Former Major Leaguers Brad Ausmus, Shawn Green and Gabe Kapler are backing Israel's bid for the 2013 World Baseball Classic, significantly boosting the country's chances of becoming an international contender.
According to a report by The Associated Press, the three Jewish former Major Leaguers met with Israeli baseball officials this week in Los Angeles, all saying they are determined to help Israel put together a competitive squad for the qualifying round late next year.
It isn't yet known if Ausmus, Green and Kapler will actually participate, but even their public backing should be enough support for baseball in Israel, one of 16 countries invited to participate in the qualifiers. The top four teams will then advance to the Classic in 2013.
Ausmus, Green and Kapler enjoyed plenty of success in their combined 46 years in the Majors, and each embraces the idea of being a Jewish role model. Given the Classic rules that allow players to participate for countries in which they are eligible for citizenship, even if they aren't actually citizens, Israel will have a chance to mine the Majors for prominent players.
According to the report, Ausmus said Israel "could be a contender" in the 2013 Classic if it gets through the qualifying round late next year, and he would encourage Jewish Major Leaguers to play as well. That group includes All-Stars like Milwaukee's Ryan Braun, Boston's Kevin Youkilis and Texas' Ian Kinsler. Ausmus told the AP that his "gut says they would consider playing."
"Today, the idea of bridging the gap between the generations of American-Jewish baseball fans and baseball fans in Israel is an enticing prospect," Ausmus, 42, said. "Hopefully, this is the beginning of renewed and long interest in baseball in Israel."
"I think there will be a big interest. There are going to be a good number of guys who want to participate," Kapler, 36, told the AP. "I think it makes sense to dream about it and imagine what could be if the stars align."
Green, 39, said he had not yet decided against playing, according to the report, though he promised to help out "in any capacity."
"If I felt like that was a role that the team needed, I would prepare for it ... I'm pretty confident that it wouldn't be too huge a mountain to climb to get back and play," Green said. "I feel a strong connection to Israel, and it would be an honor to put on the uniform."
Peter Kurz, the secretary-general of the Israeli Association of Baseball, told the AP that he didn't expect any big leaguers to join the team unless it advances past the qualifying round, leaving Israel to rely on retired Jewish former Major Leaguers along with Minor Leaguers and college athletes.
Kurz told the AP that having three former stars like Ausmus, Green and Kapler makes the team "much more attractive," and while they will all help coach, recruit and raise funds, he also expects one of them to manage the team.
"Our main goal is developing baseball in Israel by putting together a team that can compete," Kurz said.
Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.