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Team Israel’s Cody Decker Interview

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Cody Decker is a professional baseball player who has played in the minor leagues for such teams as the Mets, Red Sox, and Brewers and currently he is a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Decker’s biggest accomplishment however comes as a member of Team Israel during the 2017 World Baseball Classic and their magical run. In the new documentary Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel, it is that very journey which is documented. I got to talk to Cody Decker about his experiences as a member of this team and where his journey goes from here.

You said beating Great Britain to qualify for the WBC was the greatest moment of your career, why is that?

It was something that wasn’t really touched upon in the movie which is by no way salt on the movie by any stretch because that’s not where the story was. We played together four years earlier in a similar tournament qualifier and we were far and away, the best team. Wasn’t even questionable. The tournament was a modified double elimination. In the third game we just had some bumps in the road and struggled a bit and we ended up losing by one run in extra innings against a team we already beat. Because it was modified double elimination, we’re out of the tournament against a team we already beat. We’re sitting there like, “we should not be out of this, we should at least have another game, another chance.” We truly felt we belonged there, and it left a bad taste in all our mouths so there was a good core group of us that came back for the second one. We were adamant that we were better. At this point we spent so many years playing pro ball and we become this group of players that had kind of been kicked around and underutilized in a lot of portions in our career. Winning that tournament, getting a chance to play the quote on quote “best in the world.”

Cody Decker and his teammates really wanted to show the world that they were better than everyone else. They were a heavy underdog coming into the tournament and felt a bit disrespected by the pundits.

So, you said this was an announcement to the world that “we’re here, we’re as good as everybody else is”

Yeah and that was only the first step. Then the next thing is everyone is just brushing us under the rug and talking like we’re the Jamaican bobsled team. We’re better than all of you and we know it, you just don’t know it yet. All your teams are sexy, our team isn’t sexy, we’re just really good and you’re about to see it. There were no sexy names on our team, there was no superstars.

Cody continued explaining the dynamics in the teams and how being an odd mix their still top notch talent including his contribution which include playing for the Padres for the last quarter of the season, “I got to the big leagues, but I didn’t really get a shot to play in the big leagues. I was just kind of there. If that. 12 at bats in a one-month span and didn’t do much. Got one start and mostly pinch hits. Not really much of an opportunity. I am very thankful I got called up, but it wasn’t this great opportunity for me. Having one start and having to play off bench. Having never really played off the bench before was very tricky. A guy like Nate Frieman was a guy who went back and forth over the years. Ike Davis has been kicked around a little bit.

I actually got to see Ike Davis play back when he was with the Mets in St. Lucie. He went on to be a big factor in Team Israel’s success.

It’s funny with Ike Davis. About five or six years ago I worked for the St. Lucie Mets and he was there during Spring Training. My boss said, “This guy is going to be something big, just you watch.” So, it was cool to see him in this documentary.

His rookie year he was a star and clearly, he was going to become a star and then he faltered a little bit. Ike’s a hell of a player and he’s a great guy. Our team was a group of guys who just had a chip on their shoulders. [Now they are] getting a chance to go out there and not just playing with these guys but beat them.

In sports you don’t really hear about the guys who go in-between and try to get to the big league but then go back to the minor league. Their the ones who usually have some of the most fascinating stories, and you being one. Being in this World Baseball Classic was a big deal for you.

Yeah it really was! It was a nice and really good time with a lot of fond memories. We really came together as a team pretty quick and the opportunity to show people who we really are, you can’t take that away from us.

While baseball is a big subject in the documentary, religion also played a large role in who the team was. I asked Cody what it was like representing being a Jewish man and his religion in this documentary. “Well here’s the thing, my Jewish experience as a child was nothing really out of the ordinary. I grew up in Santa Monica where there’s a huge Jewish community. My high school had a ton of Jewish kids. My middle school was Jewish, same with my elementary school. It wasn’t even about faith, it was just who we al kind of were. I never really got to see the other side of that until I got to pro ball. In smaller towns in certain places where you have to deal with some rejections of Jewish people. I didn’t really experience it until I got out of my Los Angeles bubble.”

So, you never really felt the need to hide it. You spoke of a time where you were at a bar and these women walked away from you because you were Jewish.

They wanted my teammates to make me leave the table because I was Jewish. My teammates were like “What? Bye. Get out of here girls. We don’t want you near us”. My teammates didn’t understand that at all, they weren’t Jewish. A couple of guys were from Texas, a couple from Florida and they were like, “Are these girls for real?” On top of that, ESPN put out a disrespectful article about the chances Team Israel had in the World Baseball Classic.

I want to bring it back to that Jamaican bobsled team article ESPN put out. When you saw that, did you think “Really? We’re being compared to Cool Runnings? This is how low they think we are in the World Baseball Classic?”

I wouldn’t say we used as fuel to the fire. I kind of laughed at it. Most of us laughed at it because these guys have no idea what’s about to happen to them. We were not going to lose in Korea. We were going to beat every one of those teams and there wasn’t even a question about it.

You Guys blew them out.

Yeah even with Japan. We made some mistakes early on and in our second game against the Netherlands. It was just a thing where we thought we would go to the very end and put all our chips into the table and see where it ends. We weren’t there to be happy we were there, no, we were there to beat everyone. That was our mindset and we took it very seriously. We had a blast, it was the most fun team you could ever be around. We just had every intention of winning every single game because we thought we were not just as good but better than everyone else.

Cody himself found other ways to help the team morale as well. One of my favorite parts of this documentary was seeing the mascot the Mensch on a Bench that was your idea from Shark Tank.

When did you decide that this could be something big for our team?

The night before the first game of the qualifier. I was sitting there going, “What do we need? We need something?” I looked around and said, “Why don’t I get us a Mensch on a Bench?” We needed a Jewish Jobu from Major League. So, I had the Mensch on the bench rush shipped to me, came in the morning. We put it in the dugout, gave it its own locker. We started giving it offering because Jobu would always get Rum before the game. We just kept giving new offerings to the Mensch on a Bench until we won all the way through. You can see one of our players when we won run to the dugout holding the Mensch on his head. The Mensch on a Bench people saw it and sent me including a supply of Mensch on a Bench and I was like “You know I’m taking this to Korea?” The Mensch is going to grow. I made the Jew Crew shirts. Once we started winning, everyone was catching on.

Now the questions remains, what’s in the future for Cody? Back to the Diamondbacks possibly? “Getting an opportunity to get back to the big leagues, that’s always my goal. Get back to help the team win. I wouldn’t be doing this if I couldn’t help a team win at the very highest level. I know what I’m capable of doing and I think a lot of others do to. It’s just a matter of opportunity and luck. Being in the right place at the right time which has not been the motif of my career to say the least. If I can get in the right place at the right time, a lot of good things can happen.”

However, baseball is not the only think Cody can demonstrate significant talent in, there is also is confidence in movie trivia. Seems appropriate considering the documentary.

One last thing I want to ask you is I watch a show called the Movie Trivia Schmoedown and noticed your wife Jenn Sterger does all the post-game interviews. Is there any chance we could see you competing one day?

There was talk of it for a little bit, but they decided it was best if I don’t join because it’s not good of me to join their company, win all their titles, and then leave for Spring Training.

And you’re that confident that would happen?

Oh yeah. I run a trivia show in the offseason and have one tonight. I just kind of felt that’s my wife’s thing and I don’t want to impede on the things she works on because she is immensely talented. I just thought that’s her area. I would never do standup comedy, that’s my wife’s thing. But, they do a really good job over there on that show and more people should tune in.

Be sure to check out Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel, in theaters February 8th in South Florida at select theaters and when it becomes available to stream. Also, be sure to check out Cody’s baseball career and cheer him on.

Cody Decker, MLB reporter and a producer of the film Jonathan Mayo, and filmmakers Daniel Miller, Jeremy Newberger and Seth Kramer willbe making appearances at theaters for Q&As and signings February 8-10.   Details at