Mansfield to Tokyo: Local baseball player’s journey to the Olympics with Team Israel

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MANSFIELD, Pa. (WETM) – Assaf Lowengart grew up knowing his chances of being an Olympian were slim. Born and raised in Timorim, Israel, Lowengart played soccer and basketball but knew that Israel was not competitive in either sport. There was also no baseball team at the time, but that didn’t stop him from trying out for the national team despite not knowing anything about the game.

“Honestly, I just saw it on TV, asked my parents if I could try it,” said Lowengart. “My parents took me to practice, wasn’t that great but I was athletic enough to kind of play at the Israeli level, which is really low.”

Lowengart got into his first game without knowing any of the rules other than the basics, such as knowing if he was tagged he was out. That knowledge of the rules didn’t get him far.

“I was on first base after somehow getting a hit, and the ball was the second base. Now for me I know if I get touched by the ball, I’m out. So I didn’t run to second base and I was out at second base, and then the guy that hit the ball was so confused and he was out and start yelling at me. I was like, ‘Dude, I’m not gonna run to the base if they have the ball over there, I’m not stupid.’ I guess I was stupid.”

The next day the coaches called Assaf’s dad and told him not to bring his son back for the second day.

Assaf’s first baseball game wasn’t any better when he had a beer spilled on him at Miller Park in Milwaukee.

“I cried so much I did not want to do anything, I just want to leave that place. That’s my actual first experience of baseball, getting beer spilled on my head as a six-year-old kid.”

Assaf’s baseball journey had nowhere to go but up from those two experiences. Over time his technique improved and his skill level grew, leading to him making the national team as an alternate.

“I was able, despite my size to throw the ball decently and hit the ball decently not, you know, I’m not gonna hit the ball out of the park obviously, but with the tools I had, and the technique I learned, I was able to play baseball…and that’s how I got into falling in love with baseball.”

Assaf continued to play with the national team while taking his talents to collegiate teams in the United States. Last year he joined the Mansfield Mounties and tied for the team lead with 11 home runs.

“Mansfield let me do what I needed to doing, just let me be free and play however I needed and I think I did a good job in helping the team.”

Meanwhile, Assaf and Team Israel went on a roll in multiple international tournaments, either winning or qualifying in enough to be one of six teams to play in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“From the first of July to the middle/end of September, that whole thing happened. Now, obviously, we do believe we can make it, but realistically, the chances of us doing that was so slim that if it didn’t happen, you know okay it’s not like I’m going to start crying and it was supposed to happen and it was 100% sure.. it went from that whole thing happened from like ‘Yeah, we had a chance’ to ‘we’re Olympians!'”

Since 1976 there hadn’t been a ball-based sports team in the Olympics for Israel, and no Israeli team has ever won a medal in the Olympics. Only nine medals have been won by an Israeli athlete, and only eight athletes have won.

“Any medal in the Olympic sports team would be an amazing thing… I can’t even imagine what winning a medal would be compared to, like, just qualifying.”

Leading up to their departure for Tokyo, the Israeli team visited the memorial for the victims of the 1972 Munich Massacre where 11 Israelis were killed in a terrorist attack at the Olympic games. Players also met with the wives of two of those athletes who expressed how proud their husbands would be to know that Israel is still on the world stage and competing in the Olympics.

“We have a baseball team that is part of one of six teams that are going to get it. So, stuff like that is such a win over all the hate, all the discrimination, all the, you know, all the stuff that’s happening against Jews in the world and as well as a country. So just, I always think about that, like, how, with all the stuff that’s going on, we’re still able to overcome it and win against all the hate. So no matter what happens when we lose we take a winner, we lose every game we win every game. We win against everything.”

The Olympic Opening Ceremonies are scheduled to begin on Friday, July 23, and the first game of the baseball tournament is set to begin on July 27.

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