Even as Didi Gregorius showed the ability to play top-tier defense early in his major league career, he joked that he could not even play shortstop on his own neighborhood team in Curacao. World Baseball Classic rules state that players who are eligible for citizenship of a country may play on that country's team.
Then came Saturday night's 4-1 victory over all-time worldwide baseball power Cuba in Tokyo, putting Team Israel one victory away from a trip to the final four at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Israel's chances to advance to the final round are considered slim after today's loss.
Making its WBC debut after winning the final tournament qualifier in September, Israel came into group play as the lowest-ranked team in the competition but upset South Korea, Chinese Taipei and the Netherlands to take first place in Pool A. The team, comprised nearly entirely of American Jews, has become a fan favorite for its tenacious style of play and its mascot, the Mensch on the Bench, which has drawn a huge following in its games in Seoul and Tokyo.
Israel's next game is against Japan (1-0) on Wednesday, while the Netherlands faces Cuba.
Israel's national baseball team loses 12-2 to the Netherlands after eight innings in the second round of the World Baseball Classic.
Gregorius' production should not be a surprise. Blake Gailen made it 3-1 with an RBI double. Every one of his 11 homers at Yankee Stadium went to his pull field, right field, as he learned to play the park. The designated hitter then hit a three-run homer in the fourth to make it 10-0.
"We are a great hitting team and we believe in ourselves and that's what you saw tonight", Balentien told reporters.
"The game also featured the tallest matchup in professional baseball history, when Israel's 6′ 8" first baseman Nate Freiman faced 7′ 1" reliever Loek Van Mill of the Netherlands in the eighth inning. "I played baseball in Israel in the Sportek, Ra'anana, Petah Tikva, Jerusalem, but to play at this level is an unreal experience".