting average, the best on Team Israel and among the top 15 for all teams.

If not for Facebook, Burcham might never have swung a bat in Brooklyn.

Since anyone who is Jewish or has a Jewish parent, grandparent or spouse can play for Team Israel, volunteers like Alex Jacobs, a Houston Astros scout, were asked to help find such players. Jacobs often employed creative methods.

Jewish baseball fans didn't know that Colorado Rockies prospect Scotty Burcham was Jewish until a volunteer scout for Team Israel 'discovered' him

Jewish baseball fans didn’t know Colorado Rockies prospect Scotty Burcham was Jewish until a volunteer scout for Team Israel ‘discovered’ him

“It’s Facebook stalking,” said Jacobs, who recently was named Team Israel’s director of player personnel. “I researched Scotty Burcham, and I found his Facebook. When I research these kids, I look for their parents, and I see if their parents have any Jewish in them. His mother was from New York, I believe. So I checked one box. Then, I looked at a picture of her and thought she looked kind of Jewish.

“So I called [Team Israel manager] Jerry Weinstein and said, ‘How about Scotty Burcham?’ And he said ‘Scotty Burcham? What do you have on him?’ And I’m like, ‘He plays shortstop. He’s Jewish. His mom looks like she’s Jewish.’ So Jerry called Scotty’s manager, and the manager asked Scotty if he was Jewish, and Scotty said, ‘Yeah, I am. Why do you ask?’ And the rest is history. He played really well for us.”

Burcham filled a gaping roster hole in the middle infield and helped Team Israel win the WBC qualifiers for the first time. Israel took down Great Britain and Brazil and then crushed Great Britain, 9-1, in the championship game, to advance to the March 2017 WBC games in Seoul, South Korea.

Houston Astros scout Alex Jacobs (left) and Los Angeles Dodgers scout Jonah Rosenthal (right) volunteered to help Team Israel build its roster for the World Baseball Classic

Houston Astros scout Alex Jacobs (left) and Los Angeles Dodgers scout Jonah Rosenthal (right) volunteered to help Team Israel build its roster for the World Baseball Classic

Israel’s 28-man roster in Brooklyn included former Major League Baseball players such as Ike Davis, Jason Marquis and Josh Satin, who skipped the final game to fly to California for the birth of his child. But Israel’s Law of Return made the roster-building process unlike any other, as the team would venture outside of the database of ballplayers already identified as Jewish.

The WBC’s rules state that a player can join a country’s team if he is eligible for citizenship within that country. Per Israel’s Law of Return, citizenship can be granted to anyone who has a Jewish parent, grandparent or spouse.

“We’re looking for ballplayers who can meet the Law of Return for the land of Israel and become Israeli citizens,” said Peter Kurz, the president of the Israeli Association of Baseball. “That’s a much wider interpretation than the actual Jewish law, which says that you have to have a Jewish mother in order to be considered as a Jew. We were able to make it a little broader.”

Kurz added that Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks, whose father is Jewish, doesn’t qualify since he is devoutly Christian.

“We don’t want people who don’t feel Jewish heritage,” Kurz said.

Volunteers like Houston’s Jacobs, Jonah Rosenthal of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Guy Stevens of the Kansas City Royals, and baseball veterans Adam Gladstone and Ty Eriksen uncovered some previously-unknown gems, such as Burcham. But MLB’s rules require proof of eligibility. That was Kurz’s job. Jacobs, Rosenthal and the others gave Kurz the names, Kurz reached out to the players and proved a Jewish connection, and Weinstein managed the team.

“I would get the emails or numbers of their parents, and in almost every case, the parents were totally thrilled that their sons would compete for Team Israel,” Kurz said. “They would send in their son’s Bar Mitzvah certificate, or a birth certificate or a bris certificate. In some cases, I would need a birth certificate of the father. And in other cases, I would have to go to a grandparent.”

It wasn’t always so straightforward. For one player, a tombstone with a Jewish star had to serve as proof.

“The father went to take a picture of his mother’s tombstone, and sent it to me,” Kurz said. “That was the most extreme.”

In between identifying Jewish players and providing proof of their eligibility to MLB officials, Team Israel had to secure each player’s commitment to play. Some former MLBers, like Davis and Marquis, were tougher gets.

“I called both those guys twenty-something times before I got a return call,” Weinstein said. “Marquis had basically retired in the middle of 2015, when he was playing with the Reds. But he pitched on an alumni team in the [National Baseball Congress] World Series in Wichita, and scouts told me he pitched pretty well. So that sparked my interest in him. … He said, ‘I’m gonna check with my wife,’ then he said, ‘I’ll do it.’ He was a great teammate, and a great pitcher on the team.

“Ike Davis got his release from the Yankees, so he was hanging loose, and the timing was just right.”

Team Israel began with a list of known Jewish players maintained by Jewish Baseball News and Jewish Sports Review. Because certain positions were underrepresented, particularly in the middle infield, Weinstein asked his volunteer scouts to find unknowns.

“A lot of what we did was scouring through systems, like college rosters, to find more,” said Rosenthal, the Dodgers scout. “It was an all-hands-on-deck approach. Some of these guys we hadn’t seen. But we weren’t dealing with the biggest demographic out there. Sometimes it involved calling scouts. Sometimes it involved digging for information.” Roughly half a dozen previously-unknown players were discovered as a result of these efforts.

In March, Team Israel will head to Seoul to face off against Chinese Taipei, South Korea and the Netherlands in Pool A of the WBC, where a total of 16 teams will compete for the title of world’s best.

Unlike the qualifiers, which took place during MLB’s regular season, the WBC will take place during the offseason. Kurz and Weinstein hope to add several Major Leaguers to Israel’s roster, including Joc Pederson (who played for Israel in the 2013 WBC qualifiers), Scott Feldman, Alex Bregman, Ian Kinsler, Ryan Braun, Sam Fuld, and more. Weinstein said Kansas City Royals 3B Mike Moustakas, who is married to a Jewish woman, would be eligible if not for a recent stint on the disabled list.

However the roster pans out, volunteers like Gladstone, Jacobs and Rosenthal hope Israel’s success on the international stage will boosts its popularity within the country, which has been a consistent goal. In early January, players will head to Israel for a team trip.

“When we got that final out in Brooklyn, to know the positives that it would do for growing the game in Israel is amazing,” Gladstone said. “It’s not only the money, but also the equipment and notoriety. You felt like you accomplished something. You had a very small part in growing the game of baseball, and for providing opportunities for young kids in Israel who maybe wouldn’t have that if we didn’t win a baseball game.”

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sam brief mugSam Brief is a sophomore at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, where he is a television reporter, radio producer, play-by-play man and writer. Follow him on Twitter @sambrief and feel free to shoot him an email at


By Scott Barancik, Editor

Israel’s entry in the World Baseball Classic qualifiers has 15 pitchers on its roster. And for tonight’s opener against Great Britain, manager Jerry Weinstein will hand the ball to the very oldest: 38-year-old Jason Marquis.

No doubt, the Staten Island native has the experience edge. A first-round pick in the 1996 amateur draft, Marquis — who was raised in a Conservative Jewish household and is the grandson of Holocaust survivors — went on to enjoy a 15-year Major League career with nine teams. Notable stats include a 124-118 career record, an All-Star nod (2009, though he didn’t play), a Silver Slugger award (for a pitcher, the man can hit), five playoffs, and a World Series (2004, with St. Louis).

Putting Marquis on the mound is not without risk. The 6’1″ right hander didn’t play in the Majors in 2014, struggled in 2015 (3-4, 6.46 ERA with the Reds), and has had limited opportunity to play since.

“Of the four teams, ours has the most experienced talent,” he told the Staten Island Advance. “But you still have to go out there and prove it.”

Tonight’s game begins at 7:00pm EST and will take place at MCU Park in New York, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, a New York Mets farm team.

Israel’s second game takes place tomorrow (Friday, Sept. 23) at noon, with at least one more game to follow. It is competing against Great Britain, Brazil, and Pakistan to advance to the first round of the World Baseball Classic tournament in March 2017. The winner will play Chinese Taipei, Korea, and the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Seoul, South Korea.

Check out these articles about Team Israel and the WBC qualifiers:

Good Bat? Cannon Arm? Jewish? Sign Him Up! (New York Times, 9/22/2016)

Israel’s Baseball Team is Ready to Rock Coney Island — and Maybe Shock the World (Tablet, 9/21/2016)

Jason Marquis Pitching for Team Israel in WBC Qualifier Thursday (Staten Island Advance, 9/21/2016)

Missing from Israel’s Baseball Team: Israelis (Tablet, 9/20/2016)

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By Sam Brief, Correspondent

Josh Satin forcefully flipped his blue New York Mets helmet to the ground, extended both of his arms outward, and jumped onto an ecstatic Scott Hairston.

The rest was lost in a sea of blue-and-white pinstriped uniforms—jubilant Mets teammates mobbing Satin, who just seconds before hit a pinch-hit, walk-off single against closer Sergio Romo and the defending world-champion San Francisco Giants.

Minutes later, a shaving cream pie welcomed him in the dugout. Satin was riding high. He finished the day with two hits, a sacrifice fly, and three RBIs.

“Pretty much everything that could have gone right was going right,” Satin said of his career-best 2013 campaign, in which he hit .360 over the first month of the season. “I got to play a lot, and I played great.”


Two years earlier, Josh Satin stood uneasily on the Mets’ on-deck circle at Citi Field—about to make his major league debut in the bottom of the 8th inning against the Marlins.

“I thought I was going to pass out,” Satin said. “My heart was pounding so much. I didn’t know what to do. I’ll never forget how nervous I was.”

With two outs in the bottom of the 8th, shortstop Jose Reyes was at-bat with a full count. He flied out. Satin walked back to the dugout—his first MLB plate appearance would have to wait for another day. He would eventually single in his debut three days later—September 4, 2011—against the Nationals in Washington.

Satin’s pro baseball career began back in 2008, when he was selected by the Mets in the 6th round of the draft, and included stops with the Reds and Padres organizations as well. But in June of this year, he decided to retire because of debilitating symptoms from a concussion he suffered last year in a pop-fly collision with a teammate from the Louisville Bats, the Reds’ Triple-A affiliate.

The concussion cheated Satin of his ability to put bat to ball—the skill that elevated the infielder from high-school stardom to a prolific yet up-and-down college career at Cal-Berkeley to the major leagues.

“I just hadn’t been as good,” Satin said. “My depth perception was off. Balls that I would drive into right-center, I would all-of-a-sudden just tap. And I would be like, ‘What the heck was that? That never happens.’ And it happened over and over and over again.

“I felt like I wasn’t the same and I wasn’t going to be the same. … It’s hard enough to hit a little baseball when a guy is chucking it at you 95 miles an hour. But when you can’t really lock in on it like you used to, it makes it 20 times harder—maybe a thousand times harder.”

Satin was in-and-out during the rest of the 2015 season before deciding to take the year off, spending his time working with concussion therapists. He returned in 2016.

“I came back this year with San Diego hoping it would be different after the treatment,” Satin said. “And it wasn’t. So, basically, it was a choice of, ‘Do I want to wait this out again or do I want to start the rest of my life?’ And I chose to start the rest of my life.”

Satin announced his retirement on June 10 via Twitter, writing, “I have decided to retire from the game of baseball. Injuries especially head injuries diminished my skills and it’s time for me to move on.”

Josh Satin of Team Israel looks on from the bench during game one of the Qualifying Round of the World Baseball Classic against Team South Africa at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida, on Sep. 19, 2012 (Tom DiPace, Getty Images)

Josh Satin of Team Israel looks on from the bench during game one of the Qualifying Round of the World Baseball Classic against Team South Africa at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida, on Sep. 19, 2012 (Tom DiPace, Getty Images)

In spite of his retirement, Satin isn’t quite done with baseball. This September, he will represent Team Israel in the qualifying round of the fourth World Baseball Classic. Games will take place at MCU Park in Brooklyn, the same field where Satin got his start with the Mets organization for the Class-A Brooklyn Cyclones.

“It’s going to be full-circle for me,” Satin said. “I have great memories there. It’s where I started my professional career, and I’ll play my last game at that field. It’ll be nice to have gotten away from the game and come back in this kind of setting and have one last hurrah.”

Team Israel’s manager is Jerry Weinstein, who was the Colorado Rockies’ catching coach in 2013 and now works as the team’s director of player development.

“He will go full cycle,” Weinstein said. “That shows this is meant to be.”

Satin has never been to Israel, but he first played for Team Israel in the 2012 World Baseball Classic qualifiers, in which the team lost to Spain in the final round.

Weinstein, who preaches the World Baseball Classic as an opportunity to jumpstart baseball in Israel, commended Satin’s skillset.

“He’s an upper-level baseball player,” Weinstein said. “Even though he’s retired right now, he still has a skill level that’s better than most of the guys who will be on the team. And he occupied a position of need—there are very few Jewish infielders. We’re hoping he can play third base for us.”

Team Israel’s first qualification game is on September 22, which may pose an issue for Satin. He and his wife, Allyson, are expecting a baby girl on September 25. Of course, Satin is hopeful the dates don’t conflict. The opportunity to play with Team Israel—a chance given to Jewish players from any country—means baseball without the stress.

“No fans know this, but professional baseball is really, really stressful,” Satin said. “No matter who you are—no matter if you’re the worst guy in the minor leagues, or if you’re me or if you’re Mike Trout. It’s stressful. There’s expectations people have, and you want to set yourself up for your future. Every day is stressful.

“Playing for team Israel will be the first time in a long time where I will go and have some fun. I’m not playing for my future. I’m playing to enjoy myself and to help the team win. I’m excited about that.”

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sam brief mugSam Brief is a rising sophomore at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, where he is a television reporter, radio producer, play-by-play man and writer. Follow him on Twitter @sambrief and feel free to shoot him an email at

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