Baseball alumni take on the world
Two players’ journeys from Yale to the Red Sox to Team Israel.
Howard Blas is a New York–based teacher of Jewish studies and a freelance writer for publications in the United States and Israel.
Ryan Lavarnway ’09 (above) and Craig Breslow ’02 (below) will represent Israel in the World Baseball Classic, which begins in March. View full image
Like many Yale baseball fans, head Bulldogs coach John Stuper recalls watching in August 2012 as one of his former stars, Craig Breslow ’02, pitched to another, catcher Ryan Lavarnway ’09. This wasn’t some Yale baseball reunion; they were in the Bronx, on national TV. The pair were the only two Yale alumni in the major league at the time, and it was the first time a Yalie pitcher had worked with a Yalie catcher in a big-league game since 1883. Breslow got the third out in the eighth inning for the Boston Red Sox, who beat the Yankees.
This past September, the duo worked together again at MCU Park in Coney Island, New York. This time, instead of Boston B’s, they were wearing bright blue caps embroidered with a Star of David, part of the uniform of the Israeli national baseball team. They played against Great Britain in two of their three qualifying games for the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
“I am extremely proud of my guys,” says Stuper. “It is quite an honor for them and for Yale baseball.”
The World Baseball Classic is a 16-team international tournament played every four years—baseball’s nascent version of soccer’s World Cup. Although neither Breslow nor Lavarnway are Israeli citizens, they are eligible for the team because they are Jewish. Eight other current and former major leaguers from the United States (among them New Haven native Josh Zeid) are also playing for Israel this year, part of the first Israeli team to qualify for the 16-team tournament since it was established in 2006.
Breslow, who is competing for a spot on the Minnesota Twins during spring training this year, is a journeyman left-hander who has pitched for eight major league teams. (A molecular biophysics and biochemistry major at Yale, he was also once declared the smartest man in baseball by the Sporting News.) The father of 22-month-old twins says he was thrilled to play for Israel in the qualifiers; he appeared twice as a relief pitcher. “I am proud of my Jewish heritage,” he says. “I enjoyed playing alongside the most notable Jewish players of my generation. This tournament impacts two things very near to me.”
Margo Sugarman, secretary general of the Israel Association of Baseball, calls Breslow “a highly intelligent player and a real asset to Team Israel,” adding that Lavarnway, for his part, cemented Israel’s lead in the final game with a home run.
Lavarnway, who is interrupting spring training with the Oakland A’s to play in the Classic, started all three qualifying games as catcher for Team Israel. He says he is looking for “any way we can grow the game in Israel and show Israel in a positive light. I just want to spread positivity as much as possible.”
After sweeping Great Britain and Brazil in the qualifiers, the team is off to Seoul in early March for the first round against Korea, Chinese Taipei, and the Netherlands. They hope to advance to the second round in Japan and to the championship in