Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel isn’t going to battle Avengers: Endgame for box office supremacy.
Still, in many ways the saga of Israel qualifying for the 2017 World Baseball Classic is a bigger real-world inspiration than the Marvel Studio’s blockbuster.
Endgame requires a massive suspension of belief. It is highly entertaining, but only if you can accept Norse Gods, a space villain that kills half of the universe and time-travel that can make things all better again.
Heading Home needs nothing more than belief in the human spirit -- that through determination, hard work and dedication a group of people can achieve what many would have considered impossible.
It has been shown at film festivals but will have its full theatrical release on Friday.
It’s not a unique story in sports, but it’s the kind in which there is always room for another to be told.
“What I found most compelling about the story is the massive transformation we captured in real-time among Team Israel’s roster: from playing for themselves in the minors and majors to playing for something much bigger," said Daniel A. Miller, who directed the film alongside Seth Kramer and Jeremy Newberger.
In the film, Team Israel outfielder and current Phillies player information coordinator Sam Fuld says, “Regardless of how this turns out, we’re at least showing we can put together a roster of 28 Jewish ball players who are pretty darn good.
"That’s what I hope people take away from this story: to upend their expectations of not only Jews, and not only others, but also themselves.”
When Team Israel began qualification for the 2017 World Baseball Classic, it was ranked 41st in the world and 16th in Europe. Few expected it to be one of 16 teams to qualify for the WBC.
Israel was still smarting from losing a winner-take-all game to Spain in the 2013 qualification.
The rules of competition for the WBC are that any player who can become a citizen of a nation can represent it.
Several of the 10 major-leaguers who competed for Israel had no idea that they were eligible until they were informed.
Pitcher Josh Zeid, who had a cup of coffee in the majors for one calendar year with the Houston Astros, recalled the pain he felt by being the losing pitcher against Spain.
“I blew it,” Zeid said. “I didn’t have what it took to finish the game. It killed me inside.”
The backdrop is the sense of emptiness the 2013 players had and how they returned for 2017.
Redemption came for Zeid as he got the victory when Israel defeated Great Britain in Brooklyn to qualify for the 2017 WBC.
“It was the first time in my life, I felt like I had really won,” Zeid said. “It wasn’t about any of our careers. It was about something bigger.”
Israel general manager Peter Kurtz gave an explanation of the WBC’s Heritage Rule and how he went about finding Jewish players in the major-league system to help fill out his roster.
In the end, Israel did not a have a player who was on a 40-man major-league roster at the time.
The team bonded on a trip to Israel -- hence Heading Home -- and that’s when it became more than just a baseball documentary.
Most of the players had never been to Israel before. The trip became a heritage lesson and showed them what they were playing for and who they represented.
“One thing you think about when playing for Israel is that a lot of people don’t like Jewish people,” says former major-league outfielder Ike Davis. “It’s not like you want to have a Jewish tattoo on your forehead."
Several players explained that growing up in America did not necessarily expose them to other Jews, and the trip to Israel had strong meaning for them.
Israel stunned the world by beating third-ranked South Korea in its opening game. It then upset No. 4 Chinese Taipei, which surrendered the most runs, 15, it ever had in a WBC.
Israel then beat the Netherlands to sweep round-robin play in Group A. It advanced to Group E in Japan, against the host nation, Cuba, and the Netherlands. The WBC journey ended when Israel placed third with a 1-2 record.
Israel will not have to go through qualification for the 2021 WBC.