Israel’s Baseball Team Succeeds with Help from Jewish Baltimore

Yoni Rosenblatt (left) with Team Israel catcher Ryan Lavarnway (Photo provided)

On any given day, Yoni Rosenblatt can be found at his Fells Point office working with Orioles and Ravens players or several top local college and prep school teams.

As owner of True Sports Physical Therapy, Rosenblatt, 35, has for the last three years created a niche in which he feels there is little or no competition. He offers those he treats state-of-the-art dry needling, manual therapy, joint manipulation, stretching and cupping techniques, helping players make quick turnarounds to get back on the field and maximize their full potential.

“The sports physical therapy that I practice is far different than any of the other standard physical therapy offerings in the area,” the Pikesville resident said. “I take athletes and put them in their best position to compete at very high levels.”

From late February through mid-March, Rosenblatt took time off from his company to lend his services to Team Israel at the 2017 World Baseball Classic as the team’s strength and conditioning coach. It was a once-life-in-a-lifetime experience, he said, taking him to Seoul, South Korea, and Tokyo.

For Rosenblatt, a lifelong baseball fanatic, the opportunity to rep the Star of David Israeli flag across his chest was not something he took lightly.

“To provide some positive publicity for a country that is constantly in the news, unfortunately for all the wrong reasons because of violence and other issues, was an honor and pleasure,” Rosenblatt said. “Hopefully, this event can bridge some of the divide in Israel, and to bring people of different backgrounds together was absolutely amazing.”

Rosenblatt said he was resolved to do whatever it took to join Team Israel on its journey in the WBC, a 16-team international baseball tournament held once every four years.

Last year, ahead of the team’s qualifier in Brooklyn, N.Y., Rosenblatt made his pitch to Team Israel’s assistant general manager, Adam Gladstone, a fellow Pikesville native, on the benefits he could provide the team.

For Gladstone, 45, who has been involved with Team Israel since its WBC debut in 2012, the decision to bring Rosenblatt into the fold boiled down to his strong Jewish roots and his background in sports medicine.

“He was very persistent,” Gladstone said. “Before we met, I did a little research on him. He ended up making me look very good. He was absolutely tremendous with the dedication, commitment and care he provided to the players, and we were very lucky to have him.”

Rosenblatt was a believer even before Team Israel became the Cinderella team of the tournament — winning all three of its first-round contests — and coming within one game of advancing to the tournament semifinal round in Los Angeles.

Throughout his career, Rosenblatt has connected with members of the tribe, serving as chief physical therapist for the Israeli national lacrosse team since 2013.

A former Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School baseball standout, Rosenblatt made himself available to the players around the clock. He also warmed up with the players and monitored them during batting practice to check for any aches and pains while talking them up on more complex topics than just baseball.

“I would venture to say the level of conversation in the clubhouse was at the highest level you will see in a professional sports gathering,” Rosenblatt said. “We had guys who were just thinking about politics and thinking about their standing in the world. They are really intelligent players who made you want to help.”

While the success was unforeseen by many outside the team, Gladstone had no doubt the team he helped construct was more than capable of holding its own on one of baseball’s biggest stages.

“We went over there expecting to win games, plain and simple,” said Gladstone, who has directed several minor-league organizations in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball Clubs and also served as the Orioles’ instant replay specialist in 2014. “The job that our coaching staff, scouting department and players did gave us a comfort level that we were going to be competitive and have a chance to win.”

Comprised almost entirely of Jewish Americans — there are only about 800 registered baseball players in Israel, according to the Israel Association of Baseball— the Israeli team won with chutzpah, Gladstone said with a laugh.

Gladstone and Team Israel’s executives had hoped once the team qualified in September, they could persuade some of the most well-known eligible players — Milwaukee Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun, Detroit Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler and Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson — to play for their ancestral homeland.

While they all declined, Israel ended up fielding a team that had a David-versus-Goliath feel. None of the players are on the 25-man roster of any Major League team, although some — such as first baseman Ike Davis, right-handed pitcher Jason Marquis and outfielder Sam Fuld — have extensive big-league experience.

Baseball notwithstanding, the trip did not go without its share off-the-field obstacles for some of the most observant members of the club such as Rosenblatt.

A Pikesville Jewish Congregation member, Rosenblatt celebrated Shabbat with the team’s equipment manager, Jordy Alter, at the team’s hotel in Seoul and attended services with the local Chabad Lubavitch group in Tokyo.

On Purim, Rosenblatt and Alter took part in the reading of the megillah in the dugout during a 4-1 win against Cuba on March 12, “which got a whole bunch of publicity that was intended but was an unbelievable moment,” Rosenblatt said.

“It was all extremely moving,” Rosenblatt said. “Honestly, the WBC was equally professional, nationalistic and religious for me.”

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