Herricks alum and minor league pitcher Alex Katz can add an Olympic appearance to an already impressive resume after his stint with Team Israel in the Tokyo Olympics.
Katz, 26, was named to the final 24-man roster for Israel’s first Olympic baseball roster in July. A dual citizen of the United States and Israel, Katz said the experience of playing on international baseball’s biggest stage is one he surely will never forget.
“It was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Katz said in an interview. “I didn’t set any expectations before I went because I really just wanted to live in the moment.”
Katz’s Olympic experience, he said, also featured encounters with athletes representing Iran. Some of Iran’s athletes asked to take pictures with members of Team Israel, expressing their desire to achieve peace in the Middle East.
“I try to keep politics out of sports, but at the end of the day … you hear the stories and obviously not every country will always like each other, so that was pretty eye opening,” Katz said. “It was pretty cool to experience that.”
Katz said just seeing athletes from around the world representing their countries from the cafeteria to the weight room and how they carry themselves was interesting.
“I’ve only been around – at least at the professional level – other baseball players,” Katz said. “So it was cool to see how these people go about their business and get ready for these competitions.”
In 2015, Katz was selected by the Chicago White Sox organization in the 27th round of the major league draft. Since then he has moved around various organizations, playing in the farm systems of the Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals and Chicago Cubs.
Despite spending the first half of the 2021 baseball season with the Cubs’ Tennessee affiliate team, the Tennessee Smokies, Katz’s approach to preparing for the Olympics didn’t change much. Playing against pitchers and hitters from other nations, taking mental notes and seeing how the same sport was played in different countries was something Katz was sure to constantly do throughout the tournament.
“You see how every country has their own style of baseball,” he said. “We obviously all play on the same size field, but everyone has their own style of playing, which I think makes baseball such a great sport.”
Throwing off-speed pitches when behind the count rather than fastballs is one aspect of the game Katz said he witnessed during his time in the Olympics, where Israel posted a 1-4 record.
Pitching one and a third innings in relief against South Korea, Katz gave up four hits, two walks and five earned runs; he had two strikeouts.
How the Israeli squad was selected to be one of six participating teams was one of the most notable underdog stories in recent history. In the 2017 World Baseball Classic, the Israeli team, ranked outside of the top 40 teams in the world, defeated third-ranked South Korea and fourth-ranked Chinese Taipei.
During that tournament, Katz appeared in four games, throwing 3.1 innings of shutout ball to help Israel qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, originally scheduled for last year but delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A Manhasset native, Katz graduated from Herricks in 2012. During his time with the Highlanders, Katz was second-team All-Island and first-team All-County and was named the Most Valuable Player of the Nassau County Exceptional Senior Game.
After high school, he received an offer to play in the Cincinnati Reds organization but declined so he could attend St. John’s University.
His junior year with the Red Storm proved to be the one that would pave the way for future success. Katz went 3-1 with a 3.40 ERA in 19 mound appearances with 52 strikeouts in 55.2 innings. That same year, Katz and the Red Storm won the Big East baseball championship and secured a berth in the College World Series.
Katz said he looks to keep everything from preparation to live-game action as simple as possible. Simplicity also goes into his pre-game ritual, ensuring his shoes are tied tightly.
“It’s mindless and simple but it’s my thing,” according to his Olympic bio.
Now, with appearances in both the World Baseball Classic and the Olympics under his belt, Katz eyes a call-up to the major leagues as his next mountain to climb. While continuous hard work and dedication will be required, Katz said he looks forward to wrapping up his eventful 2021 on a high note.
“My goal for the rest of this year [in the minors] is to finish strong,” Katz said. “It’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish, and I think that can be tied to pretty much anything in life.”