Lake Worth, FL -- Tal Erel, a catcher from Palm Beach's 2018-2019 club, recently helped Team Israel qualify for the 2020 Olympics -- the first time baseball has qualified in their nation's history.
This is the first time since 1976 an Israeli team has qualified for the olympics, which Erel describes as "...a tremendous honor to be a part of the team...from the beginning."
The qualifying tournament, which was held in Parma, Italy, featured teams from Europe and Africa, with the winner of the tournament given a coveted berth in the 2020 Olympics held in Tokyo, Japan. Team Israel, ranked 19th in the world prior to the tournament, knocked off highly-ranked European teams, The Netherlands and Team Italy, en route to a tournament-best 4-1 record. The team clinched their Olympic berth with a 11-1 win over South Africa on September 22.
Team Israel's roster make-up was much different than that of the World Baseball Classic in 2017, members of the 2019 team had to be Israeli citizens. That led to a roster filled with mostly collegiate players, yet was sprinkled in with Major League Baseball veterans Danny Valencia and Ty Kelly. Yet, the team gelled rather quickly, "we played like we've known each other for our whole lives and it worked out for us", said Erel.
Baseball is a quirky game, one where the perceived underdog can be crowned champion. Erel echoed that sentiment, "In baseball anybody can beat anybody".
Baseball was dropped as an Olympic sport in 2012 and is not slated to return after the 2020 Olympics. Team Israel's appearance may be a "one-and-done" of sorts, yet that does not lessen their impact -- it strengthens it. As one of only 6 teams to compete in the Olympics in 2020, Erel is "excited for what the future holds for [Team Israel]", and with a cinderella story like this, who could blame him?
Tal's baseball journey was jump-started after his transfer to Palm Beach where Coach Kyle Forbes gave him an opportunity during the past season. Erel credits Coach Kyle Forbes and Palm Beach's baseball program for giving him the opportunity to show what he could do ahead of the 2019 qualifying games, "Definitely grateful for Kyle and the whole coaching staff as well as Palm Beach State College for helping me to where I am today".
Tal graduated form Palm Beach in 2019 with an Associate in Arts degree. While his accomplishments on the field where certainly noteworthy, his outstanding work in the classroom was highly decorated. He was only one of two Palm Beach players that were both an FCSAA Academic Award winner and NJCAA Academic Award winner. Now, he will be PBSC's 2nd Olympian next to the legendary Softball player, Crystl Bustos.