Eliot Barrengos, Sports Editor
Baseball is known as a game of failures; in order to survive in it as either an observer or as a participant, you’ve got to be able to take perspective. For Michael Wielansky, an 18th-round selection of the Houston Astros in the 2018 MLB Draft out of a division-III program, perspective is required daily. It’s hard to overstate the grit that is required of those who inhabit the space between amateur baseball and major league baseball. The minor leagues, as well as independent baseball leagues, are filled with guys chasing their baseball dreams. Some are star prospects with multi-million dollar signing bonuses, some are former big league veterans still holding on to their careers and some are baseball lifers – grinders – dedicating their lives to baseball.
Wielansky, a lanky middle infielder who can arguably be characterized as the best baseball player to come through The College of Wooster in program history, has embraced this kind of baseball no man’s land. Every day is a grind and he finds himself subject to experiential rules to test out before being implemented at the big leagues level. He is, by every measure, a baseball nomad. It’s been a winding path since his name was called in the 18th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball amateur player draft. A pandemic interrupted his minor league development, and just as he reached the Triple-A level (just one promotion from the big leagues), he saw his playing time reduced before an eventual release by the Astros in the spring of 2022. After a short stop with the Long Island Ducks, Wielansky cemented himself as the everyday second baseman for the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs of the Atlantic League.
For Wielansky, the label of D-3 has never stopped him from pursuing his dreams. Sure, he’s had to embrace the idea of “Baseball Nomad” more than some, but as he puts it, “I always thought it doesn’t really matter where you come from. Your talent is your talent and they’re gonna recognize you for it.”
His thinking proved right. While in Panama over the winter, a required stop on the journey of a baseball lifer, Wielanksy received a direct message via Instagram from Peter Kurz, the General Manager of the Israeli national baseball team, posing an odd question: “Hey, are you Jewish?” Luckily enough, Wielansky is Jewish on both sides of his family, and after confirming so with the Kurz, Weilanksy found himself on the preliminary 50-man roster for Team Israel and they prepared for the World Baseball Classic (WBC).
The WBC is a relatively new fixture in the baseball world but a rapidly growing one – the equivalent of the World Cup but for baseball. The most recent edition of the battle for international baseball supremacy took place this past March with Japan defeating the United States in the final round.
For Israel, the tournament proved to be an opportunity to grow the game both at home and for the Jewish-American baseball community. After continued communication with Kurz, Wielansky found out that he had made Israel’s 28-man roster for the round-robin tournament. So, in early March the former Wooster star found himself starting again at shortstop, this time on a Major League Field in Miami.
Wielanksy described the experience as “so cool just being around those guys, you know, watching ’em every night on TV and now, you know, you’re 40 feet away in the other dugout. So it was surreal, honestly.” The WBC gave Wielansky the chance to rub shoulders with major league veterans who he had grown up watching, like hitting coach Kevin Youkilis, and manager Ian Kinsler (whom Wielansky has resonated with as a hitterish middle infielder).
The tournament wasn’t just a chance to meet childhood heroes, but also an opportunity to prove himself against the best competition in the world. Wielansky, who only saw action in two of the four games that Israel played, held his own. In the one game he started against the Venezuelan National team he went 2-4 with two singles and scored Israel’s lone run in the affair.
In the third inning, he turned a slick double play with the second baseman to retire Braves star outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr, as well as Yankees second baseman Gelybar Torres. Wielansky put it best describing the game by saying “They’re obviously the best of the best… but I mean, [you] realize that you’re not that far away from being there. It was pretty cool knowing that like, hey, like I can compete with these guys too.”
As much as the experience meant from a baseball perspective, it was also “special” from a personal perspective. The Jewish baseball community can sometimes feel few and far between, and for the shortstop “having an entire team full of guys who really share the same values and, and the same experiences was actually really cool.”
Baseball requires perspective, and when you step back and look at Michael Wielanksy’s baseball story, you can see that he’s made a career out of proving his doubters wrong. Of using whatever label he has, whether that be D-III player, career minor leaguer or baseball nomad, as “fuel” he said, “It kind of fired me [up] to go and prove people wrong.” It’s that grit and determination that make Wielansky so special; it’s his work ethic as well as his talent that helped take him from Art Murray field in Wooster to playing at Loan Depot Park in Miami. But despite it all, Wooster still holds a special place in the infielder’s heart. “I’ve done a lot of cool things, seen a lot of cool places, and baseball’s taken me very far, in my life in general. But…the best experiences and the best stories I have still really come from Wooster. You know, at the pro level, you don’t really get that family feeling that you get at Wooster. It’s hard to compare that to anything I’ve done after the fact.”