Team Israel manager carries torch at 21st Maccabiah Games
By Howard Blas
Special to the TJP
Ian Kinsler’s warm relationship with Israel is about to grow even stronger.
When Ian Kinsler went to Israel for the first time, he and his wife experienced the country’s beauty as well as its bureaucracy. The four-time Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star, 2017 World Baseball Classic champion, Team Israel second baseman and current Dallas resident had to persevere through the sometimes frustrating aliyah process. Kinsler became an Israeli citizen in order to play in the 2020 Olympics (held in 2021) for Israel’s National Baseball team.
Now, Kinsler, the newly appointed manager of Team Israel, has again gone to Israel, with his wife and two children. He had the honor of carrying the torch at the Maccabiah Games, and will travel around Israel leading baseball workshops, greeting fans and getting reacquainted with the Jewish homeland.
Kinsler recently spoke with the TJP while on vacation in Idaho, moments after learning Team Israel’s draw in the March 11-15, 2023, World Baseball Classic Qualifiers in Miami. Israel will participate in Pool D with Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela and a team to be determined from the qualifying tournament.
Kinsler, who currently works in the front office of the San Diego Padres, has been looking forward to his first managerial experience. While the storied Team Israel battled through the 2017 World Baseball Classic and ultimately reached the 2021 Olympics, he doesn’t take their success for granted. “The draw looks fine but either way, you have to be a good team. It is going to be competitive!”
Kinsler is already familiar with the venue for the March tournament. “I played the 2017 WBC with the USA Team there. It is a fantastic stadium with great crowds. It will be super exciting and electric playing against the Latin American teams. I am looking forward,” reported Kinsler. He also acknowledged the work ahead of him. “It is going to be a tough roster to make. It will be hard to decide who is on and who is off.”
The dual U.S.-Israeli citizen was eager to again represent Israel and the Jewish people. He looks back fondly on his past experiences with Team Israel. “Representing my lineage and heritage and doing it in the Olympics in Tokyo was super exciting for me!”
Kinsler noted that the number of Jews in baseball has always been “a very small group of guys.” He added, “I always knew all of them.” He has not experienced any antisemitism in his baseball career.
Kinsler grew up in a home with one Jewish and one non-Jewish parent and was not “raised religiously”; the family marked Passover, Hanukkah, Easter and Christmas. He did not celebrate a bar mitzvah. His experience with Israel baseball has helped bring him closer “to that side of my family.”
Kinsler enjoyed his first visit to Israel and was anticipating sharing it with his children. “Visiting Israel is eye-opening, regardless of faith. Going back will be pretty special. I am looking forward to it.” Kinsler enjoyed visits to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other cities in his first trip and noted, “The markets in Jerusalem were my favorite.”
On this trip, Kinsler was one of five torchbearers at the Maccabiah opening ceremonies in Jerusalem on July 14 and he threw out the opening pitch at a Maccabiah baseball game. He is conducting baseball clinics for Maccabiah baseball players this week at the Ezra Schwartz Ballpark in Ra’anana.
The local Dallas Jewish community is proud of Kinsler. “As Jewish National Fund-USA’s director in Dallas, I feel an extra sense of pride and excitement knowing Dallas will be well represented by our very own Ian Kinsler at the World Baseball Classic,” said Ellie Adelman. “Team Israel is very special to me. Through our Project Baseball initiative, Jewish National Fund-USA covered a large portion of Team Israel’s expenses for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, and as part of the expansion of baseball activities in Israel, we’re partnering with the Israel Association of Baseball to build new baseball fields in Israel, including a brand new state-of-the-art field in Bet Shemesh that will eventually be the home playing field for the national team. The new facility’s strategic location between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem will bring international tournaments and attention to Bet Shemesh, along with the accompanying benefits of tourism. It will also continue to bring America’s pastime to the hundreds of thousands of American children and families who have made aliyah and gives the children an opportunity to embrace this familiar sport as a way to ease their integration into Israeli life. Project Baseball is a wonderful project to support, and we’re looking forward to seeing the team reach new heights at the WBC under Ian’s leadership.”
In his new role, Kinsler draws on a wealth of baseball experience. Kinsler played 14 seasons in the MLB with the Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels, Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres. Kinsler was a four-time All-Star, two-time Gold Glove winner and a member of the 2018 World Series champion Boston Red Sox. Kinsler considers winning the World Series and the WBC with Team USA to be his two greatest baseball accomplishments. “Winning the World Series is the pinnacle of the sport!”
Kinsler’s career includes twice hitting 30 home runs and stealing 30 bases in both the 2009 and 2011 seasons while with the Rangers. He also hit for the cycle in a game in 2009, while getting hits in all six of his at-bats. Kinsler retired following the end of the 2019 season with 1,999 career hits.
He continues to share his love and knowledge of America’s favorite game in Israel.