Three Bay Area high school graduates and four players who are minor leaguers either for the Oakland A’s or San Francisco Giants are enjoying a bit of history this week — playing for Team Israel in the qualifying round for the World Baseball Classic.
The 28-man squad, which includes former major leaguers Shawn Green and Gabe Kapler as player/coaches, opened play Sept. 19 with a 7-3 victory over South Africa in Jupiter, Fla. Israel next plays either Spain or France at 10 a.m. PDT Friday, Sept. 21 (streaming live on www.worldbaseballclassic.com).
The winner of the four-team Florida qualifier — and others in Germany, Panama and Taiwan — will advance to the third World Baseball Classic in March 2013. The semifinals and the final of the tournament will be at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
The Bay Area players on the Israel roster are 26-year-old catcher Charlie Cutler from San Francisco’s Lowell High School, 23-year-old relief pitcher David Colvin from Mill Valley’s Tamalpais High School and 20-year-old outfielder Joc Pederson from Palo Alto High School. All three are minor leaguers whose seasons ended in early September.
Cutler, who batted eighth in the order, contributed significantly in the win over South Africa, going 2-for-3 with a bases-loaded double in the eighth that drove in three runs at a time when Israel was leading only 2-0. Pederson, who played right field the whole game, had a single in five at-bats, but also struck out twice. Team Israel first baseman Nate Freiman, a minor leaguer in the San Diego Padres organization, slugged two solo home runs in front of a crowd of 1,581 at Roger Dean Stadium.
Cutler spoke to j. on Sept. 18, a day before the game and five days after most of the Team Israel players arrived in Florida to begin practicing.
“Once we all got here and assembled into a team, everything became more real by the day,” Cutler said by phone. “The importance of this, and how many people [in the U.S. and Israel] are paying attention to our team — I realized what an honor it is to be selected and how I feel very fortunate to be a part of it.”
“It’s a very cool feeling playing on a team where everyone is Jewish,” added Colvin, who was not among the six pitchers Israel used against South Africa. “Being selected was a huge honor and makes my family extremely proud.”
The requirements to be on the Israel roster include having one Jewish parent and being eligible for Israeli citizenship.
Pederson is the youngest player on the roster, and Green, 39, is the oldest. Green retired from the big leagues in 2007 with 328 home runs (second only to Hank Greenberg’s 331 among Jewish ballplayers) and batted .283 in a 15-year career.
Brad Ausmus, who had an 18-year career as a catcher in the major leagues, mostly with the Houston Astros, is the Team Israel manager. The pitching coach is former Stanford pitcher Mark Lorraine, who played briefly for the Oakland A’s in 1997.
Three current Oakland A’s minor leaguers are on Team Israel: catcher Nick Rickles and pitchers Max Perlman and Jeff Urlaub. San Francisco Giants minor league pitcher Justin Schumer is also on the roster. None have played in the majors.
Three players on the team are Israeli-born and-raised — the best is probably 34-year-old pitcher Shlomo Lipetz — while the 25 others are Jewish Americans (most of them playing in the minor leagues). Besides Green and Kapler, only one other player, infielder Josh Satin, who played at U.C. Berkeley, has major-league experience.
Cutler, who also played at U.C. Berkeley, has been in the minors for five years and is now in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. He hit .351 and .333 in two of his minor league stops, and this season had a .296 batting average with Double-A Altoona, Pa.
Colvin had a solid 2012 season with a Seattle Mariners’ Class-A team in Clinton, Iowa, going 5-3 with four saves and a 3.15 ERA. In 69 innings, he surrendered only one homer and walked just 16 batters while striking out 61.
Pederson is a highly ranked prospect in the Dodgers organization and could provide Israel with some power. This season, he played at the Class-A level in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., and belted 18 homers to go with a .313 batting average. He also had a high on-base percentage, drawing 51 walks in 110 games.
“This team puts Jewish players on the map a bit more than they are now,” Colvin said, “and if we win, it will be that much more impactful.”
If the Israeli squad wins the qualifying round, it could bolster its roster for the WBC in March by adding any number of Jewish major leaguers, such as Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, Chicago White Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis, Texas Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler and pitcher Scott Feldman (from Burlingame), New York Mets first baseman Ike Davis and San Diego Padres pitcher Jason Marquis. Major league players have represented many countries in the two previous World Baseball Classics, in 2006 and 2009.
“If there’s a connection that I have, I’ll reach out to those guys,” Green told a reporter for mlb.com. “Assuming we get past step one, I’m willing to reach out to players for step two.”
Israel could have been sent to a qualifier in Germany, Panama or Taiwan, but the luck of the draw landed the team in Jupiter, where a sizable Jewish population exists in the surrounding areas of the Sunshine State.
“If we had gotten Tel Aviv, it maybe could have been a little bit better,” said Peter Kurz, secretary general of the Israel Association of Baseball. “But I think Jupiter, Fla., is the next best place.”
“The whole experience has been first-class all the way,” Cutler added. “We’re getting a lot of media attention — I did an interview with a guy from the New York Times. Everyone is realizing what a big deal this is.”