The Israel Baseball National team created a huge buzz in March when four time All Star second baseman Ian Kinsler received Israeli citizenship and qualified to play for the team at the Tokyo Olympics. With the 2020 Games being touched off to July 2021, Kinsler spent time talking to Israel Association of baseball players this past week about his career, some of the players he followed growing up and what it means to him to now play for the blue-and-white.
Kinsler spent the majority of his Major League Baseball years with Texas Rangers making his debut in 2006 and finished 7th in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. But to get to that point he needed the tutelage of his father who supported him the entire way through.
“Baseball is something I have been playing whole life. My father was a basketball player but he said it was his sport and didn’t introduce it to me. When I was young he would take me to play for 2-3 hours with other kids as I used to knock on their doors to see who was available to come out and have a good time.”
“During my early childhood my father would spend a lot of time practicing the basics with me including fielding ground-balls for example. Up until I was 12 years old I played in Little League and then between the ages of 13-14 I moved to Pony League and my dad coached me all the way up to Pony and was my influence up to high school. My dad taught me the instincts of baseball.”
Kinsler had a number of coaches who influenced him in high school as well as in Junior College where he picked up the nuances of hitting for power and taking what the had learned from his father and putting them into practice.
He also followed baseball while he grew up in Arizona, “I was constantly watching baseball. Either the Atlanta Braves and the Chicago Cubs. You could say I was a Braves fan. I loved watching Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones and Marquis Grissom. I also liked to see Walt Weiss because he was a shortstop like me at the time as well as Cal Ripken Jr. But the guy I really liked to see on the highlight reel was Ken Griffey Jr.”
To eventually get to the same stage as some of his heroes, Kinsler was actually drafted three times, “I was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of high school in 2000. At that point they had something called draft and follow where they had my rights up until the 2001 draft. I then went to junior college and after my freshman year the Dbacks tried to sign me but it didn’t work out. They drafted me again in the 2001 draft but a few rounds earlier and once again it didn’t work. After that I went to a Division One school and I was drafted as a Junior by the Texas Rangers.”
Once in the Majors, Michael Young was one of the players who took a young Kinsler under his wing, “I was able to ask him questions and I was able to look up to him. That’s my guy.”
After just a couple of seasons, Kinsler was elected to play in his first All-Star Game in 2008, “My first all star game was at Yankee Stadium. My dad grew up in the Bronx and he was there. Josh Hamilton went crazy in the Homerun Derby and the game went well into extra innings. It was a cool experience and I was pulled in many directions but it was crazy fun.”
In 2010 Kinsler’s and the Rangers arc continued to trend upwards as the franchise played in their first World Series which was his proudest moment as a ball player, “This was the first Rangers teams that won a post-season series. Up until that point the Rangers has been swept by the Yankees three times in the playoffs. For many of us on the team it was big because we came up through the organization and we were able to help change the club. We made it all the way to the World Series and the whole city of Arlington lost their minds. All the billboards had Rangers on them and everything was just Rangers across the town.”
Kinsler’s Rangers fell to the San Francisco Giants in 2010 but made a return trip to the Fall Classic in 2011. However, this resulted in the most disappointing moment of his career, a loss in game 6 against the St. Louis Cardinals in arguably the greatest World Series game ever played.
“We were the best team in the league that year hands down but we just didn’t win the Wold Series. We had game six in control from innings 1-9. It was pretty intense. In the 9th inning we were winning by two runs and we brought in our closer Neftali Feliz who was dominant. He got the first guy and then Albert Pujols hit a double on a 1-2 pitch. I was right by second base and he said ‘congratulations’. I didn’t say anything. Then it was walk and a strikeout for the second out of the inning. But David Freese hit a ball off the right field fence for a game tying triple.”
“Josh Hamilton hit a two run homer in the top of the tenth to give us the lead, but the Cardinals again tied it up on some crazy plays and things just continued to unravel. Freese came up to lead off the 11th inning and hit a home run to win the game. When we got back to the clubhouse, all of the plastic was still up waiting for us to celebrate and they had to get rid of the champagne as fast as possible.”
After stops with the Detroit Tigers and the Los Angeles Angels, Kinsler found himself heading to the Boston Red Sox at the trade deadline in 2018 and yet another trip to the World Series where his American League squad defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the title. “Success always comes with winning and that’s what it’s all about.”
Kinsler’s final season saw him play for the San Diego Padres and as he thought his playing career came to an end, he moved up to the front office. But then came a call from the Israel National Team, “It feels awesome and when I put on the jersey when I was at the field in Israel it felt great. When I played for Team USA and won the World Baseball Classic in 2017 all of the games were in America and it was catered to the US. For the Olympics and WBC with Israel we will be playing outside of the country. We want to continue what Israel has done at the WBC level and the goal is to build on that and the opening ceremonies at the Olympics will be really cool.”
As Kinsler wrapped up the call he offered this piece of advice, “Just give your best effort. If you give your best and you do everything that you can then that is great. Do your best every time, it’s tough to live with yourself if you don’t give 100% of yourself.”