World Baseball Classic rosters were officially unveiled Thursday, and Team Israel is full of players with ties to the Bay Area and Northern California.
Of the 30 players on the roster, nine are either from the region or spent part of their career with the Oakland A’s or San Francisco Giants, headlined by current Giants outfielder and Palo Alto native Joc Pederson.
No, many of the players aren’t Israeli natives, though most have attained citizenship. Under WBC rules, players are eligible to play for a nation if they are a citizen of that nation, have a parent that was a citizen of that nation or can “present documentary evidence […] that he would be granted citizenship or a passport” for a country.
That essentially allows anyone with one Jewish parent, or even a Jewish spouse, to don Israel’s blue and white at baseball’s biggest international tournament.
Aside from Pederson, the other Bay Area native on board is reliever Joey Wagman, who grew up in Danville and attended Monte Vista High School. He then pitched at Cal Poly and spent four seasons in the A’s organization, mainly with the Stockton Ports.
Speaking of Stockton, two members of the roster are from the largest city in San Joaquin County: Baltimore Orioles pitcher Dean Kremer and Ty Kelly. While Kelly last played in the majors in 2018, Kremer is an established member of Baltimore’s starting rotation and was a key piece on a team that posted a surprising 83-79 record in 2022. Kremer, who attended Lincoln High in Stockton and San Joaquin Delta College before transferring to UNLV, spends two months of each offseason in Israel. Most of his extended family still lives there, and his younger brother serves in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
Alex Dickerson, who played in 219 games for the Giants from 2019 through 2021, isn’t Jewish, but his wife is, giving him eligibility to play for the team. Former A’s reliever Adam Kolarek is in the same boat; Kolarek isn’t on the roster, but is included in the Designated Pitchers Pool, a group of players that can be added to the roster in later rounds if needed.
Two other members of the roster had brief stints with the A’s: Catcher Ryan Lavarnway appeared in six games in 2017, and Danny Valencia played in 177 games for Oakland across two seasons, a run that included a clubhouse fight that left teammate Billy Butler concussed.
Lefty reliever Jake Fishman, who made his Major League debut with the Miami Marlins last year, signed a minor league deal with the A’s in November. He’s not the only current A’s farmhand on the team; he’s also joined by third baseman Zack Gelof, currently ranked by MLB.com as the team's No. 3 prospect.
While neither reliever Zack Weiss or hitting coach Kevin Youkilis ever played for Bay Area teams, both have their own ties to the region: Weiss served up a home run to Stephen Vogt in the beloved backup catcher’s final Major League at-bat, while Youkilis is married to Tom Brady’s sister and owns Loma Brewing Company in Los Gatos. Also on the coaching staff is Brad Ausmus, who served as an A’s bench coach in 2022.
Israel’s team could have had even more ties to the Bay Area. Burlingame native D.J. Sharabi, who played at Burlingame High School, College of San Mateo and San Jose State and even had his wedding at Burlingame’s Peninsula Temple Sholom, was not selected. He pitched for 4 1/3 innings for Israel at the Tokyo Olympics. Former Giant Kevin Pillar was initially linked to the team but ultimately declined to play, choosing instead to focus on battling for a roster spot with the Atlanta Braves.
Israel is in Pool D, which will be played at loanDepot Park in Miami. The team opens pool play against Nicaragua on March 12, then faces Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela over the next three days. The top two teams in the pool advance to the quarterfinals.
In the 2017 tournament, Israel qualified for the first time and won Pool A, despite being enormous underdogs, against the likes of the Netherlands, South Korea and Taiwan. That team, which included former A’s first baseman Nate Freiman, upset Cuba in the second round as well but was ultimately bounced after losing to the Netherlands and Japan.
Other players with Bay Area connections in the 2023 tournament include Livermore native Miles Mastrobuoni (Italy), A’s right-handed pitcher Adrian Martinez (Mexico) and Stanford graduate Tommy Edman (South Korea).
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]