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The 19 Jews of Spring Training

By Scott Barancik, editor

With Team Israel’s surprising run at the World Baseball Championship behind us, Jewish Baseball News turns to that beloved annual rite: Spring Training.

A total of 19 Jewish players were invited to MLB Spring Training camps this year, either as part of their teams’ active roster, 40-man roster, or non-roster invitee list. Here is how they’re doing through games played March 17.

Danny Valencia (Mariners)

  • In the first Spring Training with his new team, 32-year-old Valencia is hitting .184 with 1 HR, 3 RBIs, and 5 walks in 38 at-bats. Although he’s a career .321 hitter against righties (and .246 vs. lefties), he has struggled equally against both so far.
  • Seattle has Valencia playing first base almost exclusively. Last season with Oakland, Valencia had no errors at first base, one in the outfield, and 13 at third base.

Richard Bleier (Orioles)

  • Traded to Baltimore by the Yankees last month, Bleier has performed well this Spring, delivering a 1.50 ERA across four outings and six innings overall, and yielding six hits and one walk while fanning four.
  • Bleier is among several pitchers still fighting for a spot in the Orioles’ bullpen.

Max Fried (Braves/minors)

  • A 1st-round draft pick of the San Diego Padres in 2012, Fried — who missed the entire 2015 season due to Tommy John surgery — was impressive in his first MLB Spring Training, yielding a hit and three walks in three outings (and four innings overall) while striking out five.
  • Atlanta not only has promoted Fried to Double-A but added him to the Braves’ 40-man roster, meaning he will be eligible for call-up during the regular season.

Ryan Braun (Brewers)

  • Braun has seen limited action in Spring Training, going 3-for-11 with a HR, double, three RBIs and a walk while striking out three times. Nevertheless, the 33-year-old has remained something of a lightning rod for criticism, most recently for his complaints that Spring Training lasts too long.

Kevin Pillar (Blue Jays)

  • Pillar has been hot this Spring, hitting .355 with six extra-base hits, one RBI, and a .444 on-base percentage. He’s also been batting leadoff, a privilege largely denied him in past seasons due to a dearth of walks.
  • In prior Springs, Pillar’s average has ranged from .111 to .264.

Rowdy Tellez (Blue Jays/minors)

  • A non-roster invitee with a reputation for power — he hit .297 with 23 HRs last season at Double-A — Tellez has hit .259 this Spring with no home runs, two doubles, two RBIs, four walks, and 10 strikeouts.
  • No word yet on which minor-league team Tellez will be sent to after Spring Training ends.

Brad Goldberg (White Sox/minors)

  • In addition to playing for Team Israel in the 2017 World Baseball Championship, Goldberg pitched well for Chicago during Spring Training. In four appearances and 4.2 innings overall, he delivered a 0.00 ERA and earned a save while yielding two walks a hit and striking out one.
  • Earlier this week, the White Sox sent Goldberg back to Triple-A but placed him on the Major League club’s 40-man roster. He’s likely to make his MLB debut this season.

Ian Kinsler (Tigers)

  • Normally a strong Spring Training performer — through games played March 17, his career average was .328 with 30 HRs and 117 RBIs — Kinsler has hit .263 this year, with one HR and one RBI in 19 at-bats.
  • Kinsler also has played for Team USA in the WBC, hitting .294 in 17 at-bats.

Craig Breslow (Twins/minors)

  • Breslow, who has adjusted his pitching form in a data-driven bid to revive his stalled career, earned a minor-league contract with the Twins and an invitation to Spring Training. So far, so good: in five appearances and 4.1 innings overall, Breslow has yielded no earned runs and just one hit while striking out four. On the down side, he’s walked five.
  • Breslow is likely to begin the 2017 regular season in Triple-A.

Alex Bregman (Astros)

  • In addition to playing for Team USA in the WBC, Bregman has hit .304 in Spring Training, stroking two doubles and a walk while striking out once in 23 at-bats.

Garrett Stubbs (Astros/minors)

  • A non-roster invitee who hit a combined .304 in High-A and Double-A last season, Stubbs didn’t get a chance to play with Houston this Spring due to a problem with his throwing arm. He was later assigned to minor-league camp, but manager A.J Hinch said the Astros were “excited” about Stubbs, whom he called “really good behind the plate.”

Michael Barash (Angels/minors)

  • Barash, a 2016 draft pick, was perhaps the most unlikely non-roster invitee this Spring, having topped out at Single-A his rookie season (and hitting .240 there after batting .314 in rookie-league ball). The 22-year-old catcher went a perfect 2-for-2 with the Angels, singling and doubling in two pinch-hit at-bats.

Ryan Lavarnway (Athletics/minors)

  • Despite a non-roster invite, former major leaguer Lavarnway has seen limited play during Spring Training, having instead spent his time starring for Team Israel in the WBC. The 6’4″ catcher went 2-for-3 with a double for the Athletics before joining Team Israel.

Scott Feldman (Reds)

  • Signed to a one-year deal during the offseason, the 34-year-old Feldman is 0-1 this Spring with a 4.50 ERA. In eight innings spread across the starts, he’s yielded seven hits (including 3 HRs) and two walks while striking out seven.
  • Feldman has secured a spot as a starter in Cincinnati’s rotation and might start the team’s Opening Day game.

Jared Lakind (Pittsburgh/minors)

  • A non-roster invitee, Lakind has recorded one save this Spring and held opponents scoreless over three relief appearances. He has yielded two walks and two hits over three total innings while striking out two.
  • Lakind also played for Team Israel in the WBC.

Corey Baker (Cardinals/minors)

  • A non-roster invitee, Baker made his MLB Spring Training debut before playing for Team Israel in the WBC. In a 2.2-inning relief stint, he gave up 2 hits and a hit batsman but struck out one and yielded no runs.

Ryan Sherriff (Cardinals/minors)

  • A non-roster invitee, Sherriff has made the most of his first MLB Spring Training, going 0-1 with a 1.35 in six appearances and 6.2 innings overall. The 28th-round 2011 draft pick yielded six hits and one walk while hitting one batter and striking out an impressive eight.

Joc Pederson (Dodgers)

  • In a familiar pattern, Joc Pederson is hitting .242 this Spring with both a lot of home runs (4) and a lot of strikeouts (10). But that’s not giving him credit for advances he made in 2016, his second full season in the Majors. Pederson raised his batting average 36 points last year (to .246) while reducing his strikeouts, hitting more doubles, and slightly improving his home-run frequency.

Ike Davis (Dodgers/minors)

  • Davis, a former major leaguer who signed a minor-league contract with Los Angeles during the offseason, went 2-for-2 as a non-roster invitee before joining Team Israel in the WBC. He has been assigned to the Dodgers’ Triple-A team.

Ty Kelly (Mets/minors)

  • Kelly, who played for Team Israel in the WBC but does not identify exclusively as Jewish, is 2-for-8 this Spring with two RBIs and a .500 on-base percentage. He made his MLB debut in 2016.

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A ‘Kelly’ representing Israel? Yep!

Ty Kelly and his mother Diane, who is Jewish, traveled to Israel in January 2017 with a group of Jewish-American ballplayers

Ty Kelly and his mother, Diane, who is Jewish, traveled to Israel in January 2017 with a group of Jewish-American ballplayers

By Ron Kaplan, correspondent

“Slide, Kelly, Slide!” was usually heard in association with the great 19th-century player King Kelly, who played for several Major League teams and was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945.

But fans of the Israeli team that will be participating for the first time in the upcoming World Baseball Classic hope to shout it out for perhaps the most unlikely-sounding member of the roster: Tyler Patrick “Ty” Kelly.

The 28-year-old outfielder, who made his MLB debut last May with the New York Mets, will represent Israel in the upcoming WBC in Seoul, South Korea, beginning March 6.

Kelly spoke with Jewish Baseball News while driving to his parents’ home in Northern California prior to reporting to the Mets’ spring training camp in Port St. Lucie, Florida. Just hours after the February 9 conversation, the Mets designated him for assignment. He will begin the 2017 season with the club’s Triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas.

The first question that comes to mind when hearing that a player named Kelly wound up on Team Israel is, how on earth did this happen?

“Well, there are two sides to every story,” he said. “And there are two sides to my name, I guess. My dad’s side of the family is Catholic, and my mom’s side…is Jewish, so I got the privilege of experiencing two religions growing up.” Kelly said his family didn’t attend church or synagogue much. “When my mom’s side of the family was over, we were learning about the basic Jewish stuff… and when my dad’s side was over it was all about Christianity and everything. It was a good mix of both.”

Kelly’s first taste of international competition began with an e-mail from Peter Kurz, president of the Israel Association of Baseball. Kurz had heard the Stockton, CA, native might have Jewish roots, so asked if Kelly had at least one Jewish grandparent, which would qualify him to join Team Israel. In fact, Kelly’s mother, Diane, is Jewish, so he was in.

“I really had no idea how the World Baseball Classic worked,” said Kelly, who made his Major League debut on May 24 and ultimately appeared in 39 games for the Mets in 2016, finishing with one home run, seven RBIs, and a slash line of .241/.352/.345.  “But [Kurz] said I was eligible, and he asked if I wanted to play. It’s an amazing opportunity, and it’s really cool that so many different guys can play on different teams.” Kelly had never even considered playing for Team Israel. “I thought if there was a Team Ireland or Team Germany…”

Because Kelly was with the Mets last September, he was unable to play for Israel in the WBC qualifiers, where the team swept all three games to move on to the actual Classic for the first time. (Israel lost in its first attempt at the qualifiers, in 2013.) Since the tournament takes place during spring training, however, Major Leaguers have the option to play. Ian Kinsler and Alex Bregman have committed to playing for Team USA, while Kevin Pillar, Ryan Braun (whose father is Israeli), and Joc Pederson declined the Israeli invitation as well.

“It’s hard to say why anyone doesn’t want to play [for Team Israel]. I think that having to go to Korea and back and miss part of their spring training for two weeks, maybe that’s what it is; it’s a big commitment. It’s such a great opportunity for everyone, but everybody has their own stuff going on.”

Most members of Team Israel will participate in a mini-camp in Arizona from February 24-26 and then leave for South Korea on February 27 to get in a week of practices and exhibition games with local teams. If Israel advances beyond the first round, the team will go to Tokyo for the second. The championship round will take place at Dodger Stadium from March 20-22.

‘Heading Home’ to Israel

In early January, Kelly was part of a contingent of Jewish-American ballplayers — including Sam Fuld, Ike Davis, Ryan Lavarnway, Josh Zeid, Cody Decker, Jon Moscot, Corey Baker, Jeremy Bleich, and Gabe Kapler — who traveled together to Israel. The purpose of the visit was two-fold: introduce Israel to baseball, and introduce the players to Israel.

“Everybody was very welcoming to us,” Kelly said. “They were thanking us for representing them in the World Baseball Classic. There are a lot of people that have lived in America or have family members in America, so there are a lot of people who are baseball fans there and can connect with us.” reporter Jonathan Mayo came along with a film crew to gather footage for a forthcoming documentary about Team Israel, titled Heading Home.

Kelly said he keeps up with the news — including what’s going on in the Middle East — via CNN. “That’s the most easily consumable media for me. Things are so complex in the world, it’s easier for me to see and hear about it than read about it.”

“Just being over there was amazing,” he said. “It was a lot different than the way the Middle East is represented [in the U.S.]. There are so many complex problems that it’s hard to conceptualize everything, so getting to go over there see how they go about their lives on a day-to-day basis [was educational].”

The group began in Tel Aviv before moving on to Jerusalem and other locales. “We bused around a bunch of different places. We saw so much and it was packed into the first four or five days. By the end of it, everyone was just exhausted. We saw tons of stuff and I know there was more that we didn’t have time to see.”

The players participated in a groundbreaking ceremony for a new baseball complex in Beit Shemesh. One of the problems of the short-lived professional Israel Baseball League in 2007 was the lack of adequate facilities in a country that seemed to have little knowledge of the game. With Israel’s recent success on the diamond, the time seemed right for an upgrade.

Asked to pick one thing he will never forget about his visit, Kelly replied, “One thing is tough. I’ve been telling everyone there were two favorite things: Going to the Western Wall; that experience was amazing. We were there on Shabbat so there were tons of people out there. Tons of people up at the Wall, praying and singing and dancing…. I don’t think we have anything like that in America, religion-wise.  It was almost like being at a sporting event with the people cheering and singing and praying together.

“My other favorite thing was being at Independence Hall and listening to the recordings of the national anthem [and] just being in the room where all this history happened.”

Back in the U.S.

Kelly is a bit of a renaissance man. He has many interests outside the game, including writing and music, and he even co-hosted a food blog for a time. And while he enjoyed the local delicacies in Israel, “by the end of it, I was happy to come back to familiar food. Everything was great, all the food I could have asked for. It was almost too much. I almost felt like I had to eat too much pita bread, and that probably wasn’t the best decision, nutrition-wise,” said Kelly, who’s listed at a trim 6-feet tall and 180 pounds.

So how does he see Israel’s odds for success in its first World Baseball Classic? “I think that everybody feels like they’re going into the tournament with a chance to at least get out of the first round,” he said. “Everyone loves March Madness because you never know what’s going to happen…. You just have to be good at the right time.”

Despite the fact that he will be representing the Jewish State and has a Jewish mother, Kelly hesitated to call himself solely Jewish, which is why Jewish Baseball News and similar websites currently don’t list him on their ‘roster’ of Jewish players.

“It is a tough question, because at any other point in my life if I was asked that, I would just have said ‘Catholic’ because I went to a Catholic high school and that’s what I studied…. It’s really hard and I haven’t thought of a good answer for this question. I respect all of the religions and it’s hard to make a case — at least to myself — that I should just pick a religion, you know what I mean?

“I guess my best answer would be, I feel happy that I was able to experience both of the religions the way that I did growing up.”

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Ron Kaplan (@RonKaplanNJ) hosts Kaplan’s Korner, a blog about Jews and sports. He is the author of three books, including The Jewish Olympics: The History of the Maccabiah Games and the forthcoming Hank Greenberg in 1938: Hatred and Home Runs in the Shadow of War.


Israel’s WBC roster taking shape

By Scott Barancik, editor

The roster of players set to represent Israel in the World Baseball Classic in South Korea this March is taking shape.

Team Israel general manager Peter Kurz, whose squad of former Major League and current minor-league athletes guided Israel to a qualifying-round win in September, said Tuesday that 15 ballplayers had already committed to play in the main tournament in Seoul. The list includes:

  1. Ty Kelly, IF (New York Mets)
  2. Sam Fuld, OF (free agent)
  3. Jason Marquis, P (free agent)
  4. Ike Davis, 1B (free agent)
  5. Ryan Lavarnway, C (Oakland Athletics/minors)
  6. Cody Decker, IF (Milwaukee Brewers/minors)
  7. Josh Zeid, P (free agent)
  8. Nate Freiman, 1B (free agent)
  9. Tyler Krieger, IF (Cleveland Indians/minors)
  10. Nick Rickles, C (Washington Nationals/minors)
  11. Dean Kremer, P (Los Angeles Dodgers/minors)
  12. Corey Baker, P (St. Louis Cardinals/minors)
  13. Jeremy Bleich, P (free agent)
  14. Jake Kalish, P (Kansas City Royals/minors)
  15. Alex Katz, P (Chicago White Sox/minors)

Two key additions are Ty Kelly and Sam Fuld. During the qualifiers in September, Kelly was playing for the New York Mets, while Fuld, then with the Oakland Athletics, was on the disabled list. Also new are minor leaguers Tyler Krieger and Jake Kalish.

Roster spots have been offered to at least seven additional minor leaguers who played for Team Israel in September : Zach Borenstein (Arizona Diamondbacks), Brad Goldberg (Chicago White Sox), Blake Gailen (independent), Scotty Burcham (Colorado Rockies), Tyler Herron (New York Mets), R C Orlan (Washington Nationals), and Joey Wagman (Oakland Athletics). None has provided a final answer yet.

Kurz told Jewish Baseball News that Danny Valencia of the Seattle Mariners and Craig Breslow, who is seeking to return to the Major Leagues, are possible future additions to Israel’s roster. Team Israel also is pursuing Joc Pederson of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Jason Kipnis of the Cleveland Indians.

Several prominent pros politely declined Team Israel’s invitations due to injury, family commitments, Major League aspirations, or other concerns. They include Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers, Kevin Pillar and Scott Feldman of the Toronto Blue Jays, Richard Bleier of the New York Yankees, Jon Moscot of the Cincinnati Reds, and minor-league prospect and Ryan Sherriff of the St. Louis Cardinals. Sherriff played for Team Israel in the September qualifiers.

Alex Bregman of the Houston Astros and Ian Kinsler of the Detroit Tigers have committed to play for Team USA rather than Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic.

Under WBC rules, athletes can play on Team Israel as long as they are eligible for Israeli citizenship. That means having at least one Jewish grandparent or being married to someone Jewish. Nearly all the players on Israel’s roster personally identify as Jewish.

Earlier this month, eight players on the WBC roster visited Israel for a week to learn about the country, meet Israeli fans, and break ground on a new baseball stadium. reporter Jonathan Mayo and Ironbound Films co-founder Jeremy Newberger plan to create a documentary about the trip, titled Heading Home.

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israel trip

Trailed by a documentary film crew, 10 Jewish ballplayers will be touring Israel from January 3-10, 2017

By Stuart M. Katz, correspondent

When centerfielder Sam Fuld and nine other Jewish athletes head to Israel on January 3 for what might be dubbed a ‘Baseball Birthright’ trip, they won’t be alone.

Wives, parents, sons, and a fiancée will be traveling with this minyan of Major League players and prospects, all of whom plan to represent Israel at the World Baseball Classic taking place in South Korea in March 2017. Team Israel qualified for the quadrennial contest by winning a qualifying tournament in September.

Also coming along for the ride? A film crew. reporter Jonathan Mayo (Twitter) and Ironbound Films co-founder Jeremy Newberger (Twitter) plan to create a documentary titled Heading Home about the one-week trip. For most of the players, it will be their first visit to the Jewish homeland.

“The idea for the film came first,” Mayo told Jewish Baseball News. “It wasn’t originally planned around the WBC, but after Team Israel qualified, it all came together.”

Mayo said he and Newberger, childhood friends from camp Young Judea, are getting a lot of help. Driving forces behind the project include the Jewish National Fund’s Project Baseball, founder Jeff Aeder, and Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States.

Although plans for the film have not been finalized, Mayo expects the documentary will be screened at film festivals and air on

Fuld, who sat out the Oakland Athletics’ 2016 season with a rotator-cuff injury, will be joined on the trip by Ty Kelly of the New York Mets, Josh Zeid of the New York Mets’ organization, Ryan Lavarnway of the Athletics’ farm system, Jon Moscot of the Cincinnati Reds’ system, free agents Ike Davis and Cody Decker, former MLB outfielder Gabe Kapler (now director of player development for the Los Angeles Dodgers), St. Louis Cardinals prospect Corey Baker, and former MLB prospect, Jeremy Bleich, currently playing in the Dominican Winter League. Danny Valencia of the Seattle Mariners planned to come but had to drop out for family reasons.

A key motivation behind the trip and documentary is to build support for baseball within Israel, where soccer and basketball are king. The Israel Association of Baseball, hopes to recruit new players as well as raise funds to expand the country’s meager baseball infrastructure.

In addition to visiting Masada, the Dead Sea, an Israeli Air Force base, the Old City in Jerusalem and Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, the 10 ballplayers will conduct public practices and meet local dignitaries and ballplayers.

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Stuart M. Katz is a die-hard Yankees fan. An attorney at Cohen and Wolf in Bridgeport, Conn., he chairs the firm’s Litigation Group, practicing mainly employment law, and represents employers as well as executives.

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