Not one of the 28 players on Team Israel's World Baseball Classic roster is currently on an MLB 40-man roster. Well, 29 players if you count the "Mensch on a Bench."
Israel shocked the world Monday, opening up the WBC with a 2-1 ten-inning upset of world No. 3 South Korea. Israel, ranked No. 41 in the world, was the last team to make the 16-nation field, surviving a September qualifier in Brooklyn featuring Great Britain, Brazil and Pakistan.
Team Israel's eclectic roster made up mostly of Jewish-American players on minor league contracts, some still with MVP dreams and some long past their prime. Jason Marquis started the victory over South Korea with Josh Zeid coming on in relief and Ike Davis pinch-hitting. Most of the players have never lived in Israel. But they have found one common ground to rally around: their mascot.
The Mensch on a Bench is a modern picture book, written to engage Jewish children with the story of Hanukkah. Author Neal Hoffman even took the concept to Shark Tank. As ESPN's Eddie Matz explains of Mensch on a Bench, "He's essentially the Jewish answer to Elf on the Shelf."
— Cody Decker (@Decker6) March 2, 2017
Mensch is a Yiddish word that roughly translates to "a good person." Team Israel has given this mensch a whole new meaning. Utilityman Cody Decker, a 30-year-old who has played just eight MLB games -- all for the Padres in 2015 -- bought the life-size doll before the September qualifier. Mensch on a Bench has evolved into a spiritual figure in the clubhouse.
"Every team needs their Jobu," Decker says. "He was ours. He had his own locker, and we gave him offerings: Manischewitz, gelt and gefitle fish."
— Cody Decker (@Decker6) March 5, 2017
It's a little bit off-brand -- Jews praying to a physical idol -- but Abraham will let this fly as long as the team keeps winning.
"He is everywhere and nowhere all at once," Decker says. "His actual location is irrelevant because he exists in higher metaphysical planes. But he's always near."
Mensch on a Bench even made it to the Israel team photo.
— Israel Baseball (@ILBaseball) March 4, 2017
"I tried to get him a first-class ticket," Decker said of the trip to Seoul. "But that didn't fly, so he was put in a duffel bag and checked."
Mensch on a Bench is fairly representative of Team Israel. It's a low-budget mascot that most outsiders would not accept as legitimate. But the team believes in him and he believes in the team.
— Ryan Lavarnway (@RyanLavarnway) February 27, 2017
The Pool A schedule doesn't get much easier for Israel with No. 4 Chinese Taipei on Tuesday and No. 9 the Netherlands on Thursday.
Ty Kelly with a giant mensch on a bench is my new favorite photo ever. pic.twitter.com/kKYPlRsSxv
— Mollie Galchus (@molliegalchus) March 1, 2017
You need to check out the Team Israel WBC Mascot
'Mensch on a Bench' must be working as they defeated South Korea 2-1 this morning pic.twitter.com/hlQFzvn1pJ
— Scoreboard.com (@Scoreboard_com) March 6, 2017