All of a sudden, Houstonian now facing off against world’s best baseball players

All of a sudden, Houstonian now facing off against world’s best baseball players
Israel plays Jose Altuve and Venezuela on Wednesday. Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images.

Josh Wolf was born in Houston. He attended the Emery Weiner School on Stella Link just south of the Loop. He played Bellaire Little League, where he hardly was one of the bigger kids. He went to St. Thomas High School on Memorial Drive.

So how on Earth was he pitching for Israel (almost halfway on the other side of Earth) against Nicaragua in the World Baseball Classic this week?

Wolf’s mother was born in Israel, Wolf is Jewish and by Israeli law all Jews are eligible to become Israeli citizens, and that qualified him to play with the Star of David on his baseball cap. Plus he’s started the process, called Aliyah, to become an Israeli citizen.

The Israel team is mostly composed of American minor leaguers and free agents. The team has a small number of MLB players, like outfielder Joc Pederson, pitcher Dean Kremer and former Astros catcher Garrett Stubbs. Israel currently is 1-1 in the event, defeating Nicaragua and losing to Puerto Rico.

Meanwhile, let’s have a look at the U.S. roster, which is packed with future Hall of Famers like Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Nolan Arenado, and Paul Goldschmidt, plus All-Stars like J.T. Realmuto, Pete Alonso, Tim Anderson, Trea Turner, and a couple of guys you may have watched at Minute Maid Park named Kyle Tucker and Ryan Pressly.

The Dominican Republic team, Israel’s opponent Tuesday night (6 p.m. on FS1) boasts Juan Soto, Manny Machado, Rafael Devers, Julio Rodriguez, Sandy Alcantara, and Astros stars Jeremy Pena, Hector Neris, Cristian Javier, Rafael Montero and Bryan Abreu.

Wolf was drafted out of St. Thomas in the second round of the Major League Baseball’s draft in 2019. Still only 22, he’s spent three years in the minors. In 2021 the Mets included Wolf in a trade with the Cleveland Guardians to land superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor.

This week, he’s in Miami, pitching for Israel in Pool D of the World Baseball Classic, awaiting his next turn on the mound, which he expects will be Tuesday night against the powerful, All-Star packed Dominican Republic or Wednesday against Venezuela, which has a guy named Jose Altuve leading off. Oh, and Venezuela has already defeated the Dominican Republic this week.

SportsMap: Can you believe you’re playing in the same baseball tournament as today's biggest stars? Is this like fantasy camp for real?

Josh Wolf: It’s definitely surreal. The thought of me playing with all these amazing players is pretty crazy. But at the same time, I want to get to that level in my career and I believe I can get there. I’m kind of in the middle right now, between fanboy and thinking I can get these guys out. There are parts of me, when I don’t have to be a serious professional player, like when I met Altuve, I say to myself how amazing this is. I watched him when I was growing up. Joc Pederson is on the Israel team. I had his jersey when I was a kid, all that stuff. This is the dream of 14-year-old me. Not only do I get to watch this up close, I’m playing in it.

SM: Are you in the moment fully capturing this experience, or is it a haze right now?

JW: It is a haze. Even now I don’t think I’m comprehending how big this is, especially at this point in my career. I think after the tournament is done, I’ll say to myself, wow, that all happened.

SM: Were you an Astros fan growing up in Bellaire?

JW: Of course, yeah yeah, 100 percent. Today I saw Martin Maldonado on the Puerto Rico team. I got to watch him up close. Being an Astros fan, I’ve watched Astros baseball my whole life. So I know a lot about the players. It’s really cool facing them. I’m expecting to pitch Tuesday or Wednesday. I’ll be facing Altuve or Jeremy Pena depending which night.

SM: OK, you’re on the mound and Jose Altuve steps into the batter’s box. What's the plan?

JW: I can’t reveal that. All I can say is that I’ll throw my best. I learned from our game against Nicaragua. I was trying to be too perfect. I let the moment speed up on me. The beauty of that is, I’m learning. I’ve got to trust my stuff. Against a guy like Altuve, I’ll just throw my best. If he gets me, I’ll tip my hat. But I believe that my best can get anybody out.

SM: Last week you posted a photo of yourself with Altuve. Will you apologize if you strike him out?

JW: I won’t apologize but I may ask for the ball back.

SM: How awesome were you in Bellaire Little League?

JW: My first couple of years I didn’t play that well. There were a couple of years I was really good. I started separating myself in the last year, the age 12 year. After that my career started taking off. It wasn't that I was physically imposing. To be honest, I’m still waiting for my body to grow. My abilities just started increasing, that’s all.

SM: How did you get to St. Thomas High School instead of Bellaire High School?

JW: My dad knew my best friend’s dad who sold him on St. Thomas’ baseball program. So my dad told me, you’re going to St. Thomas. I said all right, sounds good. They didn’t scout me or anything. I just went there. I think the coach was pleasantly surprised by me.

SM: Have you been to Israel?

JW: Yes, I’ve been there. I had my bar mitzvah there, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. And I’m becoming a citizen so I can play for Israel in international competitions, like the Olympics, that require athletes to be citizens of the country they represent.

SM: Where will you play this year?

JW: I will go where Cleveland assigns me. I would guess it will be High-A Lake County in Eastlake, Ohio.

SM: Now that you’re a professional, is baseball still fun?

JW: Yeah, I think it is. The only difference is, it can’t be just fun.I know there’s stuff on the line. I have to take it more seriously. When I struggle, I think it’s because I forget that it’s still a game and it’s fun and I can smile and have a blast. I know a lot of people would love to be in my situation.

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Can the Astros secure a much-needed series sweep? Composite Getty Image.

Houston Astros (33-39, second in the AL West) vs. Chicago White Sox (19-54, fifth in the AL Central)

Chicago; Tuesday, 8:10 p.m. EDT

PITCHING PROBABLES: Astros: Framber Valdez (5-4, 3.99 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 51 strikeouts); White Sox: Jonathan Cannon (0-1, 4.56 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 24 strikeouts)

BETMGM SPORTSBOOK: LINE Astros -209, White Sox +173; over/under is 8 1/2 runs

BOTTOM LINE: The Chicago White Sox host the Houston Astros on Tuesday to start a three-game series.

Chicago has a 12-23 record in home games and a 19-54 record overall. The White Sox have gone 6-14 in games decided by one run.

Houston has a 33-39 record overall and a 14-20 record in road games. Astros hitters have a collective .418 slugging percentage to rank third in the AL.

The teams meet Tuesday for the first time this season.

TOP PERFORMERS: Gavin Sheets has 14 doubles, a triple and seven home runs while hitting .233 for the White Sox. Andrew Vaughn is 15-for-43 with a double and four home runs over the past 10 games.

Yordan Alvarez has 16 doubles, a triple and 14 home runs for the Astros. Jose Altuve is 14-for-40 with two doubles and two home runs over the last 10 games.

LAST 10 GAMES: White Sox: 4-6, .247 batting average, 3.88 ERA, outscored by three runs

Astros: 5-5, .257 batting average, 3.78 ERA, outscored opponents by five runs

INJURIES: White Sox: Max Stassi: 60-Day IL (hip), Dominic Leone: 60-Day IL (right elbow), Dominic Fletcher: 10-Day IL (shoulder), Mike Clevinger: 15-Day IL (elbow), Eloy Jimenez: 10-Day IL (hamstring), Yoan Moncada: 60-Day IL (abductor), Jimmy Lambert: 60-Day IL (shoulder), Matt Foster: 60-Day IL (elbow), Jesse Scholtens: 60-Day IL (elbow)

Astros: Cristian Javier: 60-Day IL (forearm), Justin Verlander: day-to-day (neck), Kyle Tucker: 10-Day IL (shin), Jose Urquidy: 60-Day IL (forearm), Oliver Ortega: 60-Day IL (elbow), Bennett Sousa: 60-Day IL (shoulder), Penn Murfee: 60-Day IL (elbow), Luis Garcia: 60-Day IL (elbow), Lance McCullers Jr.: 60-Day IL (elbow), Kendall Graveman: 60-Day IL (elbow)

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