Thursday, March 30, 2017

2 New Kosher Stands to Open

Just got word that 2 new Kosher stands will be opening this season:

1) Minnesota Twins will have their second Kosher food stand, this being Vegan hosted by the Herbivorous Butcher!

2) Kansas City is adding the same stand that the St. Louis Cardinals host, Kohn's Kosher Cart.

Sounds like its going to be a yummy summer at the Ballpark!

The Mastermind Behind Team Israel

In my mind Alex Jacobs is the coolest guy in sports. First he has now been giving the title "Mastermind" which is usually reserved for fictional characters. Second, and most importantly, he was the individual responsible for compiling the talent for Team Israel. Alex is a baseball scout for the Astros but quickly transformed into the "Fairy Godfather" for the Cinderella story of the Jewish people. Tasked with genealogy, productivity, and a people weighing on his shoulders Jacobs did not disappoint. We spoke with Jacobs, who literally holds my dream job (note the jealous tone) to hear his story and whats next for Team Israel.

1) Tell TGR a little bit about yourself.
Born and raised an unhealthy Phillies fan in a suburb north of Philadelphia. Went to University of Massachusetts. Currently entering my 5 season a Professional Scout with the Houston Astros while living in Lakeland, Florida.

2)  How did you first get involved with Major League Baseball? 
Ever since I realized that playing professionally was out of the question, I began trying to figure out how I could to work in baseball. I was inspired by the 2003 Phillies actually. It was during the pennant race and Luis Castillo popped up to Mike Lieberthal to give the Phillies a half game lead in the wild card. The camera panned to General Manager, at the time, Ed Wade in the Phillies Suite pumping his fist with an emphatic Wooo! I wanted to be in that suite and feel what Ed felt that day.

I went to UMass which has a rich history in churning out MLB executives. I had several internships on both the business and baseball operation side of baseball. Before the Astros hired me to be a Pro Scout I worked for the Astros (Business), Yankees, Tigers, Dodgers, and Rays. Astros hired me for the 2013 season.You are currently a scout for the Houston Astros.

3) What is that experience like and what does it entail?
It’s been fantastic. Kevin Goldstein, my boss, hired me at the 2012 Winter Meetings. My job is to scour the lowest levels of professional baseball and find prospects before they turn into “prospects.” I spend my spring and summers, for the most part, away from my family and travel around the state of FL inventorying other professional teams for the purpose of player acquisitions, free agency, preparation, etc.

4) In many ways you were the main man behind the scenes for Team Israel. What was your main job with the team?
First off, there were many guys behind the scenes with us. Ben Werthan, one of the best advance scouting minds in the game. He was nothing short of incredible taking the lead from our advance preparations of our opponents. Adam Gladstone was a logistical genius and backbone of the entire operation. Without him, this would have crumbled. Jonah Rosenthal and Guy Stevens, who both couldn’t make the trip due to their responsibilities with their MLB clubs were incredible resources and provides exceptional support through the tournament. Jason Lefkowitz, a MLB Scout with Seattle and more drove a lot of this as well. Obviously, this is Peter Kurz of the IAB’s baby and he deserves a lot of credit for how much this has grown. As far as my role, it had a lot to do with the construction of the roster and to know Team Israel better than anybody else knew team Israel. Also, to be used as a rubber board for Jerry and his staff to bounce ideas off of as well as give off ideas…the good, the bad, and even the ugly. But in the end, the entire operation; the staff, players, support etc worked together as a whole. We all had one common goal. This was a complete effort by everybody involved which is what made us the most prepared Front Office and staff in the entire tournament as well as what made this experience very special.

5) Was there ever a possibility of landing some of the bigger name MLBers like Ryan Braun, Ian Kinsler, etc? Did any show interest? 
At first, we thought so, but seeing how long of a trip this was for some of guys, we knew it would be tough. We reached out to all of them, plus more. We 100 percent respect the opinions of all of the players and feel the best decision for them was whatever decision they made for themselves.

6) Will Team Israel make a play for Jason Kipnis or Paul Goldschmidt who have Jewish fathers but are Christian? 
We did! We had communication with both. Remember as much as the guys on this team were “Jewish,” we were still representing the state of Israel. And, in the state of Israel there are many Christians who live there.

7) Do you think we might see Alex Bregman, Kevin Pillar and other pros join Team Israel 2021 knowing we can play on the big stage? 
That would be fantastic. It was great to see Alex represent the USA as well as Kinsler. Regardless of who was watching, we do think that our performance in these games will make it easier to recruit for 2021. Whether it’s getting some of our players to come back and play again, or getting younger prospects to play for us in their prime. We do think there will be an uptick in participation where we most likely will have to make very difficult decisions as far as roster construction is concerned.

8) What is one thing you took from the Team Israel experience? 
My favorite question to answer. 28 ball players who compete against each other for 140 or 162 games every year coming into 1 clubhouse to form this ridiculous culture. Look at Team PR and Team DR. This isn’t a regular baseball game, these are guys playing for more than a pay check, in our case we are playing for our heritage while representing the State of Israel while also trying to grow the game there.

 9) What are your career goals or is scouting your dream?
Sure I do! Of course the dream is to eventually run your own club and be the one who gives the credit to my staff on the club's successes while accepting all the blame for any misfortunes. That’s the dream. But, in the end, I just want to make as much of a contribution to a baseball operations as I can.  
10) What was your Jewish life like growing up? 
It was good. I wish I took more advantage of the social aspect of it. I went to Hebrew school through being bar mitzvah’d. Then dropped out before confirmation but kept going to services as my mother was president of our synagogue and was very involved. I was in a Jewish High School fraternity as well. I hope that my contributions to Team Israel makes up a little for not completing my Hebrew studies ;)

Friday, March 17, 2017

New MoT NHLer: Josh Ho-Sang

According to Kaplan's Korner there is a new Jewish NHLer the Islanders Josh Ho-Sang. Welcome to the ice and Mazel Tov!

NCAA Tournament Jews

Often we highlight some of the MoTs playing in the tournaments. This year is led most notably by Spencer Weiscz of Princeton whose team lost a heartbreaking opener yesterday. Weiscz played all 40 minutes and led Princeton with 15 points. Today TJ Leaf and the UCLA Bruins take the floor. They are a #3 sleeper to win the tournament. Also playing today are Ben Carter of Michigan State and Roman Sorkin of Oregon.

The NIT has Sam Singer of California who will finished up his stellar career with an opening round loss, rarely used Ky Feldman & Jon Radner (Syracuse) and Cameron Liss (Illinois) and potential NBA draftee TJ Cline of Richmond.

Jeremy Lieberman (Wyoming) is playing in the CBI tournament.

Team Israel Bows Out

Congrats to Team Israel on a historic run eventually losing two straight to Netherlands and Japan. Israel went 4-2 in the World Baseball Classic. If you include qualifying round they were 7-2 with an all-time record of 9-3. Ryan Lavarnway took home the Pool A MVP Award. Great pitching from Jason Marquis and Josh Zeid. Other highlights include Hatikvah on the field, the team wearing kippot, and Megillah reading in the dugout. And of course the Mench on a Bench team mascot. It was truly an amazing run. Yasher Koach to all the players, coaches and those involved. Looking forward to bolstering that lineup and staff in 2021!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Interview: Orangeman and Israeli Ky Feldman

While Team Israel continues to wow us all, its also time for the NCAA Tournament. Last year the Orangemen made a historic run to the Final Four. This year is a little different as they enter as a #1 seed in the NIT. But both Orangemen teams had something in common; Israel baller Ky Feldman. Great is a great young player beginning to make a name for himself. So in time for the tournament here is a good story about an up and coming Jewish baller. 
1) Tell TGR a little bit about yourself.
I was born in Israel. My dad was American, but he moved out there after a year of playing basketball at Long Beach State to play professionally. He played for a few years, and then he coached for a while. In total, he lived there for 15 years, and that's where he met my mom. We moved to the United States with my little brother when I was 5, and we've been living in the Los Angeles area since then. I played high school basketball at Agoura High School, and I chose to walk on at Syracuse because my ultimate dream is to be a college basketball coach.

2) When did you know that you wanted to play college basketball and when did you realize Syracuse was a reality?
I think most kids that play basketball at a young age dream of playing in the NBA. By the time I got to high school, I realized that wasn't an option for me, but I still knew I wanted to play basketball for as long as possible, no matter what level. I never even dreamed of ending up at a program like Syracuse, and the opportunity kind of came out of nowhere. Going into my senior year, I was planning on playing at Occidental College, a Division 3 school in Los Angeles. My goal was to play and be close to home, but a couple months into my senior year my dad found a connection that allowed him to send some tape into the staff at Syracuse. I had no idea about any of it until we took a visit to Syracuse. We went to watch a practice, and at that point I still had no idea of the work my dad had been doing. Fifteen minutes into the practice, coach Boeheim walked over and started talking to me, and he told me that he had seen me play and that he thought I was good enough to walk on to the team. Until I actually heard him say that, coming to Syracuse wasn't even a thought in my mind.

3) What were walk-on tryouts like?
I didn't try out for the team. I was offered a roster spot but no scholarship, and I took it without hesitation.

4) Whats something people should know about being a college walk-on?
I think the one thing people forget a lot is that walk-ons were all very good high school players, so even though there are a lot of great perks, being a walk-on can be frustrating because we're playing a role that we're not used to. It's hard because we're not competing like we're used to, and it's a completely different mindset on a day-to-day basis. Our goal every day at practice is to push the scholarship players and do whatever the team needs us to do. On game days, it's about being good teammates and bringing energy to every game. Off the court, it's about being a good influence and getting good grades. Our role and our goal is completely different than what we're all used to, so it's a difficult transition for some guys.

5) What was the Final Four run like last year? Was it more exciting that you weren't a top seed?
The Final Four run was amazing. It was kind of difficult at the time to take it all in. We were so focused on winning the next game and advancing that we never really stopped to think about any of it. It wasn't until I stepped out on to the court at NRG Stadium in Houston that it really hit me. Seeing 80,000 empty seats there and knowing they would all be filled to see us play made me realize how amazing what we had done was. That was when we all understood how blessed we were to have had the opportunity to play on that kind of stage. It didn't turn out the way we wanted to, but it was still an amazing week. Being a 10 seed didn't make much of a difference to us personally, but I know it definitely made a difference to the media and the fans, and a lot more attention was placed on us as a result. If it affected us in any way, I would say it definitely helped us because we had a "nothing to lose/ us against the world" attitude.

6) What is the best lesson you have learned from Coach Jim Boehim?
The thing that makes him so great is how simple he keeps things when coaching. Watching the 2-3 on television and because of the high level of play, I thought I'd get here and it would seem like he was coaching different game. Instead, I've always been amazed at how simple everything is, especially with the 2-3. It's a very complicated defense, but he finds a way to break everything down into smaller, simpler parts, and at the end it all comes together. That's why we play it so well.

7) What was your Jewish life like growing up?
Growing up in Israel and for the first few years living in the United States, we were very religious as a family. The longer we stayed here, the less observant we became. Now, I would not consider myself an observant Jew. I do not keep Kosher or Shabbat, but I do go temple often. During the season, we have practice every night, but in the offseason I try to go every Shabbat. For me, it's more about the spiritual connection I feel while I'm at temple. That's what's most important to me.

8) Favorite Jewish food?
Definitely Jachnun. In Israel, we would all go to my grandma's house every Saturday for jachnun, so now, eating it always takes me back to that time. I don't have it very much now that I am in Syracuse, but when I do, it's definitely my favorite.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Interview: WBC Team Israel Pitcher Alex Katz

There are a lot of exciting elements to Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic. The major leaguers who are playing, the notion that Israel baseball is in the top 16 countries in the world, and the returning stars. Probably most exciting is the young players coming through the system that have a chance to shine. For a White Sox fan Alex Katz is one of the shining stars. Katz finished last season in A+ ball but is looking to make a jump this year. The WBC might be the best platform to show his stuff.

1) Tell TGR a little bit about yourself.
I grew up on Long Island, went to St. John’s University in Queens, NY and was drafted by the Chicago White Sox as a junior in 2015.

2) What do you expect this season? Where do you hope to be by seasons end?
I expect to build off of my past 2 pro seasons. There's always room for improvement. Most importantly, to stay consistent throughout the long season. I try not to think about each level, instead just focus on pitching my best, getting outs, and the rest will take care of itself.

3) Who is the best hitter you have ever faced and why?
Andrew Benintendi is one of the best hitters that I’ve ever faced. I pitched against him in the NCAA Regionals in 2015 and he ended up winning the Golden Spikes Award that year, and is currently the #1 prospect in baseball.

4) Team Israel has a lot of momentum going into the WBC. Can you make a run?
Without a doubt we can. The team is full of veteran players with a ton of experience, as well as young talent. The team we had at the WBC Qualifiers in September gelled together extremely well.

5) Who has been the biggest professional mentor in your young career?
My dad has been the biggest mentor for me throughout my baseball career. He doesn’t miss a game, whether it's through live feed on the internet or at the games. He knows me almost as much as I know myself. 

6) Whats behind your Twitter handle @Kittyelgato12?
It was kind of a joke soon after I signed with the White Sox. A lot of teammates called me Kitty and then some of my Latin teammates started calling me Gato, which means cat in Spanish.
7) What was your Jewish life like growing up? And today?

I was Bar Mitzvahed and went to Temple for the major holidays growing up. Currently, it is difficult to go to Temple as much as I did growing up because baseball takes up so much of my time. 

8) Favorite Jewish food and why?
Potato latkes. That’s one of my mom’s specialties. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

March Madness Interview: Coach & ESPN's Seth Greenberg

It's March which means the greatest month in sports; March Madness! While you take a break from re-tweaking your bracket read our interview with former NCAA coach Seth Greenberg. Greenberg is currently one of the lead analysts for ESPN’s college basketball coverage and formerly a 2x ACC Coach of the Year at Virginia Tech, where he coached from 2003-2012. We caught up with the coach and welcome him to the TGR team. Check out to book Seth as a speaker at your next big event!

TGR: Growing up were you always around the game of basketball?
Greenberg: "I was around basketball at a very young age.  Myself and my older brother Brad would both go on to play high school and college basketball respectively."

TGR: Both you and your brother Brad have had such success around the game of basketball. Are you two competitive with each other? What about growing up?
Greenberg: "Brad and I have always been competitive with each other but at the same time we’ve been highly supportive of each other."

Greenberg went on the talk about the major impact coaches can have on athletes lives. Coaches do much more than coach on the court.  But he gave up the privilege of coaching to work with ESPN. "I get to be in the best seat in the best arenas with the rest of the Gameday crew" Greenberg joked. Hard to imagine a better seat than the coaches chair, but Greenberg seems to love it. He often shares his person experiences and perspectives with the viewers. In a sense he gets to coach the viewers through their basketball experience.

I went on to ask Greenberg about his Jewish upbringing. "I went to Hebrew school, had a Bar Mitzvah, still practices most of the holidays.  I had a Reform upbringing" Greenberg said. He also was proud of his Israel experience. "I actually coached in Israel for the USA team at the Maccabiah Games in July 2013" Greenberg added.

Greenberg's deep knowledge of the game and his 1st hand insight make him a valuable asset to the sideline, booth and Jewish people. The game of basketball is growing in Israel and for young Jewish ball players. Greenberg's legacy has helped lead the way.