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Team Israel baseball gear a home run

  • JTATobinBaseball
A couple weeks ago, Adam Atkins (33), based in New York, didn't know Israel had a baseball team. But since the squad started winning games last week in the World Baseball Classic, he has become a fan. Atkins and his friends wanted team caps, but were frustrated to discover they were sold out online.
by ANDREW TOBIN, TEL AVIV | Mar 16, 2017

Team Israel's improbable five-game run in the international tournament has many American Jews kvelling, and looking to purchase a piece of their people's baseball history. The supply of official caps has since been upped and expanded, and the team's "Jew Crew" T-shirts worn off the field, are a mini-sensation.

"I think the league probably underestimated the number of American Jews who would be interested in merchandise," Steve Adler, who owns the company that makes the "Jew Crew" shirts, told JTA. "You can't really blame them. Who could have predicted this?"

Israel was the lowest-ranked team to qualify for the World Baseball Classic, coming in at 41st. Yet the club, with seven former major league players and 20 minor leaguers, started the tournament by beating third-ranked South Korea, fourth-ranked Taiwan and ninth-ranked the Netherlands, to win its pool in the first round and become the only team to come out of the qualifying round and go undefeated.

In the second round this week, Israel beat fifth-ranked Cuba before losing badly in a rematch with the Netherlands on Monday.

Before each game, the players removed their caps for Israel's national anthem, "Hativkah", to reveal matching yarmulkes, featuring Israeli flag colours: royal blue embroidered in white with the team's logo, a stylised Star of David with an "I" in the middle. The kippahs were sold out online by Tuesday.

Another Judaism-related option for fans is a life-size stuffed “Mensch on a Bench”, who Team Israel adopted as its mascot. The toy, based on a character from a children's Channukah book, was on sale as of Tuesday.

Major League Baseball's vice president of business public relations, Matt Bourne, told JTA that the Israel cap has outsold those of all the other teams in the WBC with the exception of the United States.

The "Jew Crew" T-shirts are in demand, too. Adler said he had sold hundreds since the team started winning last week. There was a big spike after ESPN's Darren Rovell tweeted an image of Cody Decker, an outfielder and designated hitter for the team and a member of the Milwaukee Brewers, wearing one at a news conference.

"After Rovell's tweet, we went from selling one or two a day to being back-ordered," Adler said.

Most of the orders have come from the American Northeast, with a few from Canada. The company has rolled out new styles, including for women and children.

Nearly all the Israeli players are American Jews. According to WBC rules, a player may compete for a country if he is eligible for citizenship under its laws. Many members of Israel's small baseball community have American backgrounds, too. Otherwise, the sport is little watched or played in the country, which has just three baseball-specific fields and about 1 000 active players.

(JTA)

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