In Historic First, Israel's National Baseball Team Qualifies for Olympics

The blue and white will be competing against five other teams in Tokyo next year

The Israel national baseball team celebrating after defeating South Africa in Parma, Italy, to qualify for the 2020 Olympics, September 22, 2019.
Margo Sugarman

For the first time, Israel’s national baseball team has qualified for the Olympics, as its 11-1 victory over South Africa on Sunday punched its ticket for Tokyo next summer.

The blue and white will be competing against five other teams; so far only Israel and host Japan have qualified.  

The Israeli team is comprised largely of Jewish Americans from the minor leagues who have taken out Israeli citizenship, as required for the Olympics.

But a handful of players and coaches have seen action in the major leagues, while a smaller handful are native Israelis, like Tel Aviv-born pitcher Shlomo Lipetz and Ramat Gan-born catcher Tal Erel.     

Former major leaguers include Danny Valencia, an infielder with seven MLB clubs over eight years, and utility man Ty Kelly, who played for the Mets and Phillies between 2016 and 2018.

Israel finished fourth in the European Baseball Championship this month, garnering a spot at the Africa/Europe Olympic qualifiers that began on Wednesday, where the blue and white won four of their five games, losing only to the Czechs.

The Israel national baseball team that qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Parma, Italy, September 22, 2019.
Maro Sugarman

In Israel’s first game of the tournament, Joey Wagman pitched a complete-game shutout to help take down Spain 3-0. Valencia drove in all three runs.

The next day, Israel upset the Netherlands 8-1. Only days earlier, the Dutch had won the European Baseball Championships, where Israel took fourth place.