The Daily Californian

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

On Sept. 11, 2001, America stood still. Ten days later, America played ball.

Fittingly enough, the first game to be played once play resumed following the terrorist attacks ended in the most American of fashions.

A late-round afterthought draft pick and the son of Italian-immigrant parents-then-New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza-hit a game-winning home run against the Atlanta Braves at Shea Stadium in New York. Even the Braves dugout gave him a standing ovation.

In the summer of 1938, as Hitler formulated his Final Solution and began massing forces along the German-Polish border, another immigrant son, Hank Greenberg, the Detroit Tigers' Jewish first baseman, assailed Babe Ruth's single-season home run record. Though Greenberg's chase fell two short, every one he did hit was seen by the American people-and especially by American Jewry-as a blow against Nazism.

The Jewish people make up less than one percent of the world population and about four percent of the United States. In 2005, Jews made up nearly three percent of players in the Major Leagues. In 2006, Jews made up over 14 percent of the Cal baseball team.

This summer, in a move that would have made Greenberg-the original Hebrew Hammer-proud, the State of Israel officially became home to the Israel Baseball League, which starts play in June, 2007. Additionally, Israel is seeking an entry in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

In the same way that baseball has helped Americans in our times of crisis, it will now be there to help the battle-weary people of Israel.

But, last time I checked, a Louisville Slugger wouldn't do much against a suicide bomber.

And, the last time I strapped on the ol' catching gear, I had a hard enough time stopping a curveball in the dirt, so stopping a Katushya rocket is probably out of the question.

So, you ask: What can baseball do for Israel? Isn't that a soccer country?

While the sport itself may not be wildly popular or even that accessible (baseballs are still listed under imported goods), the prospect of even a largely American Team Israel could be an immense source of pride, not just for the State of Israel, but for Jews around the world. And, as for many teams in America, each new season brings new hope. Always next year for a pennant. Always next year for peace.

Baseball has always been the sport to attract the most Jewish athletes, For whatever the reason, the Jewish people tend to be overrepresented in at least two places-American universities and baseball.

So it comes as no surprise that the Cal baseball team had five Jewish players.

With Israel's push for a team in the 2009 WBC and its unique citizenship laws (all Jews anywhere have an open Right of Return), a prospective Team Israel could feature former All-Stars Shawn Green, Jason Marquis, Brad Ausmus and Mike Lieberthal, not to mention current college players. Last year's Cal squad featured junior Josh Satin, senior Jordan Karnofsky, senior Brett Munster, sophomore Charlie Cutler and bullpen catcher Ben Liepman.

Stud recruits like Cutler and former-All-Americans like Satin have a realistic chance of being in the major leagues by the time the next WBC comes around, and that means that they would be eligible to play for Israel. Anyone know how to say "Go Bears!" in Hebrew?

The team may not even win a game. It may get the bad luck of being grouped with Team USA, Canada and Mexico. But even if they don't score a run, the players wearing the blue and white of Israel could accomplish much more-giving a people who look with fear at the front page every day something better to look at instead-the sports page.

Tell Ryan who should play on Team Israel at sports@dailycal.org.