This superfan follows the Israeli baseball team around the globe
Zack Raab traveled from Florida to Italy to cheer for his favorite team in Olympic qualifying event.
Zack Raab is in Italy, and he's waiting. Much like the sport he loves, the native Floridian has the circadian rhythm of a game of baseball. He waits. Something happens. Then more waiting. At the moment, he's checking the time on his cell phone, waiting for night to arrive. That's when his favorite baseball players – the team representing Israel – will take to the field. He will watch from the stands. He will lose his voice cheering for them. He will take photos with players after the game. And, win or lose, he will do the same thing tomorrow. He will wait, until something happens.
After a successful outing last week at a tournament in Germany, the Israeli baseball team is currently making its way through a round-robin event in Italy. The winner – which will be determined on Sunday – will qualify for one of only six spots available to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Raab is the team's No. 1 fan, following them across the globe – from the U.S. to Asia. When the Israeli team traveled to compete at the World Baseball Classic in South Korea, he was there. His hometown paper, the Sun-Sentinel, wrote a glowing profile of him. "My grandmother bought like 15 copies of it and I have it framed in my room now," says the 27-year-old. "That's pretty cool."
Raab grew up in Boca Raton into a family where baseball was the dominant sport. "My father was a big Yankees fan and raised me and my siblings all to love baseball," he says. Raab participated in the local little league. "I played everything from benchwarmer to second base." The family attended Florida Marlins games, even when the team wasn't all that good. Raab moved to Israel for college and earned two degrees – including an MBA from Bar-Ilan University, just outside of Tel Aviv. He tried keeping up with the Marlins, but the time difference made that a tougher proposition. "I would watch games from 2 to 5 in the morning as often as I could, while still being responsible between work and school and everything."
On nights and weekends, he got involved in the local baseball scene, helping coach a junior baseball team in Jerusalem. He did everything from getting into the batting cage with them, to simply picking up loose balls. "Anything to help them train and get better," he explains.
It was on a trip back home to Florida – in the fall of 2012 – when his two interests collided: Baseball and Israel. That's when the fledgling Mediterranean team made their international debut at a World Baseball Classic qualifying event in Jupiter, Fla., near his home. The team performed decently for their first time in the spotlight, but lost to Spain in extra innings. "I was in the stands, devastated," Raab recalls. "That loss stung me forever."
That is, until Wednesday, when Israel defeated Spain in a 3-0 shutout to open the Olympic qualifying event in Italy. "That's why last night was so sweet," he says. "It was a little retribution and closed the page on seven years ago."
This past summer, after nine years of living in Israel, Raab has moved back to Florida. Unemployed at the moment, he is temporarily living with his parents and looking for a job. "Ideally, I want to work in something to do with baseball," he says, "because it's clearly my passion." In the meantime, he has scraped together his life savings to watch his favorite team attempt to make history. If they succeed, it will be the first time Israel sends a baseball team to the Olympics. Raab flew to Germany to watch them play in last week's tournament and he was so convinced his team would win, he pre-booked his ticket to Italy for this week's event. He stays in an Airbnb and tours whatever town he's in, just passing time until the first pitch each night.
Peter Kurz is the president of the Israel Association of Baseball and general manager of Team Israel. "Zack has been following us for many years now, and it's a pleasure to meet him each time in the stands," Kurz told us. "He understands the game and the nuances and leads the cheering of the fans."
Raab has become friends with the players, and often sits with their families in the bleachers. They all know him from his social media posts, a near constant stream that tap into the id of a superfan. "A couple of them were discussing yesterday that they want to adopt me," Raab says with a chuckle, "because they love that I've flown all the way here to root on the team."
If the Israeli team fails to secure a spot this weekend for the 2020 Olympics, they will have one more shot to qualify at a tournament in Chinese Taipei in the spring. The superfan hopes to be employed by then, so he can afford to fly overseas to watch his team. Until then, Zack Raab will keep waiting.
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