So, it turns out that Team Israel, the early darling of the 2017 World Baseball Classic, has a University of Miami connection.
The manager of the Israeli team, ranked No. 41 in the world and cobbled together of Jewish-American journeymen, is former UM assistant coach Jerry Weinstein.
Nobody expected much of Israel, the lowest-ranked of the 16 teams in the tournament, but that has changed after the Israelis upset No. 3 host South Korea and No. 4 Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) by a combined score of 17-8. They play Netherlands Wednesday at 10 p.m. Eastern, and are a lock to advance to the second round.
Weinstein, 73, was an assistant under Hurricanes legend Ron Fraser on the 1984 UM team, which finished fourth at the College World Series. He also was on Fraser’s staff at the 1987 Pan American Games and the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
His coaching career began in 1966 as a UCLA’s freshman coach. He spent 24 seasons at Sacramento City College, where he built one of the best junior college programs in the nation. He currently serves as manager of the Colorado Rockies Double-A team the Hartford Yard Goats.
The Israel team he is coaching in the WBC is getting international attention after its 2-0 start. Only two players hold Israeli passports, and there is only one player who was born in Israel – 38-year-old pitcher Shlomo Lipetz, who played at UC San Diego.
Tournament rules state that players must only be eligible for citizenship to represent a country, and Israel’s Law of Return grants citizenship to any Jew who requests it. The team is also getting attention because of its unofficial mascot, a large stuffed toy named “Mensch on a Bench” (the Jewish version of the Christmas Elf on a Shelf). Players prop him up in the dugout, and have offered him gifts such as bottles of gefilte fish and Manischewitz wine.
Team Israel boasts the most impressive academic resume of the tournament with two Yale graduates, three from Stanford and two from Duke.