The Israeli baseball team brought along its mascot, Mensch on a Bench, to kick off the World Baseball Classic against South Korea in Seoul on Monday, and the (what appears to be a) giant stuffed Hasidic Jew is quite a sight.
The mascot was bought online last September by player Cody Decker, a utility man for Team Israel. The doll is part of the Jewish answer to “Elf on a Shelf,” the famous Christmas-themed children’s book, and its creators say he is the “new Jewish tradition meant to bring more Funukkah to Hanukkah!” Mensch on a Bench is also the title of the book which “tells the story of Moshe the Mensch” who saves the Jews.
“He’s a mascot, he’s a friend, he’s a teammate, he’s a borderline diety to our team,” Decker said during an interview, seated next to the mascot, with MLB.com on Sunday.
“Every team needs their Jobu,” Decker told ESPN, in reference to the voodoo doll from the movie 1989 baseball comedy “Major League”. “He was ours. He had his own locker and we even gave him offerings: Manischewitz, gelt, and gefilte fish.”
Decker said he tried getting the mascot a first-class ticket to Seoul “but that didn’t fly; so he was put in a duffle bag and checked.”
What's better than a Mensch on the Bench? Two mensches on a bench. Good luck to Cody Decker and Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic!
The WBC is returning Monday for its fourth edition, growing slowly yet still far from rising to the prominence of soccer’s World Cup or the Olympics.
South Korea is hosting Israel at the opener of the 16-nation tournament in Seoul, after the team won a preliminary round in Brooklyn, New York, in September.
Nearly all the members on Team Israel are American Jews. By WBC rules, a player may compete for a country if he is eligible for citizenship under its laws. Israel extends the right of automatic citizenship to Jews, their non-Jewish children, grandchildren and the non-Jewish spouses of their children and grandchildren.
Last month, a 10-player delegation came to Israel on a six-day visit meant to connect the team with the country they are representing in the tournament.
The team, at this year’s tournament, has been described as “the biggest underdog in the history of the event,” and has been given little chance of winning.
“They’re essentially the Mighty Ducks…and the Jamaican bobsled team all rolled into one,” wrote ESPN in reference to two 1990s movies featuring underdog teams in hockey and bobsleigh, resectively.
“In other words, they’re straight out of Central Casting for the role of ‘Underdog Team That Stands Absolutely No Chance of Winning But Somehow Goes On To Win It All.'”