Two CT players helped Team Israel shine on the baseball diamond
By Howard Blas
NEW HAVEN – Even before Adam Greenberg made headlines a couple of weeks ago by signing a one-day contract with the Miami Marlins and swinging his bat as a one-day-only Major League Baseball player, the Guilford native was making the Connecticut Jewish community proud by stepping up to the plate for the State of Israel during the recent World Baseball Classic (WBC) qualifiers. And Greenberg wasn’t the only Connecticut native to do so – Josh Zeid, who grew up in New Haven, was right there with him.
It all began when Greenberg, who now lives in Branford, and Zeid were among those selected to Team Israel’s 28 player roster, which was managed by Brad Ausmus, the former Major League catcher who was born in New Haven.
Team Israel had a very strong showing in its first ever WBC qualifying tournament, held Sept, 19-21 at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla. The modified round robin format tournament featured teams from France, Spain, South Africa and Israel. Israel defeated South Africa 7-2 in game 1, and Israel defeated Spain 4-2 in its second game. Israel played Spain again in the final game of the tournament — the winner would advance to the main WBC tournament, to be held in March 2013. Israel lost a heartbreaker, 9-7 in ten innings, before a crowd of 1,500.
The World Baseball Classic is considered to be the premier international baseball tournament. Run by World Baseball Classic, Inc, it is sanctioned by the International Baseball Federation. Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Player’s Association together created the event, which has thus far been played twice. Team Japan, the reigning World Baseball Classic Champion, won the tournament in both 2006 and 2009.
Haim Katz, president of the Israel Association of Baseball (IAB) was excited when he was approached by the World Baseball Classic to “present motivation and a potential roster” for a team to potentially participate in the 2012 qualifiers. “Somewhat to our surprise, they accepted us,” notes Katz with a laugh. “We would have preferred to play the tournament in Israel, but we have no field — we’re are working on it!” Katz reports that there is an initiative underway to build a $5 million field and ballpark in Ra’anana. The city has reportedly agreed to provide land and the Israel Sports Authority will pay $1.5 million; the IAB would be responsible for the rest of the funds. Katz reports that he and the IAB have always sought to increase awareness of Israel baseball in the U.S. and Israel, to try to engage North American Jews around Israel baseball, and to build bridges with the U.S. and Israel.
Fortunately, Team Israel was able to reach far beyond the Jewish state’s borders for its pool of potential players. According to WBC tournament rules, countries are allowed to field players who are eligible for citizenship in a given country. Thus, in Israel’s case, anyone eligible for citizenship under the Law of Return was permitted to try out for Israel’s team. In fact, only three Israeli citizens actually made the team. The rest were American Jews — like Zeid and Greenberg.
Adam Greenberg, interviewed by this reporter for a Dec. 1, 2004 Jewish Ledger article, attended Hebrew school and celebrated his bar mitzvah at Temple Beth Tikvah in Madison, excelled at baseball, soccer and basketball at Guilford High, and was a scholar/athlete at the University of North Carolina. In 2002, Greenberg was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the ninth round of the First-Year player draft. He spent several summers in the Florida State League, then a Double A team in West Tennessee, then a Triple A team in Iowa.
Greenberg’s promotion to the Major League Chicago Cubs was watched with great excitement. He was called to the plate as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning of a July 9, 2005 game against the Florida Marlins. Sadly, the now 31-year old was struck in the back of the head by a 92 mile per hour fastball in his first and only major league appearance. He suffered a concussion and many months of dizziness, headaches, double vision and nausea.
In recent years, Greenberg has gotten married, started Lu Rong Living, a dietary supplements company, and returned to playing baseball. Greenberg was invited by Manager Ausmus to serve as his special (non-playing) assistant for Team Israel. When former Major Leaguer Gabe Kapler bowed out of the roster due to a groin injury, Greenberg was invited to join the 28-man roster.
Prior to the qualifiers, mother Wendy Greenberg reported, “I am so excited and proud of Adam—and even more excited that he is getting the opportunity to do what he loves to do. Adam loves the game. He plays his heart out and it shows!” After the first game, Wendy said, “I felt so many emotions—I was overwhelmed and proud—to hear Hatikvah played was just, wow! And when he had his first at bat, I had tears in my eyes.”
Adam Greenberg was pleased with the opportunity to be part of Team Israel and to play the game he loves. “I am honored to have this opportunity,” he said. “It is the start of part two of my career. It was such an amazing group of guys. They were all in it for the right reasons — it didn’t seem like we were only together for ten days.”
Greenberg is excited that plans are underway for a team trip to Israel—with possible clinics for Israelis. “It will change the game over there,” he noted. Greenberg was excited “just wearing the uniform with the word ‘Israel’ across my chest. I have always wanted to go to Israel, but I haven’t been yet.”
Following the World Baseball Classic, Greenberg decided to stay in Florida to work out with his hitting coach and stay in shape. While there, he found out that the Miami
Marlins would sign Greenberg to a one-day contract that would earn him his first and only official Major League at-bat on Tuesday, Oct. 2 against the New York Mets. While he struck out on three pitches against the Met’s ace, RA Dickey, it was a dream come true.
Zeid, 25, is a 6’ 5” pitcher who was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the tenth round of the 2009 Major League baseball June amateur draft. Zeid just finished his season with the Corpus Cristi Hooks, a AA affiliate of the Houston Astros. Zeid’s parents, Ira and Karen Zeid, currently live in New Haven and are members of Congregation B’nai Jacob in Woodbridge. Zeid lives in Houston, Tex. with his fiancée, Stephanie.
“We are very proud of our son,” says Zeid’s mother, Karen Zeid, of her son’s participation on Team Israel. “As we watched the games from our home computer, we loved seeing Josh in his uniform, spectators wrapped in Israeli banners, Israeli flags being waved, Hava Nagilah being played between innings, the sense of cultural pride – the nachas and kvelling that goes deep into our hearts. When Josh became a bar mitzvah in the year 2000, he shared during his bar mitzvah speech that his dream was to play professional baseball. He also referenced his admiration for Sandy Koufax.”
Zeid was scheduled to go to Israel in 2001 to play in the Maccabia Games.
“Josh was the youngest player to be named to the U.S.A. Jr. baseball team,” Karen notes. “Because of the unrest in Israel, all of the junior sporting events were canceled. This was a big disappointment as he had looked forward to playing and traveling in Israel. This was to be our first trip to Israel as well.”
Zeid has not yet traveled to Israel, but he did get several chances to play for Team Israel. He pitched in all 3 games, got out of a tough inning with one out and two on against South Africa, and earned a save in Israel’s victory over Spain. Zeid also pitched two innings in the championship game against Spain, Zeid’s size 13 New Balance game-worn cleats are currently listed on eBay, with half the proceeds from the sale going to charity.
Howard Blas is a freelance writer living in New York.