Israel shocked the world in 2017 as one of the breakout teams in the World Baseball Classic. “Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel” told the story of the global underdog’s rise from obscurity to the quarterfinals of the WBC.
The film premiered at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival in 2018 and is still screening around the country.
Now gearing up for the 2020 Olympics, expectations are higher than ever for team Israel, and a camera will be there to document.
Matt Wasserlauf, who recently signed on as executive producer of “Heading Home 2: Return of the Mensch,” explained that the classic laid the groundwork for a new era of Israeli baseball.
“We put baseball on the Jewish map, so to speak,” he said. “Even the players were surprised by what they accomplished, and it’s given them the enthusiasm to go after the 2020 Olympics.
The 2017 team featured a number of major leaguers on the roster, including Ike Davis, Josh Zeid and former Brave Ryan Lavarnway, and the 2020 team is set to benefit from their success.
“You have these American Jews who feel that Israel is special, and they’ve come together to make Israel a formidable baseball team,” Wasserlauf said. “The success from the World Baseball Classic confirmed that there really is a lot of talent there.”
In the World Baseball Classic, a player only has to be eligible for citizenship in a country to represent it, but according to Olympic rules, a player must have been a citizen of the country for at least a year. This didn’t stop Jewish players in the slightest, however, as 10 Jewish-American baseball players became dual-citizens to play for Israel in 2020.
The American athletes who also played for Israel in 2017 are: Corey Baker, a retired minor leaguer; Gabe Cramer, a minor leaguer in the Kansas City Royals system; Blake Gailen and Joey Wagman, who play in the Independent League; and Alex Katz, a Baltimore Orioles minor leaguer.
Players joining team Israel for the first time are: Eric Brodkowitz, a former college player; Jonathan de Marte, who plays in the Independent League; Jeremy Wolf, a retired minor league player; and Jon Moscot and Zack Weiss, Major League Baseball free agents.
While the sequel is still early in production, the success of the first film has Wasserlauf confident that there is a desire for the team’s story.
“They’re still running around the country screening ‘Heading Home,’” he said. “We just had a showing in Newton, Mass., and we actually outperformed ‘Spiderman’ in the theater. So, there is a pent-up appetite; ask any Jew who loves baseball.”
Wasserlauf explained that he felt the need to tell this story in particular.
“I’m a guy who is passionate about two things: baseball and Judaism,” he said. “I think the story that a bunch of Jewish baseball players came together and shocked the world, and now they have the opportunity on a bigger stage, is really the makings of a great story.”
There’s little doubt that expectations for the Israeli team are at an all-time high.
“I think before the World Baseball Classic, I would’ve said that they’re extremely low, but they raised the bar,” Wasserlauf said. “But it also adds drama. They did beat a couple of powerhouses, and so they’re not going to be taken lightly.”
Wasserlauf also explained that baseball has the potential to be a powerful unifying force between American Jews and Israel.
“The marriage of Israel with baseball, which is so near and dear to the American culture, is going to be something special. It brings Israel to America in a way that it hasn’t been before.”
- Eddie Samuels
- Atlanta Jewish Film Festival
- AJFF 2018
- 2020 Olympics
- Matt Wasserlauf
- Ike Davis
- Josh Zeid
- Brave Ryan Lavarnway
- Corey Baker
- Gabe Cramer
- Blake Gailen
- Joey Wagman
- Alex Katz
- Baltimore Orioles
- Eric Brodkowitz
- Jonathan de Marte
- Jeremy Wolf
- Jon Moscot
- Zack Weiss