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Monday, March 6, 2017

From ESPN:

If you aren't familiar with Team Israel (in this year's World Baseball Classic), it's essentially the Mighty Ducks, Hickory High and the Jamaican bobsled team all rolled into one. In other words, it's straight out of Central Casting for the role of "underdog team that stands absolutely no chance of winning but somehow goes on to win it all." Except for the part that so far, it has won nothing -- well, almost nothing.

This past September in Brooklyn, Israel penned the opening chapter of its Cinderella story by finishing first in a four-team qualifying tournament to earn its inaugural trip to the WBC. Although the competition wasn't exactly stiff (Great Britain, Brazil, Pakistan), Israel will take it, especially after falling to Spain in extra innings in the deciding game of the 2012 qualifier. The losing pitcher in that contest? Reliever Josh Zeid, who, in true fairy-tale fashion, just so happened to pick up the W in Israel's clinching 2016 win over Great Britain.

Six months later, skipper Jerry Weinstein's squad (raise your hand if you've ever heard of him) is arguably the biggest underdog in the history of the event.

Of the 16 nations represented in this year's WBC, Israel was the very last one in and is the only participant not currently among the top 20 in the world rankings. (It's No. 41, just behind baseball powerhouses such as Poland and the Ukraine.) As if that weren't enough, the team had to travel halfway across the world (with its lifesize "Mensch on a Bench" mascot), where it's the lowest seed in a four-team pool that features host country South Korea (2009 runners-up) and 2013 final-four squad Netherlands. Of the 28 players who made the trip to Seoul, not a single one is presently listed on a major league 40-man roster. No wonder bookmaker Bovada has Team Israel listed at 200-1 odds to win the whole thing, the longest shot in the tourney and 100 times as unlikely as 2-1 favorite USA.
From the Jerusalem Post:

Israel's national team got its World Baseball Classic campaign off to a dream start on Monday, beating host South Korea 2-1 after 10 innings in Seoul.
Mike Meyers scored the winning run for Israel in the top of the 10th inning thanks to Scott Burcham's single. Pitcher Josh Zeid was credited with the win for Israel, pitching three scoreless innings.

What is Team Israels secret?

Mensch on a Bench!

The secret to Team Israel's long-shot WBC chances? Its bench. That's where you'll find the Mensch on the Bench. If you aren't familiar with MOB, he's essentially the Jewish answer to Elf on the Shelf. This particular Mensch is a lifesize version that utility man Cody Decker bought online before the September qualifier because, well, something was missing.

"Every team needs their Jobu," Decker said. "He was ours. He had his own locker, and we even gave him offerings: Manischewitz, gelt and gefilte fish."

Given all the good karma in Brooklyn -- this year marks the first time that Israel has survived the qualifier and crashed the actual WBC tournament -- it's no surprise that the Mensch made the cut for the trip to Korea.

"I tried getting him a first-class ticket," Decker said. "But that didn't fly, so he was put in a duffel bag and checked."
Mensch with team catcher

As for seating in Seoul, that's a nonissue: "He has his allotted space on the bench. He sits on his bench, on the bench."

Outside the lines, the Mensch maintains a much lower profile, according to those within his inner circle.

"He is everywhere and nowhere all at once," Decker said. "His actual location is irrelevant because he exists in higher metaphysical planes. But he's always near."

The best part about the Mensch? Unlike a real mascot, which would be portrayed by a sweaty human trapped inside a furry costume, this one comes with no stench on the bench.
By the way, I doubt that any player on any of the other squads has ever said the phrase "higher metaphysical planes."

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