Team Israel: Like a Jewish fantasy baseball team, almost

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Shawn Green. (MLB.com)
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For most of my childhood, I engaged in the game that American Jewish baseball fans have played since, I assume, the debut of Hank Greenberg: the construction of a Jewish all-star team. (It was even the subject of my first book.)

So when Israel's baseball team took the field Wednesday night in Jupiter, Fla. for a World Baseball Classic qualifying game against South Africa, I was excited to see what would happen.

They weren't a Jewish all-star team, really, despite the fact that most of the team members are Jewish-American pros or former pros. The best Jewish players, of course, are currently engaged in the end of the Major League Baseball season.

So yes, the Israel team that defeated South Africa, 7-3, includes Shawn Green, an all-time Jewish great no matter the era, with 328 career home runs, second among Jews to Greenberg. But Green hasn't played in the majors since his final season with the 2007 Mets. The rust showed early, with Green striking out on three pitches in his first at-bat.

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The offense struggled for much of the game, managing just one run against South Africa, hardly a world powerhouse, in the first six innings. That came on a solo home run from Nate Freiman, a slugging first baseman who just completed a double-A season in the Padres organization. Baseball America had him fourth among first basemen prospects with just the Padres entering 2012, so we're probably not talking about the next Greenberg here.

Israel's team rallied to the offensive cause late. Green found his stroke, adding a couple of hits to the attack. Josh Satin, the erstwhile Mets infielder turned Israeli starting third baseman, scored on a wild pitch. Freiman homered again. A difficult ninth inning, complete with bullpen meltdown by Shlomo Lipetz, ultimately ended when Mets farmhand Jeffrey Kaplan saved the day, recording the final two outs to preserve the win.

Survival is the name of the game right now. If Israel can come out of a group that includes South Africa, France and Spain, it will participate in the W.B.C. proper next March. Suddenly, major league players like Ryan Braun, Kevin Youkilis, Ike Davis and many others could become available. Who knows what could happen?

Israel's next game will be against the winner of France vs. Spain at 1 p.m. Friday.