Mitch Glasser’s extraordinary journey around Israel, baseball and the world

Jan 5, 2022 | Jews in Sports

Of all the places Mitch Glasser could’ve imagined himself playing baseball, countries like Bulgaria, Italy, and Tokyo were quite far down on the list. Reflecting on his travels and Olympic experiences, there was one thought that guided all the ones to follow:

“Baseball takes you to incredible places.”

Glasser’s baseball journey began with Macalester College, a Division III school in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He didn’t receive many D1 offers out of high school, so he focused on using baseball as a way to get into the best academic school he could. As a position player and a pitcher, Glasser was consistently highly ranked in stolen bases, runs scored, batting average, and RBIs. In his senior year, he proved to be the toughest player in DIII baseball to strike out. His pitching appearances came mostly in relief, where he was reliable in pitching out of bases-loaded jams and recording clutch saves. He was voted an all-Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference player during each of his four years.

He was selected by his hometown team, the Chicago White Sox, in the 2012 MLB draft, and played in their minor league system for part of the 2013 season before being released by the team shortly after. “I thought maybe my baseball career was over after being released by the White Sox, and that I’d be better suited for a coaching role,” Glasser remembered thinking. He joined the Melbourne Aces of the Australian Baseball League for what he called a “last hurrah” before returning in 2014 to accept a coaching job with the same White Sox affiliate that he had played for the previous season.

“I took a job as a video guy for the same people I’d been playing with,” Glasser said. The manager of the team at the time was Pete Rose Jr., who was quick to notice this. “What are you doing in khakis and a polo?! You need to be a ballplayer!” said Rose Jr. Glasser listened, and described his role for the rest of the season as “the video guy taking BP.”

He took Rose Jr.’s advice to heart and resumed his playing career for the next five years, beginning in 2015. He bounced around to six different clubs in various professional leagues, but noted that he received one of the most important phone calls of his career while he was playing with the Joplin Blasters of the American Association for Independent Professional baseball (AAIPB). “In Joplin, I had my first phone call about Team Israel. Jerry Weinstein gave me a ring and asked me if I’d be interested in playing for them,” Glasser remembered. Weinstein, the team’s manager at the time, was looking to assemble a roster for Israel’s national baseball team to compete in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Glasser was eligible to play because of his Jewish heritage, and he later became an Israeli citizen in 2019 after making Aliyah.

Mitch Glasser – Courtesy

For Glasser, receiving that call was a dream come true. He emphasized that Israel was always culturally a big part of his life, so Team Israel’s journey was quite personal to him. “My grandparents instilled in me a strong love and support for Israel. My grandmother on my dad’s side escaped Nazi Germany, and made her way through France and Chile before arriving in the US,” Glasser said. He was eager to have the chance to represent his faith and his family on the world stage.

That first chance came in 2017, when he was part of Team Israel’s Cinderella run in the World Baseball Classic. Their performance had them turning heads as they beat the odds to finish third in their pool and 6th overall in the tournament. Baseball has never been a popular sport in Israel, and they had not had previous international success before this tournament, so it was really special and inspiring for Israel’s baseball team to make it this far in the tournament.

One of Glasser’s highlights of the tournament was getting the opportunity to play baseball in other countries where it’s not a very well-known sport. “You take it on yourself to spread the game in places like European countries where it’s not popular,” he said. “Forget being the token Jew on your team, imagine being the token baseball player at your school.” He enjoyed engaging with the young kids in each place the team traveled and helping them learn more about the sport.

Although he found it challenging to pick a favorite moment with Team Israel, Glasser conveyed that his most memorable was the opportunity to play with the team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. “[My grandmother] wasn’t able to wear her Jewish badge proudly. In fact, she ran from it. But I got the opportunity to wear mine on the world stage and be proud of it,” he reflected. He also felt very fortunate to be a part of an exciting group of teammates from all over the US and Israel. “From a baseball perspective, this was my opportunity to play on the world stage with the best players and best team I’ve ever had the chance to be a part of.” He instantly felt the support of family, friends, and fans as the team took the field for the first time.

As Glasser viewed it, every experience at the Olympics was a chance to make new friends from different countries. Part of his goal was not only to perform well in games but to enjoy his time in Tokyo. One of his favorite places in the athlete’s village was the recreation room because it had table tennis. One day after lunch, he walked over to the rec room and picked up a paddle, as he did multiple times throughout his Olympic stay. To his left were some of his Team Israel baseball teammates, and to his right were athletes from various other countries cheering him on, including Team Spain’s handball team which had just finished its second workout of the day and stopped in before heading to lunch. Across the table stood a Taiwanese silver medalist, ready to take on his next opponent. Glasser always had a passion for table tennis, and both had been looking forward to some friendly competition after a long morning of training.

Although Glasser eventually fell to the medalist in a hard-fought battle, he stood in awe of the unity that had just occurred in this ordinary rec room in the athlete’s village in Tokyo, Japan, at the 2020 Olympics. The excitement he had to be playing baseball in a foreign country while being able to engage with athletes from across the world was unparalleled.

The Israel baseball team faced Japan, Mexico, South Korea, the United States, and the Dominican Republic during their Olympic competition, and ended up finishing in fifth place overall, which was much higher than predicted. Glasser played exceptionally well in the Olympic tournament, earning himself a spot on the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) All-Olympic baseball team. He went 7-17 overall across five games with the team while holding a .412 batting average, ranking fifth among all players. While in the outfield, he was responsible for seven outs and recorded no errors. He was a constant on the field and at the plate and was integral to the team’s success.

The players all shared a feeling of pride and great emotion as they represented Israel in the Olympics. “There’s something greater when you hear Hatikva around your brothers from the team,” Glasser said of the sense of unity he felt stepping out onto the field before each game. “We all come from such different stories in our baseball and Jewish journeys that led us to this point all coming together. You feel like there’s something or someone looking down on us and pushing us through.”

Mitch Glasser – Courtesy

Glasser grew up in Chicago in a Jewish household that was focused on community. It was important to his parents and grandparents that he get a Jewish education so he could be around a strong, Jewish community, which he found to be greatly beneficial. He remembered the impact this had on him at Macalester college during his early baseball days. “For some reason, there were 10 Jews on the team at Macalester in Minnesota,” he recalled. “Sometimes, we had Shabbat dinner after Friday practices. We even had enough for a minyan!” he joked. He minored in religious studies at the school, and felt that his connection to various Jewish communities helped ignite his passion for becoming more in touch with his Jewish identity. “And,” he said, “It makes it more special that baseball is a part of my Jewish identity.”

Playing for so many different teams throughout his career has given a new meaning to community for Glasser as well. “Every clubhouse is inevitably different,” he says. Some of the customs stay constant throughout each clubhouse but there are always different people and practices. Among the lessons learned from his constant movement was his ability to adapt and get along with people from all different backgrounds. Although he was usually the only Jew on the team, he found that teammates were eager to learn about his customs and help make him feel at home. One of the many reasons he enjoyed playing with Team Israel is because everyone has a common Jewish bond. “You go from 25 players who are all different to 25 players who all have a common thread that ties them together,” he said.

Glasser has been a player/coach with the Sioux Falls Canaries for the past two seasons. He has a passion for coaching, because he feels like he can help the most people as a coach. Even while he was still playing, he would get a job as a coach every offseason. He doesn’t think he’ll return professionally as a coach in seasons to come, however, as he wants to focus on his family. His playing and coaching careers involved a large amount of traveling, and although he emphasized that his wife has always been very supportive of him, he wants to find a job that will allow them to have more time together. “I’ll need to look for a good job that will allow me to check all the boxes,” Glasser said.

Glasser will never forget the humbling emotions he felt being able to see his lifelong dreams come true, while being able to travel to foreign countries and spread his love for the sport. “There are so many different experiences, and they’re all new,” he says of playing internationally. As he looks for the next step in his new journey, he’ll be forever influenced by the game of baseball and the experiences and relationships he was fortunate to share with his teammates.

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