Pitcher and Tokyo 2020 Team Israel Olympian Ben Wanger is known as a ‘two-way player’ for both pitching and playing first base throughout his baseball career.
Duality is somewhat of a recurring theme in Ben’s life. Born into a Jewish family in Newton, Massachusetts, Ben had the incredible opportunity to become a dual citizen of the United States and Israel thanks to ’Aliyah’ also known as the ‘Law of Return.’
“It means that if you have at least one grandparent who is Jewish, and all of mine are, you can become a citizen,” Ben explained. “Team Israel recruited me to live, train and engage with the Israeli baseball community and represent Israel in Olympic qualifiers,” Ben said.
Baseball has made a string of appearances at the Olympic Games since becoming an official sport at Barcelona in 1992, but there had never been an Olympic Baseball team representing Israel until Ben’s team qualified in 2021. For Ben, representing his heritage and family on the world stage was monumental.
“I feel very connected to my Jewish heritage and the Jewish people. My grandma is a holocaust survivor who escaped and then came to the U.S.” Ben said. “Representing Israel was an honor for me. To be able to share the honor with my family when we have that personal history was really special, and it just shows how far society has come since then.”
“I started with baseball around age four by playing against my brother in our backyard. My dad would throw fly balls and we would have to run and battle each other while trying to catch the ball at the same time,” Ben said. "It really gave me that competitive spirit.”
Ben’s education is formidable as well. He obtained a double bachelor’s in economics and environmental engineering from Yale, followed by a master's degree in entrepreneurship from USC and a second master's in international business from the University of Miami. He pitched for all three schools, helping Yale win the Ivy League Championship for the first time in 23 years.
Years later he made his Olympic debut in Tokyo with Team Israel, his last baseball career event. Now a LA resident, Ben is in a new inning of his life as part of LA28’s Olympian and Paralympian Fellowship Program.
“I decided to hang up the cleats in 2022 and quickly transitioned into the LA28 Games Fellowship,” Ben said. “I feel a connection to LA from my time at USC and I have great friends here. It felt perfect in terms of transitioning to the office world.”
Ben recently began his second 6-month rotation as part of the one-year fellowship and is the newest member of LA28’s transportation planning team. “I think transportation is one of the biggest challenges and opportunities that LA faces. To be able to work in that field and hopefully help improve it is something I’m very passionate about,” Ben said. His manager and VP of Transportation, Sam Morrissey, could not be happier to have someone with Ben’s background on his team.
“It's invaluable to have someone who is familiar with prior Games on the team, to share their perspective and insights as it relates to our specific work,” Morrissey said. "It's a great challenge and learning opportunity. How do I show this Olympic athlete how working in the field of transportation is exciting? Can I make sure that the work given to him is engaging and interesting so that he can make a career in the field?”
“Being at LA28 has given me the ability to meet amazing people at all stages of their careers. It’s great to see people come together from all industries and form such a fun and welcoming team that understands the power of sport,” Ben said.
To watch the interview with Ben, please visit the LA28 YouTube Channel.