‘Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel’by Jacqueline Bull February 1, 2019
Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel” is a documentary about baseball, Israel and home.
Dan Miller, Jonathan Mayo and Jeremy Newberger all attended the same Jewish sleepaway camp in the ‘80’s. Jonathan would become a reporter for Major League Baseball and Dan and Jeremy would become directors for documentary films.
“Since Jewish sleepaway camp, we’ve been looking for a way to work with Jonathan and he kept coming to us with ideas. And one of his ideas was to take a group of Jewish major leaguers on a Birthright trip. We went out one spring training to Florida and Arizona and interviewed as many of the Jewish players that Jon was connected to … Of course he had a particular hobby of mentally collecting who is a Jew [laughs] in the players that he interviews,” Jeremy Newberger said.
“We put together a sizzle reel to try and make a film where we got them on a Birthright trip to Israel and we couldn’t get the funding to get them to Israel. So we shelved it. And lo and behold a group of these same guys ended up drafted onto Team Israel and qualified in the Brooklyn qualifiers. That’s when all of a sudden our phone was ringing off the hook, we had funding, we had interest, we had an airplane to Israel … so that sort of kickstarted us into the project,” he said.
This Team Israel would compete for the World Baseball Classic, an international tournament where the top 16 teams compete in different venues around the world for the title.
“We lucked into this amazing Cinderella underdog sports story because Team Israel defied expectations,” he said.
In a country with very few baseball diamonds, it was a huge shock that they could even qualify. Team Israel was primarily comprised of American Jews who had been in and out and around the Minor and Major Leagues.
“The whole point of the game is to head home. And we were sort of faced with the story of American Jews because the majority of Team Israel was American Jews – diaspora Jews – and they were playing in the World Baseball Classic representing a country that they did not grow up in … The idea of heading home kind of speaks to these guys and their journey to connect with a country that they had to represent on the world stage,” he said.
And going back and having the team and their wives, girlfriends or family members see Israel for the first time is a significant portion of the film. They see Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the markets, the Dead Sea and the Wall. And they met with young Israeli baseball fans to play for them, meet with them and sign autographs.
“One of the things that connects my fellow directors and I is baseball. When we were young, our dads would take us to see ball games. My dad used to take me to see the New York Mets. We lived on Long Island. I think he would only take me to see the Mets because he was afraid to park in the Bronx to see the Yankees [laughs]. So we ended up Mets fans. I remember fondly – my dad has since passed – he would buy me a program and I would keep track of the strikes and fouls. It was a great way to connect with my dad. And I think some of the appeal of baseball to Jews in general is that sort of generational connection that is fostered in our holidays and our religion,” he said.
And in regards to how far Team Israel makes it in the World Baseball Classic, you’ll have to go watch it to find out.