As far back as Hank Greenberg in the early part of the 20th century, Jews have, for one reason or another, been subject to various forms of discrimination in baseball. The film “Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel,” originated by MLB baseball writer Jonathan Mayo, in partnership with Ironbound Films, may help change some perceptions about Jews’ abilities as athletes.
“Heading Home,” which opens at the 15th annual International Jewish Film Festival in Rockland County on April 3, tells the story of underdog Team Israel’s inspirational journey to Israel and their run in the 2017 World Baseball Classic (WBC) in Seoul, South Korea. One of Team Israel’s pitchers, Corey Baker, who appears in the film, grew up and attended Hebrew school in New City, New York.
“Team Israel and the film show that you can be a really good baseball player and you can be proud of being Jewish,” Mayo said. Team Israel was ranked 41st in the world before the WBC began with players described by one writer as “wannabes and has-beens,” yet they managed to defeat some of the best teams in the tournament.
He created the film with Jeremy Newberger, Daniel A. Miller and Seth Kramer of Ironbound Films, Miller, Newberger and Mayo have been friends since Jewish sleepaway camp. Miller views Team Israel as a great metaphor for Israel. You can’t deny Israel’s self-determination, and so too is the case for Team Israel, he said. “Hearing about the challenges these players encountered as Jews in their careers and then seeing them connect with their faith and homeland during the making of this film was fascinating,” said Miller.
“I think that being with Team Israel and connecting to the people who were following along on our journey was really special...The trip gave us a little more meaning about what we were playing for,” said Baker, who had been to Israel with Taglit-Birthright, unlike many players on the team had never been to Israel.
Mayo hopes Team Israel’s success will help grow the sport in Israel and that future teams will be made up of solely native Israelis. The IAB is planning to build two more baseball fields with WBC tournament earnings and donations from the Jewish National Fund.
Buy tickets for “Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel” at https://jccrockland.org/event/heading-home-tale-team-israel/