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Batter Up

It looks like Orange County may have churned out the next Sandy Koufax.
Aric Weinberg is a Huntington Beach native who has just signed a professional contract with the Kansas City T-Bones of the American Association.  Considering that the AA is one of the top professional independent baseball organizations in America, this is big news for both Weinberg and his hometown.
Weinberg is now entering his fourth year of professional baseball; in addition to the Alexandria Aces of the Continental Baseball League, he has also played for the Kalamazoo Kings and River City Rascals in the past, both of the Frontier League.  While Weinberg’s recent contract with the T-Bones has opened up new possibilities of baseball superstardom for the young athlete, he had to fight a long uphill battle to get there.
“To say I experienced some obstacles to get this point would be an understatement,” Weinberg said.  “The only reason I was offered this opportunity is pure desire.  I’ve struggled for playing opportunity ever since high school; in my senior year, I only received 3 at-bats.  I red-shirted as a 17-year-old freshman at Golden West Community College and went on to have a very good sophomore year, but still got overlooked by the big schools.  I also ended up missing about one-third of the season of my senior year at Concordia due to injury.  Only when I went to Florida for some workouts did I get picked up by the Alexandria Aces, whose manager was Dan Shwam and who has racked up the second most wins in independent ball history.”
While being picked up by the Kansas City T-Bones is a big step in Weinberg’s career, he also has other projects coming his way.  Since Weinberg’s mother was born in Tel Aviv, he is half-Israeli and therefore eligible to play for the recently-formed Israeli National Baseball Team that is going to compete in the 2013 World Baseball Classic against the US, Canada,  Japan, China and Puerto Rico.  The Israel team faces the possibility of acquiring some of major league baseball’s top Jewish players, including the Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun, the Texas Rangers’ Ian Kinsler, and the Red Sox’s Kevin Youkilis.
“Representing Israel [as a baseball player] would be the biggest honor of my life,” Weinberg said when asked about his feelings of his eligibility.  “Walking out on the field in blue and white with ‘Israel’ across my chest is something I’ve dreamed about since the WBC’s inaugural year.
“Playing in the big leagues has to be the ultimate dream for every professional player,” Weinberg went on, “especially playing on a World Series champion team and being a significant piece on that team and as a player.  That’s my dream, too.”
When asked if he felt there was a link between Judaism and baseball, Weinberg expressed surprise at his realization of how closely linked two of his greatest passions are.
“I actually never thought about a link between the two,” Weinberg said, “but now that you mention it, definitely.  It’s hard to match my passion for Judaism and what it represents but baseball is right up there.  As a Jew, I feel perseverance is a part of me, and as a baseball player that’s exactly what I’ve needed to do every single year of my career.”
Weinberg fell into his passion for baseball at a young age.  His father played baseball himself when he was younger before moving on to becoming a sports writer.  Wanting his son to experience real baseball and not a soft ball, Weinberg’s father took him to his first Little League game when he was only four years old.  Since then, Weinberg says, he hasn’t been able to stay off the field.
“If you were to ask anyone in high school if they thought I’d ever play pro ball,” Weinberg said, “no one would say yes but me.”
However, Weinberg said, it was his perseverance that kept him going and always thinking about the future of his career.  Going the extra mile such as staying after regularly-scheduled practice to get more of his own practice with hitting was what enabled him to go farther than all his friends.
It’s a common stereotype that Jews are not usually inclined towards athletics.  Asked if he ever got ribbed by his friends for his Jewish heritage and passion for baseball, Weinberg provided an amusing answer.
“In high school and college I got it a bit but not too much in pro ball,” Weinberg explained.  “I’ve usually been one of the only Jewish guys on the team and as I’ve progressed, most people are curious about the religion and mostly about Israel.  In pro ball, you play with a lot of guys from all over the country and many of them are strong Christians, so they show me a lot of respect and often refer to us as ‘The Chosen Ones,’ which I love to hear.”
Weinberg expressed an intense gratification for being able to pursue his dream as he is today.  When asked what he felt the future held for him, Weinberg had some strong words.
“As a baseball player, you never really know,” he said.  “All you can do is go out and do the best you can with each and every opportunity that comes your way.  The rest will take care of itself, because you just don’t know when it will end.  As a Jew, well, that will never end.  Nothing makes me prouder than to say I am part of the Jewish family and that will never change, for me, and for my future family.”


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