Ian Kinsler brushed the clay from its spines and stared coolly at Ray’s reliever Andrew Kittredge. The 8,299. His career record appearance took place on August 12, 2019 in the ninth inning at Petco Park.
Kinsler’s well-known profile – pants slightly baggy, pulled up to his knees – refuted the story we couldn’t see: his career in the major league was nearing its end.
Ten months earlier, Kinsler won a World Series ring with the Red Sox. He was then part of the Padres opening day double-play combo – alongside the debut of Fernando Tatis Jr. – but that August night the four-time All-Star hit in the low 200s and didn’t kick the game until the ninth for his first career pitching appearance.
The rays went through eight runs as Kittredge advanced with two swift strokes. A baseball traditionalist to the core, Kinsler surely appreciated what came next: a 96 mph fastball at the top of the zone. The 37-year-old released his typical bat whip. The ball landed in the left field seats for his 257th home game in the Major League. Of the second bases of this century, only Robinson Canó and Chase Utley have more.
The Homer increased Kinsler’s career success to 1,999.
The round number never arrived.
The next batsman – Tatis – knocked out. San Diego lost 10: 4. Soon afterwards, the Padres Kinsler put on the list of injured with a herniated disc in the neck. He never played in the majors again.
Kinsler had a 2020 contract with San Diego but retired before spring training and joined the organization as a special assistant. His last competition swing would be a home run.
In July, almost two years after Kinsler played his last game, he will be back in uniform at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, delayed by the pandemic.
Kinsler will not play for Team USA, with whom he won a gold medal in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He will represent Israel after obtaining dual citizenship a little over a year ago.
“Playing for Team USA has been an enormous privilege,” Kinsler said in a recent interview with MLB.com. “I think any kid growing up in this country would dream of wearing the Team USA jersey and winning a gold medal. For me, the World Series is the only thing that can keep up.
“It is also very proud to be competing with Team Israel for your legacy. It is a different experience and a unique opportunity to represent both countries that have made me what I am. “
Israeli law provides that anyone with a Jewish grandparent can obtain citizenship. Kinsler has paternal ancestry on his father’s side.
Two of Kinsler’s paternal great-grandparents, Benjamin and Rose Kunstlich, were born in Germany and immigrated to the United States in the 1930s to escape the increasing anti-Semitism in Europe before World War II. Benjamin and Rose Anglicized their last name to Kinsler when their son Jack was born in the United States
Jack and his wife, Hana, had three children, including Ian’s father, Howard, who worked as a prison guard while Ian was raised in Tucson, Arizona.
Ian was in college when his grandfather died in 2001. The stories of what Jack and his parents endured before and during World War II were largely untold during their lifetime.
“He would change the subject whenever it came up,” said Ian. “I only knew what I had read about in school because our families usually stayed away from talking about it.”
During his 14-year major league career, Kinsler played and traveled to cities with notable monuments and museums dedicated to the memory of the Holocaust. He never entered one. That changed in January 2020 when he and his wife Tess visited Yad Vashem in Jerusalem during his week-long trip to Israel.
“I’ve exceeded the time they gave me there,” said Kinsler. “It was so moving. That was a very emotional day for me. “
Even before Kinsler takes to the field in Tokyo, he fulfills the vision of the President of the Israel Baseball Association, Peter Kurz: To represent Israel at the Olympic Games, you have to have an Israeli passport. To get the Israeli passport, a non-native Israeli travels into the country – so Make aliyah – in accordance with the return policy. And taking the trip invites you to deeply contemplate your own family history and your place in the world.
“Boys have played baseball all their lives and never really connected to that part of themselves,” said Kurz, a New Yorker who has lived and worked in Israel for 32 years. “By making the physical journey to Israel, you are also making an emotional journey into your past, and that really ignites something.
“This isn’t just another national baseball team. It consists of players connected by a common past, often persecuted but sometimes championed. “
Kinsler recalled watching Israel’s games from a distance during the 2017 classic. Israel went 3-0 in Group A, beating Cuba in the second round before losing a win before the semi-finals.
In September 2019 – a month after Kinsler played his last game in San Diego – Israel received its bid for Tokyo by winning the European Olympic qualifying tournament in Parma, Italy.
After Kinsler announced his retirement from Major League Baseball a few months later, he accepted Kurz’s invitation to join an Israeli Olympic squad that is expected to include many Jewish Americans with MLB experience: pitchers Jon Moscot and Josh Zeid, the catcher Ryan Lavarnway and infielders Ty Kelly and Danny Valencia.
Kinsler is healthy again after undergoing a cervical spine fusion that used a bone graft from his hip. He goes through a normal routine of off-season training even as he begins his sophomore year as a Padres advisor, and he expects to start baseball activities near his home in the Dallas area next month.
Currently, the Israeli team is staying in touch and building relationships through Zoom calls.
“In baseball, we always talk about team chemistry and how quickly it can develop,” said Kinsler. “When you have these common roots, it’s an instant connection.”
Team Israel has planned training camps in the USA from May that will lead to the first game of the Olympic tournament with six teams on July 28th. Japan automatically qualified as the host country. Mexico and South Korea won bids through tournaments. Team USA will make its second attempt to secure a spot in a qualifying tournament for America, expected in June.
In 2017, Kinsler scored the only homerun in the World Baseball Classic gold medal game, an 8-0 US win over Puerto Rico. This summer, he could become the first player in baseball history to win the Olympics, the World Series, and the World Baseball Classic.
For Kinsler, the pursuit of Olympic gold is only part of the reason why he puts on the Israeli uniform. Especially after attending the baseball academy in the Baptist Village in Petah Tikva near Tel Aviv, he thinks of the children who will be watching from afar.
“Youth baseball is a huge passion for my father,” said Kinsler. “We talked about what it would mean for both of us if baseball really took off in Israel.
“My goal is to win medals, inspire baseball in Israel and inspire young people to play. That is the ultimate goal that I have. “
With the majors, Kinsler expressed his opinion as easily as he shot doubles. He became increasingly thoughtful in retirement. A new, permanent connection to his legacy is part of the reason. The yarmulke he signed for a fan in Boston has now grown in prominence, along with memories of kids shouting from the stands, “Hey, Ian! I am a Jew too! “
Tess wants to make another trip to Israel. The Kinslers are discussing a unique timing for this: right before the Olympics, amid uncertainty about whether athletes’ family and friends will be allowed into Japan due to travel restrictions for COVID-19. Ian would travel on to Japan while Tess and her daughter and son would stay in Israel.
Given the scale of Kinsler’s ambitions, it is appropriate for his family to watch the Olympics with the Israelis whose hearts and minds he hopes to win. Baseball would have three new ambassadors to Israel: Tess, 12-year-old Rian, and 9-year-old Jack, who bears his great-grandfather’s name.