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.

Astros rough offseason continues

Cole's deal with Yankees changes the AL landscape

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

In what came as a surprise to no one, former Astro Gerrit Cole is now a New York Yankee. Cole signed a record nine-year, $324 million deal with the Yankees.

While the Astros were never in the running to re-sign Cole, his signing with New York comes as a double whammy. The Yankees were only four wins behind the Astros during the regular season and pushed them to six games in the ALCS. Poaching Cole, who was 20-5 with a 2.50 ERA and 326 strikeouts, easily flip flops the two teams. The Astros have no one to replace Cole's production, no matter what they do. The Yankees just added a legitimate ace, and stamped themselves as the new favorites in the AL.

For the Astros, it was an expected blow, and just the latest in what has been a rough off-season filled with scandal and now rumors that Carlos Correa may be on the block.

What's next for Astros?

Part of the price of success is your players have to get paid. Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve are locked down, but Correa and George Springer are due for big deals, and the Astros have expressed a desire to keep the payroll under control. That is not good news for the 2020 Astros and beyond.

The Astros have an easy solution for Correa; moving Alex Bregman to short and Yuli Gurriel to third, and look for a cheaper option at first base. Correa's injury history has limited his production, so that's a loss they could stomach.

The losses mount

But there is no ready solution for Cole. Lance McCullers is expected back, and Jose Urquidy will get likely get a chance. They will also look for a bargain basement, Wade Miley type. But in general, the Astros - with or without Correa - will not be as good next season. While they will still be title contenders and there is plenty of time to fill some holes (they did, after all, trade for Cole two seasons ago), they won't be the favorites in the AL.

That honor now belongs to the Yankees.

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