The Ukiah Daily Journal
Eight players prep for WBC
MESA, ARIZ. >> For the first time since 2017, the World Baseball Classic returns this spring and the Oakland Athletics have eight players in their system representing six countries, with games set to begin next week.
For many players, having the opportunity to wear their country's jersey and represent their culture is a dream come true.
Zach Gelof, 23, will be playing for Israel for the first time this spring and his excitement and energy were evident in the A's spring training clubhouse Monday, a week before he'll head to Florida to join the Team Israel camp.
“It means everything,” he said, smiling. “Something about representing my heritage means a lot to me, and it's not really something I've had to do. So I am looking forward to that.”
Gelof spent most of his 2022 season with the Double-a Midland Rockhounds, where he batted .271 with 13 home runs over 87 games. He is ranked No. 3 in the A's prospect pipeline according to Mlb.com.
However, for the next couple of weeks, he is turning his attention to Team Israel, managed by former big leaguer Ian Kinsler.
“It'll be awesome to learn from him and the other guys on the team,” Gelof said. “I am looking forward to competing with them.”
Left-handed relief pitcher Jake Fishman, who joins Gelof on the Israeli team, expects his teammate to have a great tournament.
“He's a super great kid,” Fishman, 28, said of Gelof, his next-door lockermate. “I'm excited to watch him play.”
The A's other players at the WBC include infielder Jordan Díaz (Colombia), center fielder Denzel Clarke (Canada), utility player Joshwan Wright (Panama) and pitchers Adrián Martínez (Mexico), Miguel Romero (Cuba) and James Gonzalez (Panama).
Fishman, who threw an inning of relief in Monday's 7-3 loss to the Rockies, joined the A's on a minor-league contract this December. He spent 2022 in the Marlins' system, where he pitched in seven major-league games and posted a 4.09 ERA.
Unlike Gelof, this is not Fishman's first time representing Israel. In 2017, he was on the roster for the World Baseball Classic but did not see any playing time as the team fell in the second round. In 2021, he competed for the team during the Tokyo Olympics, where he pitched in a couple of games and Israel finished in fifth place.
“I think this year, we have the team to actually put together a couple of wins and even advance to the next round,” Fishman said.
But playing for Israel is about more than just onfield success.
In 2019, Fishman and the rest of the group took an eight-day trip to Israel, where he visited Jerusalem, received his Israeli citizenship and worked with children. The national team has been involved in expanding baseball in Israel, fundraising and building a new baseball field.
Fishman said there was only one field in the entire country previously.
From the managerial perspective, A's skipper Mark Kotsay has just been trying to get his World Baseball Classicbound players opportunities to play. He acknowledged they're primarily young guys who need time on the field.