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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Jordy Alter reading the Megilla with Team Israel

Team Israel wearing their kippot (credit_ jpost.com)

Mensch on a Bench, Team Israel’s mascot

[Editor’s note: Prior to Israel’s 12-2 loss in a rematch with the Netherlands over the weekend, the WBC team had been on a surprising roll, going 3-0 in the first round as it defeated South Korea, Taiwan and the Netherlands, and defeating Cuba in its first game of the second round. They are now out of the tournament completely, having lost on Wednesday to Japan, 8-3. The following is a first hand account of the team’s progress through the first round by a WBC insider, Team Israel Assistant Equipment Manager Jordy Alter.]

Israel just completed the “anticipated” sweep of pool A of the 2017 WBC. Wow, what an experience.

I am the assistant equipment manager for team Israel, a very important job if you want to be in the middle of the action. I’m not sure how much they need me; in fact, I’m sure they don’t really need me at all, but here I am.

My job basically consists of schlepping bags upstairs and downstairs, from one dugout to another, shagging fly balls, putting out the batting practice balls and collecting the batting practice balls, running errands to pick up Red Bull and other grocery items and more. I am a 54 year old dentist doing the job of a 16 year old gopher and loving every minute!

My boss is an MLB lifer, Eric Blum, a 53-year-old nice Jewish guy from sunny California with OCD issues. On my first day, he spent a lot of time teaching me how to set up a player’s locker. (I would just throw all their stuff in one pile and let them deal with it.) There is a system, including how to place their bags and hang their clothes, specifically their jerseys. He had me change the position of a jersey three times until he was happy with its placement.

The players are a unique blend of experienced, successful major leaguers (Ike Davis, Sam Fuld, Jason Marquis); borderline MLB players (Ryan Lavarnway, Cody Decker, Josh Zeid, Nate Freiman, Jeremy Bleich, Ty Kelly); young players who have a chance to make it in the MLB (Tyler Krieger, Brad Goldberg, Scotty Burcham, Alex Katz, Gabe Cramer, Zach Thornton, Dean Kramer); one Israeli (Shlomo Lipetz) and a bunch of journeymen. Somehow this combination is working!

The team started with a mini camp in Arizona the week before the tournament, where the 20 players began the melding process. Many of these players had been together in Brooklyn for the team’s decisive win there, and a few were on the team from 2013 (Zeid, Decker, Freiman).

They are a very cohesive group, with the old timers counseling the younger players. Ryan Lavarnway always gives the younger guys advice on their pitching, being honest and providing positive reinforcement at the same time. Ike DHs, and when the team is in the field he is downstairs hitting balls. He paces all games and doles out advice about certain pitcher’s styles and individual pitches. The players are constantly talking to one another about what pitches were thrown and how to best approach each pitcher. Jason Marquis often sits near the dugout steps, just analyzing baseball. He is very sharp and will make a great coach or manager some day.

The games so far have been incredible. The first, against Korea, was a very well played tight game. The team squandered many scoring opportunities, but its defense held strong. Scotty Burcham, who was projected to be a backup (Tyler Kelly was supposed to start at SS and Decker at third), started the game because the manager, Jerry Weinstein, wanted to play a stronger defense against Korea’s typically small team. The move was genius; Scotty will likely play every inning of this tournament at SS. He has made at least a half dozen spectacular plays this week.

The second game versus Taiwan (Chinese Taipei) was a blow out; our bats really woke up and stayed awake through the first inning of the Netherlands game, which was what we needed to close out the sweep.

All this was played in front of a spirited group of Israel fans.

Next we set off for Tokyo, and I expect we will play Japan and probably Cuba, in addition to the Netherlands again.

Who knows, there may another Purim miracle brewing, as the top two teams will advance to the final round in Los Angeles. I know my office manager, Maria, and Dr. Alissa might not be too happy if we have to reschedule more patients but, after all, this is fantasy camp!

By Jordy Alter

 Dr. Jordy Alter, a dentist who formerly resided in Fair Lawn, made aliyah more than 10 years ago and now lives in Beit Shemesh, spending a portion of each month in New Jersey.