10 QUESTIONS FOR JEREMY WOLF

Ken Hoffman tosses 10 questions to a Texan-Israeli baseball star

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Wolf

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

The first time I watched Jeremy Wolf hit a baseball was in 2016. He was the slugging leftfielder for Trinity University in San Antonio. I was at the game because one of Trinity's relief pitchers sleeps down the hall from me. (He's my son.)

Actually, I was impressed by Wolf before he even came to bat. His walkup song was "Helter Skelter" by the Beatles. I had to ask him, "How do you even know that song? It was recorded 26 years before you were born." Wolf said, "My mother was a Beatles fan and played their music all the time when I was growing up. I've loved the Beatles my whole life."

Wolf, a senior that year, was named Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year, and Trinity won the D3 World Series, the first Texas school to take the title. Wolf was drafted by the New York Mets and played two years in the minors before a back injury cut his career short … but not for long.

This year, injury-free, Wolf is an outfielder on the Israeli national baseball team. They've already survived three preliminary tournaments in their quest to play in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The team is competing this week in the final Europe-Africa qualifying tournament in Italy. Six teams are entered, with the winner gaining automatic entry to the Olympics.

Unlike most sports, only six countries will play baseball in the Olympics: one from the Americas, one from Europe/Africa, two from Asia and two at-large teams to be named later.

The Israeli team is 2-0 in the Europe/Africa tournament, with a shutout win over Spain and a shocking 8-1 blowout of reigning Europe champion, The Netherlands. Games remain against the Czech Republic, Italy, and South Africa. Win them all, and come Sunday night, Israel will be headed to the 2020 Olympics – an amazing feat considering that Israel has only one baseball diamond and the team doesn't play games regularly, in fact, rarely practices together.

Wolf is one of 10 U.S. players, including three former Major Leaguers, who became Israeli citizens this year in order to be eligible for Olympic qualifying events. I caught up with Wolf shortly after The Netherlands stunner.

CultureMap: Where do you live now?

Jeremy Wolf: I'm living in Tel Aviv. I will be there for the next six months or so, possibly a year. Saturday nights here are epic. It's like Miami, very relaxed. I live a block from the beach. The cost of living in Israel isn't crazy. My total Internet and phone bill is about $30 a month. Food is cheap but there are little things, like deodorant and toothpaste, that cost double what they cost in the U.S.

CM: Tell me about becoming an Israeli citizen.

JW: The Olympics require that athletes be a citizen of the country they represent. The process for a Jew to become a citizen of Israel is called Aliyah, the law of return, and usually requires being in Israel for a year. The process for us was simple, we got an athlete's exemption. I have two passports and dual citizenship now, U.S. and Israel.

CM: What’s been your biggest adjustment to living in Israel?

JW: The time zone difference when I call family back home. I've had to adjust to Israeli norms, things like crossing the street at the right time or how much to tip at restaurants. I'm trying not to stand out. I want to look and act like another Israeli.

CM: Do you feel like a temp employee or an Israeli?

JW: I feel comfortable knowing everyone is Jewish. Even though I'm half-Italian, I've always identified more as a Jew. But now that we're in Italy this week, I'm telling everybody that I'm half-Italian. Identity crisis is a real thing.

Continue on CultureMap to find out how the players stay sharp without playing games or practicing regularly.

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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