(page 2 of 2)
Ausmus is replacing a successful manager in Leyland, who at 68 was the oldest skipper in baseball. Leyland guided the Tigers to two American League championships in his eight seasons. In 1997, he had managed the Florida Marlins to the World Series crown.
Several members of Leyland’s staff will be staying on with Ausmus, including bench coach Gene Lamont. With Team Israel, Ausmus leaned on Kapler and Shawn Green, both former major league outfielders. It was an arrangement that developed unusually.
At a November 2011 meeting in Cypress, Calif., Kapler peppered team officials with questions, while Green and Ausmus “were very quiet,” Kurz recalled. The three ex-players were offered playing and field leadership roles and asked to select their preferred jobs.
“I thought for sure Gabe would be the manager because he’d managed one year in the minors,” Kurz said. In a February 2012 conference call, the trio revealed to Israeli baseball officials their division of labor: Ausmus, manager; Green and Kapler, player-coaches.
“From then on, Brad came into his own” on the job, Kurz said.
That May, Ausmus and his wife, Liz, visited Israel, where the new manager ran baseball clinics for children, held a news conference, donned tefillin for the first time and went surfing in Tel Aviv.
Ausmus took great pride in meeting Israeli President Shimon Peres, said the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, who accompanied Ausmus to the meeting.
“The opportunity to lead the team struck him as fun and also novel,” Shapiro said of his conversation with Ausmus, who wracked up 1,579 hits – fifth among Jewish players — while playing for four teams in the majors.
Ausmus has stayed in touch with his Team Israel players. He helped pitcher Alon Leichman deal with some mound struggles at California’s Cypress College and wrote letters of recommendation on his behalf when Leichman was transferring to the University of California, San Diego.
“It meant so much that … he really helped me,” said Leichman, one of three Israel-born players on the team – he was raised on Kibbutz Gezer – and now a pitcher at UCSD. “He owed me nothing, so I’m really humbled by it.”
One player on the Israeli team might even rejoin Ausmus in Detroit: Ben Guez, an outfielder for the Tigers’ AAA Toledo club. Three Team Israel members played in the major leagues in 2013: Nate Freiman of the Athletics, the Astros’ Josh Zeid and Josh Satin of the New York Mets.
Leichman already was a Detroit fan because his mother is a native. But with Ausmus as the Tigers manager, “I’m rooting for them even more,” he said. “Every baseball fan in Israel is now a Tigers fan.”