CINCINNATI — Fans watching the World Baseball Classic might notice a lot of American players competing for countries besides Team USA. There is a rule that players are able to compete for any nation the player is eligible to receive a passport from — unlike the Olympics, where a player must be a citizen of that nation.
Sycamore alum Kevin Youkilis is one of those players, representing Team Israel. Before "Youk" went on to be a star in the big leagues, he had a different dream.
"His number one dream at life was to play baseball at the University of Cincinnati, I promise you," said Nate Fish, Youkilis' former Bearcats teammate.
"I had a love for UC because my father went there. My dad was a Bearcat, had so much pride in it," Youkilis said.
During Youkilis’ sophomore season, he met Fish, a new teammate and forever friend.
"We were just together every day for three years," Fish said.
Youkilis affectionately described Fish as a goofball, joking about his easygoing personality.
"It actually came up that first day that he was Jewish and I was Jewish. We were just sort of laughing and talking too much," Fish said. "We actually got separated by the coaching staff as hitting partners because we were making too much noise."
After college, two paths diverged. Youkilis went on to the show, becoming a three-time All-Star and World Series champ with the Boston Red Sox.
"To have Kevin do it, I felt so much closer to it and so connected to it, that by extension, it was a really cool feeling," Fish said.
Fish dedicated his life to the game too.
"He (Fish) was over in Israel, telling me stories about being on the baseball field and the sirens go off," Youkilis said.
Fish is working to grow the game in Israel. He has been a part of the Israeli national team’s staff in every major tournament since 2011, including the last World Baseball Classic and the Tokyo Olympics.
"It’s been a crazy run," Fish said.
In the upcoming World Baseball Classic, Fish will be the squad’s bullpen coach. Fish also helps out in recruiting, taking a big swing to get Team Israel’s new hitting coach, the one and only "Greek God of Walks," Kevin Youkilis.
"He has the perfect profile, he is a Jewish dude who is somewhat outspoken about being Jewish which many Major League players are not," Fish said.
"If Nate ever asks for anything, I’m always there to jump on board and try to help him to the best of my abilities," Youkilis said. "It’s an honor to be involved."
It'll be the first time the two are on the field together since college.
Youkilis brings an elite baseball IQ to the Israeli staff. Youk’s why? His cultural pride.
"It is about many generations of Jewish heritage … being unified and the understanding of the past atrocities and making sure they never happen again," Youkilis said.
As for Israel's on-field expectations, the tournament will not be easy.
"Well we are in a pretty tough bracket, with the Dominican (Republic), Puerto Rico and Venezuela. The first goal is to stay in the tournament," Fish said.
"You're David, we are playing against Goliaths … hey, we made up this story, right? We have to achieve it now," Youklis said playfully with a smile.
Youkilis actually played on Team USA in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. His biggest takeaway from the tournament is to focus on winning every inning, every at-bat is so important in this tournament. Although he wore the stars and stripes last time around, Youkilis said, that he is 100% behind team Israel.