Israel’s entire history is the story of an underdog. So often attacked by larger enemies, the tiny country has endured countless battles from biblical times to the present. Yet God has fought for His people and saved them from extinction time and time again when all hope seemed lost.
It turns out their story as a nation mirrored their story on the baseball field. In 2017, nations all over the world gathered to play in the World Baseball Classic (WBC), an international tournament showcasing baseball talent from nations like the U.S., Japan, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela. Then along came little Israel. Without much hoopla or famous MLB players, their entrance into the tournament was unassuming.
In the previous WBC in 2013, Israel failed to qualify for the main tournament, as its best players were unavailable because of the tournament’s coinciding with the MLB season. Though the tournament was changed to start before the season in 2017, not much was expected of Team Israel. Many thought history would repeat itself, and Israel wouldn’t qualify for the tournament. But they did qualify, winning three straight games against Great Britain and Brazil to gain a spot in the tournament.
Before travelling to South Korea for their first WBC game, many U.S. players on Team Israel visited Israel on a life-changing trip that not only brought publicity to baseball in Israel but also stirred up love for their country. Players visited the Western Wall, the Dead Sea, and Tel Aviv, according to The Jewish News of Northern California. This made the tournament about more than winning. It was about their people, their nation, their heritage.
Team Israel looked truly inspired. They took on the top dogs right away: South Korea, Chinese Taipei, and the Netherlands, ranked third, fourth, and ninth in the world, respectively. For a team ranked 41st in the world, the lowest among any team in the tournament, this was a true David and Goliath matchup. But they showed no fear.
In their first game, Israel was neck and neck with South Korea in a 1-1 tie for much of the game. Ultimately a clutch hit by the last hitter in Israel’s lineup drove in the game-winning run in extra innings, leading them to a stunning victory.
Their success continued against Chinese Taipei. Instead of a low-scoring pitcher’s duel, Israel ambushed their high ranked opponents with four runs in the first inning. They scored six runs before Chinese Taipei managed to score, ultimately winning in blowout fashion with a 15-7 victory.
Their third game looked like it could be their toughest yet. Team Netherlands featured a lineup full of MLB stars expected to pounce on Israel’s pitching. But Israel again shocked their opponents with three first-inning runs. Things looked grim when one of the Netherlands’ top hitters came to the plate with the bases loaded in the eighth inning, down by two runs, but Israel worked its magic yet again by forcing a double-play to end the inning, leading to their 4-2 win.
Defeating these three giants advanced Israel to the second round to face Cuba, ranked fifth in the world. With the game scheduled for Purim, the team read the book of Esther in the dugout to prepare themselves. This was more than just a game; this was for their history, for the honor of their people. After falling behind early, Israel rallied again for their fourth straight win, toppling another giant with a final score of 4-1.
Though their miraculous run came to an end with consecutive losses against the Netherlands and Japan, the two-time WBC championship-winning team, Israel’s play caught global attention and inspired the Jewish people. Ranked 41st yet finishing sixth in the world, Team Israel showed that they were driven by a heritage greater than baseball.
God’s Chosen nation has endured multiple attempts at genocide, enemy attacks from every side, and anti-Semitism around the globe. Through the game of baseball, the Jewish people gave a glimpse at the resiliency that drives them with their unlikely success that captivated the world.