Chicago White Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis says he will play for Israel in the World Baseball Classic.
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Youkilis told Israel Sports Radio Wednesday that he would play for Team Israel if he is healthy. This season, the three-time All Star is hitting .241, with 15 home runs and 47 runs batted in. He has been hampered by injuries for much of the past three seasons.
Known as "Youk," the three-time All Star won two World Series championships with the Boston Red Sox in 2004 and 2007. A career .285 batter, the Jewish ballplayer was traded to the White Sox this season.
Youkilis also said there are other Jewish Major League Baseball players who want to play, the station said.
Diaspora Jews are eligible to play on behalf of Israel.
Haim Katz, the president of the Israel Association of Baseball, told Haaretz yesterday that Youkilis would only play in March if Israel wins the qualifiers in September.
Israel is one of 16 countries invited to play in this fall's qualifying round. There are four groups, and the top four teams advance to the 2013 classic.
Israel is part of Group 1, which also includes South Africa, Spain and France. Israel's first game in the qualification tournament, in Jupiter, Florida, is against South Africa on September 19. Another of the qualifying groups meets in Germany, also in September, while the remaining two meet in Panama and Taiwan in November.
"We are thrilled to have someone of the caliber of Kevin Youkilis to join Team Israel," Katz told Haaretz yesterday.
"We are particularly proud of the reasons he gave for wanting to be part of this. Our main overall objective in participating in the tournament is to build baseball in Israel, and Kevin clearly stated that he wants to be a part of that mission. Baruch Haba Kevin.
Former MLB player Brad Ausmus has signed on as coach, and retired players Shawn Green and Gabe Kapler have agreed to assist as coaches and players for the Israeli team.
Asaf Rothem, who plays second base for Israel, said yesterday the national team has been practicing for the last two months. In another two weeks, the players will fly to Florida, where tryouts will be held to assemble Team Israel for the tournament.
Rothem, a resident of Tel Aviv, said the bulk of Team Israel will be minor leaguers. "Ideally, half of the team would be Israeli, but we also want to win and qualify, so we realistically expect between two and four [Israelis]," Rothem told Haaretz. He said winning the tournament is important to development, fund-raising and making good connections for Israel.
As for the tidings regarding Youkilis, Rothem said, "I think it's awesome. We've wanted guys like Youk from the beginning, so it's great to see that he's interested. It's great to see them speak out and promote awareness of Team Israel. I think in the end, it's not only a good thing for us, but because of the long-term commitment, it means we'll see some of them in Israel."