Thursday, September 09, 2021

Interview With Jake Rosenberg

When I wrote about the most famous Ithaca College graduates, I didn't include many athletes. There are many notable IC alumni that are broadcasters and in sports media, but there aren't many successful athletes from Ithaca College or other Division III schools. The number of Ithaca College and/or D3 graduates that play on a national baseball team might just be one: Jake Rosenberg, IC class of 2018. Jake moved to Israel after graduation and played on Israeli's national baseball team, helping the team qualify for the recent Tokyo Olympics. Jake answered questions about his journey, his teammates, and much more.

I'll start with the obvious question. How does someone from the Philadelphia area who played baseball at Ithaca College (with apologies to Tim Locastro, not exactly known as a place for future professional baseball players) wind up on the Israeli baseball team?

It was the ultimate case of being in the right spot at the right time.  I knew I wasn’t ready to start your typical 9-5 job upon graduating from Ithaca in 2018, and wanted to go on an adventure before starting my work career.  I never had a chance to go abroad during college, so I knew that it was something I always wanted to try.  I picked Israel for many reasons.  Being Jewish and coming from a Jewish background, I thought it would make the most sense to go there.  I got in touch with the President of Israel baseball before going, to see if it would be worth my while.  I knew I was going there to help grow baseball in Israel.  I was going to coach the youth national teams and play in a men’s league out there. I had no idea there was a senior national team when I first got there.  After a few months of being there (that’s all I thought I would last) I was approached and told about a team they are putting together to try and qualify for the Olympics. I knew I would be an idiot to turn down that opportunity, So I ended up getting my Israeli citizenship and started the journey that would eventually get us into the Olympics.

Israel was one of the six baseball teams to qualify for the Olympics. I believe that I saw that the other 5 teams (Japan, USA, Dominican Republic, Mexico, and South Korea) were ranked in the top 7 of the world while Israel was somewhere in 20s. That's incredible! I'm not sure that I have a question here other than how did you do it?

Israel baseball has to be one of the greatest underdog stories in team sports history. It took a lot of mental toughness and believing in one another.  Before our first game in Bulgaria in July of 2019, no one really knew anyone.  We had all met here and there leading up to the start of the tournament, but Bulgaria was the first time we were all together, practicing and playing as a team.  We had to trust that the next guy up could get the job done, and that is just what we did….believed in one another’s abilities.

What was it like playing and practicing with former major leaguers like Ian Kinsler, Danny Valencia, Ryan Lavarnway, and more?

A dream come true.  I have played with some great players throughout my years, but none can compare to the pros that were on Team Israel.  Growing up, everyone always knew of Kinsler as really being the only Jewish player in the MLB at the time, and the fact that I got to share the same field as him is truly awesome.  The pros really showed us what it was like to carry yourself as a professional and how to represent Israel in the best way possible.  They also had a couple cool stories to tell along the way.

Was it at all disappointing that you were selected as an alternate but not able to travel to Japan for the Olympics?

Yeah of course.  It was a little bit of a bittersweet ending.  You had a bunch of guys that were on the original team that qualified as alternates, and they add guys to the team who had nothing to do with us qualifying. They just benefited on our behalf. It is what it is though, still the best baseball experience I have ever had.

Although you're an outfielder, I saw that you pitched in the 2019 European Championship against Spain. Can you share your experience pitching for likely the first time in years? In addition, did you know that the final batter you retired (Fernando Martinez) in that scoreless inning played 99 games in the majors with the Mets and Astros?

That was the first time I had pitched since senior year of high school.  I was joking with the coaches all week about how they should let me pitch if the situation arose.  We were down big and the game didn’t mean anything, so instead of wasting one of our pitchers arms they threw me in there. It was a lot of fun and brought back some good memories from when I would pitch growing up.  I actually did not know that, but when we played Netherlands, I got Roger Bernadina to line out into a double play.  He was a big prospect with the Phillies and Nationals.

(Sean's note: I remember Roger Bernadina and even took a picture of a guy wearing his jersey at my kids' 2019 elementary school fall festival event. Bernandina last played in Washington in 2013, so I was impressed by random jersey appearance.)

I'm from Pittsburgh and am a lifelong Pirates fan. Do you have any stories about your teammate Jeremy Bleich who is a staff assistant for the Pirates and does research and documentation for games for the team? Could he get you free tickets if you see a game at PNC Park?

My dad's side of the family is actually from Squirrel Hill, so Pittsburgh has a special place in my heart.  Bleich is a great guy and easily the funniest one on the team. He was a great teammate and is now an even better friend.  

So what's next for you both personally and professionally whether it's about the Israeli baseball team or something else?

I can happily say that I am officially retired from baseball.  My golf career has now started.  I would like to get into real estate.  I am currently leasing apartments in the Philly area

Finally, my 10 year-old son is playing baseball for the first time this season. (I'm not counting the coach-pitch league he was in a few years ago.) Do you have any general baseball advice for him?

Have fun.  Regardless of how hard baseball is, it's still just a game.  Enjoy every second of it because in a blink of an eye it’ll all be over……..  

Thanks to Jake for taking the time to answer my questions. Please follow him on Twitter at @j_rosenberg34 and on Instagram at @jakerosenberg_1

Photos from Jake Rosenberg

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