At the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics. NBC broadcast screenshot.
Israel’s national baseball team will have a cheering section in Metairie during the Olympics as Jeremy Bleich suits up for the blue and white.
A Metairie native and alumnus of the Isidore Newman School, Bleich played professional baseball for 11 years after graduating from Stanford University. He was drafted by the New York Yankees in 2008 and spent much of his career at the AAA level, with a brief stint in the Majors with the Oakland Athletics in 2018. After retiring, he became a pitching analyst for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2020.
In 2016, Bleich became part of the Israeli national team, which despite being ranked 41st in the world, made a surprising run in the qualifiers for the World Baseball Classic. The team was regarded as the “Jamaican Bobsled Team” of baseball when they arrived in Tokyo in 2017, finishing sixth overall. They now return to Tokyo for the delayed 2020 Olympics.
Bleich also pitched for Israel at the 2019 European Baseball Championship and the 2019 Europe/Africa Olympic Qualifier. At the qualifier, in September 2019, Israel defeated South Africa to earn its way into the Olympics.
Players are eligible to compete for a country if they are eligible for citizenship; with Israel’s Law of Return, that makes any Jewish player in the world eligible. Only four members of Team Israel are native-born Israelis.
In interviews, Bleich has spoken of the opportunity to play for Team Israel in the context of honoring his grandparents, who were Holocaust survivors. In a “From Pittsburgh to Tokyo” video posted by the Pirates on July 23, Bleich spoke of growing up watching the Olympics and now being able to represent Israel, and the video also focused on his being the grandson of Holocaust survivors.
Bleich is the son of Caron and the late Stan Bleich.
Bleich told the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle that “Joining the Israeli Olympic team allowed me to be proud of my family and the path that my family has taken, while also playing baseball.”
“Jeremy Bleich has been an integral part of our national team going back to the World Baseball Classic qualifiers in 2016. He has been valuable not only for what he brings the team on the mound, but also for his experience, insight and leadership,” Frankie Sachs, director of public relations at the Israel Association of Baseball, told The Algemeiner.
“Since he joined the Pittsburgh Pirates staff, Jeremy and team general manager Ben Cherington have worked in concert to make sure he could continue to train and arrive at the Olympics in peak shape,” Sachs continued. “We are grateful to the Pirates for allowing Jeremy to grow in his current position and to leave midseason to chase our Olympic dream.”
There are only six teams competing in Olympic baseball.
Israel will open competition against Korea on July 29, at 5 a.m. Central time. The second game will be against the U.S., July 30 at 5 a.m. The knockout stage will begin on July 31 at 10 p.m. Medal games will start on Aug. 6.
Bleich told the Pittsburgh paper that Team Israel is a different dynamic from Major League baseball, which has a 162-game season. “The Olympics is a six-team bracket pool play which can go any which way. The Israeli team is probably not built for 162 games, but we do have the opportunity to do damage in a short sprint,” he said. “All of us are resilient, which I think works in our favor.”
This is the first time Israel has competed in a team sport in the Olympics since competing in soccer at the 1976 Montreal Games.
Team Israel T-shirts with the name and number of individual players, including Bleich, are available online. Bleich wears No. 30.