Team Israel’s surprising success in the World Baseball Classic last March was one of the best stories of 2017. If you didn’t spend late nights and early mornings following along with the AJT’s live-blogging of games, you missed out on a lot of fun.
Team Israel was Jewish America’s at least as much as Israel’s: Every player was an American eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return.
“Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel,” a documentary making its world premiere at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, is a joyful reminder of why we embraced this team, whose key players included ex-Braves Jason Marquis, Ryan Lavarnway and Nate Freiman.
Directors Daniel Miller, Jeremy Newberger and Seth Kramer capture all the excitement from the team’s qualification as the 16th and final entrant in the WBC through its sweep of the first round in Seoul and its tough elimination in Tokyo.
It helps if you like baseball, but “Heading Home” is a grand slam even if you don’t know a home run from an infield fly because of the team’s people and how they come together.
It’s impossible not to like stars such as Josh Zeid, the Vanderbilt and Tulane product and former Houston Astro seeking redemption from a failed qualification attempt four years earlier; Sam Fuld, the former Oakland A’s center fielder whose surgically repaired shoulder barely allows him to throw but who can’t pass up one more chance to play; Ike Davis, who has struggled to live up to his early success as the Jewish first baseman of the New York Mets; Cody Decker, whose big-league career consists of 11 hitless at-bats for the San Diego Padres in 2015 but who will always be remembered for introducing the Mensch on a Bench, Team Israel’s mascot, to professional baseball; and Jerry Weinstein, the Colorado Rockies coach serving as manager, whose trust and calm demeanor help get the most out of a team derided as has-beens and wanna-bes and as the Team USA JV.
It’s fun to see organizers fill out the roster with the help of Facebook and photos of gravestones, ketubahs and b’nai mitzvah. It’s emotional to hear how much baseball means to people such as journalist Jonathan Mayo. It’s powerful to watch the players tour Israel, many for the first time, to see what they’re playing for and to plant the seeds for a future generation of Israeli players.
Like Team Israel last year, “Heading Home” might be an underdog, but don’t bet against it in the competition for the festival’s favorite documentary.
(Atlanta Jewish Film Festival screenings: Feb. 10, 3:20 p.m., Tara, and 8:20 p.m., Springs Cinema; Feb. 11, 3:40 p.m., Springs Cinema)