For Team Israel, the long road to Japan has begun in Bulgaria.
Israel is competing this week in Pool 2 of the Confederation of European Seniors B Baseball Championships in Blagoevgrad, located about 60 miles south of Bulgaria’s capital city of Sofia. The ultimate goal is a spot in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Israel’s opponents in the round-robin tournament are Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, Russia and Ireland. The two top teams will meet in the final on Saturday, July 6. The division winner will play the Slovakian Division winner (Finland, Poland, Switzerland, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Romania or Slovakia) in a best-of-three series at the end of July.
The winner of that tournament joins the top 11 teams in Europe for the European Championship A Pool, from Sept. 7-16 in Germany. Teams such as The Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Czech Republic, Spain and France will compete for the European crown.
The top five teams in that tournament, plus South Africa — the winner of the African Cup — will compete from Sept. 18-22 in Italy in the European/African Olympic qualifier. The top team will go to the Olympics and the second-place team will move on next year to an international qualifier in Taipei.
Although the path is long and arduous, Team Israel has the help of 14 new Jewish American immigrant ballplayers, who have rounded out the roster of native Israelis.
“We have a very strong lineup with lots of lefties who can pound the ball,” said Peter Kurz, president of the Israel Association of Baseball. “The right-field fence is very short (around 270 feet) and the overall field dimensions are not large.
“We’ll have good defense up the middle with our veteran players at shortstop, second base and center field, and have some good young guys coming up the ranks,” he added. “The pitchers are looking good and although we don’t have one dominant starter we have a lot of guys who can go 3-4-5 innings a few times during the week. I especially like the close cooperation between our veteran Israelis and the new immigrants who made Aliyah last year. ”
Eric Holtz is the team manager. Holtz coached at Manhattanville College from 2004-07 and at Westchester (N.Y.) Community College from 2008-15.
Joey Wagman, Corey Baker, Gabe Cramer, Shlomo Lipetz, Mitch Glasser, Alon Leichman and Blake Gailen all played for Team Israel in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
Click here for Team Israel’s full roster:
Israel 14, Greece 7 — Israel scored four runs in the first inning with the benefit of just one hit — an infield single by Simon Rosenbaum. Noam Calisar added a two-run homer in the second inning, and Mitch Glasser and Blake Gailen hit two-run homers in a four-run ninth.
Glasser and Rosenbaum each had three hits and Calisar drove in three runs. Gailen had two hits, three RBIs and scored four runs. Shlomo Lipetz, the second of three Israeli pitchers, got the win.
Israel 11, Serbia 1 (8 innings) — Zach Penprase opened the scoring with an RBI double in the fourth inning. Gailen and Rosenbaum hit back-to-back homers to lead off a four-run sixth inning, and Glasser’s grand slam homer highlighted a five-run seventh. Glasser finished with five RBIs and Gailen and Rosenbaum each had two hits. Gabe Cramer got the win by pitching five hitless innings with one walk and six strikeouts. Joey Wagman went the last three, allowing three hits.
Israel 8, Bulgaria 0 — Penprase again opened the scoring with a fourth-inning RBI double. Israel broke the game open with a seven-run seventh, highlighted by Jake Rosenberg’s grand slam homer. Rob Paller and Gailen, who finished with three hits, added RBI doubles. Matt Soren allowed two hits with seven strikeouts and two walks in seven innings. Dean Pelman and Dan Rothem each pitched one inning of hitless relief to preserve the shutout.
Click here for the tournament schedule and results: