With Team Israel’s elimination last week from the World Baseball Classic, thus ends the trip of a lifetime for one of Baltimore’s own.
Physical therapist Yoni Rosenblatt, 34, served as Team Israel’s strength and conditioning coach, traveling with the group to South Korea and Japan to provide consultation and treatment for a roster of Jewish baseball players, some with major league experience and others currently in the minor leagues.
Rosenblatt, owner of True Sports Physical Therapy in Fells Point, provides care for Baltimore Ravens and Orioles players, as well as other NFL players when they’re in town.
“I rehab the elite athlete all day, every day,” he said. “I’m lucky enough to do that for a living.”
For Team Israel, Rosenblatt provided all of the available treatments from dry needling to manual therapy, joint manipulation and stretching to Kinesio taping and cupping. He also provided strength training in the gym “so their bodies were ready to perform.”
Rosenblatt developed a rapport with the players and they trusted him with their physical health.
“We work with him every day during the tournament and he has been a vital part in keeping our team healthy and ready to play our best,” Ryan Lavarnway, Team Israel’s catcher, wrote in an email in between games in Tokyo.
A former Oriole, Lavarnway first met Rosenblatt during the qualifying round in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he said Rosenblatt made a tremendous impact. “At the end of a long season every player has bumps and bruises, sore arms and tired legs,” he said. “It’s just part of the game. But Yoni was there to help us feel our best.”
Outfielder Sam Fuld began working with Rosenblatt daily when he joined the team in Seoul. Fuld, a free agent, played while rehabbing an injured shoulder.
“Without his work, I’m not sure I would have been able to withstand all of these intense baseball games,” Fuld said via email.
Have Needle, Will Travel
Rosenblatt met Team Israel’s assistant general manager, fellow Baltimorean Adam Gladstone, before the Brooklyn qualifier on the recommendation of a mutual associate. His experience with Israeli lacrosse, sports medicine background and love for Israel sold Gladstone, who made Rosenblatt one of four Jewish trainers and therapists who accompanied the team.
The others were Barry Weinberg, who served the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics, and owns a World Series ring; minor league trainer Josh Guterman; and Manhattan physical therapist Dan Rootenberg.
Rosenblatt departed Baltimore for South Korea on Feb. 27 and returned from Japan yesterday. He thanks his five therapists for running the practice during his absence, as well as his wife of nearly 12 years, Rachel Kiss Rosenblatt, for maintaining the homefront with their three daughters, Layla, 8, Maya, 3, and Noa, 10 months.
“She said she would never hold me back,” said Rosenblatt. “This is why I do what I do, for an opportunity like this. I owe her big!”
Rosenblatt’s service was not limited to the training room or gym. A former Beth Tfiloh player and recreation league player, Rosenblatt brought his glove along and warmed up several of the players before they stepped on the field. He watched them in the batting cage to monitor a sore shoulder. And he “put everyone back together” following a game.
“I needled a guy the other night at 11 p.m.,” he said.
His value to the team was not lost on players like Lavarnway.
“Yoni is the best in the business,” Lavarnway said.” I’ve played for five MLB organizations, and I haven’t met a member of any medical staff that is more positive, more qualified or more ready to go above and beyond to help the players on the team be the best they can be.
“Even in the brief time he has been working with us with Team Israel, he has established himself as the go-to guy for players who want treatment. He uses state-of-the-art techniques, some I’ve never even heard of, and I know all the guys are feeling healthier and more ready thanks to Yoni.”
Fuld echoed this sentiment. “Yoni is passionate about his craft and has an uncanny feel for working with the athlete’s body,” he said. “I’ve come to learn that he truly cares about me as an athlete and as a person, and I’m forever grateful for this.”
Like the players, Rosenblatt feels being part of the WBC was about promoting baseball around the world and showing that Jews can play.
“Sixty-to-70 years ago, putting a Jewish star on you, you were marked as unwanted,” he said. “This is unbelievable. … No matter where they’re from, all of the guys were proud to put that Jewish star on their chest.”
Just two of the players were Israeli citizens, but the heritage rule – applicable for all countries – allowed anyone with Jewish blood to be part of the team.
The WBC is sponsored by Major League Baseball, and the players and staff reap the benefits, like duffle bags full of gear – hats, shirts and warm-ups, and of course uniforms for the players. After each game, the gear was left in the locker, and it was washed and restocked in the locker for the next game.
A Megillah To Remember
The trip wasn’t without its challenges. A member of Pikesville Jewish Congregation, Rosenblatt turned to the Chabad Lubavitch group in both South Korea and Japan for meals and Shabbat services. He joined about 40 congregants to read the Purim megillah at the Chabad in Tokyo, and also in the dugout with Jordy Alter, the team’s assistant equipment manager who also is observant.
Rosenblatt said he was moved when equipment manager Eric Blum broke down in the dugout during the megillah reading and asked for more singing in Hebrew. Blum had lost his father a year ago and “hadn’t heard Hebrew like that since,” Rosenblatt said. “We said Kaddish with him. It was so unbelievably moving.”
The impact extended further. “A buddy of mine said he lost his mother a year ago and didn’t want to celebrate Purim until he saw my face on ESPN,” Rosenblatt added.
When asked by his graduate school entrance interviewer years ago what magazine cover he would like to grace, Rosenblatt responded ESPN The Magazine with the headline, “Rosenblatt Changes the Face of Sports Medicine.” It may not have been on the magazine’s cover, but the television screen should count.
“I just like that my kids think I’m famous,” he said. “It makes me love my profession even more.”
Linda L. Esterson is an Owings Mills-based freelance writer.
Photos courtesy of Josh Guterman
Top photo of Ryan Lavarnay (left) and Yoni Rosenblatt
Middle photo of Rosenblatt (left) with Team Israel’s Mensch on a Bench mascot
Bottom photo of Rosenblatt reading from the Purim megillah
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