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November 20, 2018

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Diamond diplomat: Southern Nevada high school coach helping popularize baseball in Israel

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Steve Marcus

Mitch Glasser, who played for Israel in the 2017 World Baseball Classic qualifier, poses at Green Valley High School in Henderson Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. Israel qualified for the WBC for the first time, and will play powerhouses such as the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the U.S.

They weren’t allowed to play catch along the Western Wall.

But Mitch Glasser and his cousin, Corey Westfall, broke out their baseball gloves nearly everywhere else during a 2010 birthright trip to Israel — from the banks of the Dead Sea to the beaches of Tel Aviv.

In good company

Glasser moved to Las Vegas for the baseball offseason to train and coach after his longtime girlfriend accepted a job in the valley.

He’s not the only one in that situation on the Israeli national roster. Catcher Nick Rickles, who’s from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and is in the Washington Nationals organization, came to Southern Nevada for the same reasons.

Glasser and Rickles joined Mike Meyers and Dean Kremer as Team Israel members with ties to Las Vegas. Meyers grew up locally and graduated from Silverado High in 2012 before the Boston Red Sox drafted him in the 12th round.

Kremer, the first Israeli citizen ever drafted by a Major League Baseball team, spent a season pitching for UNLV before the Los Angeles Dodgers selected him in the 14th round this June.

“People would just look at us and not know what it was,” Glasser recalled.

The 26-year-old professional baseball player hopes that’s not always the case. He has a long-term goal of helping to bring America’s pastime to Israel.

Glasser works as a substitute teacher and assistant baseball coach at Green Valley High during the offseason, and last month, he played second base and third base on Israel’s national team, which qualified for the 2017 World Baseball Classic by beating Brazil and Great Britain twice in a tournament in Brooklyn.

“It was one of the highlights of my career,” he said. “It was great to play international baseball and fun to represent Israel and get the support of Jewish people everywhere.”

Glasser was deeply involved in Chicago’s Jewish community growing up, even attending a Jewish day school. He was eligible to play for Israel based on the WBC’s heritage rule, which allows anyone who can become a citizen of a country to be on its roster.

He learned of the possibility while attending a fundraiser shortly after the Chicago White Sox, his childhood favorite team, took him in the 39th round of the 2012 Major League Baseball Entry Draft.

Glasser received notice that he was a candidate for the national team this year while playing in an independent league with the Joplin Blasters in Missouri.

“Once I knew it was possible, that became my goal for the rest of the season — to make the team,” he said.

Glasser had an impressive season for the Blasters, batting .314 with 47 RBIs to go with 16 stolen bases. He continued to play well for Israel, going 1-for-4 with a double and fielding the ground ball to record the last out in a 9-1 victory over Britain in the final.

“The games are all a blur,” Glasser said. “It was more the guys on the team, the characters we had that I’ll remember. Playing with 27 other Jewish baseball players was a unique experience. We all might have been the token Jewish guy on our other teams, but now there were 28 of us. I’d love to continue that.”

Israel begins WBC pool play next March in Seoul, South Korea, but Glasser is unsure if he’ll retain his position with the team. Because the tournament is staged during the offseason, Major League Baseball players are available to join the roster and Glasser will understand if he’s passed up.

Either way, he won’t be ending his relationship with the Israel Association of Baseball. Being on the national team exposed Glasser to the Baseball Le’Kulam — or “Baseball for All” — program.

It’s an initiative to get Jewish and Arab children in Israel learning baseball together in camps.

“They’re trying to spread it city by city and use baseball as a grassroots program of cooperation,” Glasser described. “That’s something I find fascinating, and using baseball to give back is something I really want to do.”

He’s in the beginning stages of planning his third trip to Israel within the next year or two, and wants to schedule it around the Baseball Le’Kulam schedule. In a country where overhand-throwing sports are rare, Glasser said the program has a long way to go to popularize baseball in Israel.

“But I think it’s something that could be special,” Glasser said. “Those are two of the things I love most in the world, so if I can help spread baseball in Israel, I’m going to be there to help with that goal.”

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