With the Israeli Olympic baseball team being the first to qualify for the postponed Tokyo Summer Olympics, this has already been an exhilarating 12 months for fans of Israel Baseball and Jewish baseball players. On Sunday night, the excitement kicked up a notch.
As a devoted Yankee fan, I was already looking forward to watching Sunday night’s game against the Baltimore Orioles. But as soon as I heard the O’s had switched their starting pitcher, my anticipation grew.
I knew it was going to be an exciting night the moment David Cone, television broadcaster for the New York Yankees, said “Mazal Tov!” to Dean Kremer, for making his Major League Baseball debut for Baltimore.
Kremer holds the distinction of being the first Israeli citizen to be drafted by a Major League team, having been taken by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 14th round in June 2016. He was traded to the Orioles in 2018 as part of a six-player deal that sent superstar Manny Machado to the Dodgers.
With Jewish and Israeli baseball fans from all over the world watching in excitement, Kremer pitched a magnificent six innings in his historic debut, allowing only one hit, one run, and one walk, while striking out seven.
Both the Yankees’ and Orioles’ announcers mentioned Kremer’s connection to Israel, as he proudly took the mound each inning with his Star of David necklace in full view. After the game, the Orioles posted a video from Kremer’s parents and brothers wishing him good luck. The heartwarming video becomes even cooler when Dean’s brother, Ron, appears wearing his Tzahal uniform, with his red paratrooper beret!
I’m always pulling for the Yankees to win, but Kremer’s debut was a momentous occasion that forced me to put my fandom aside. It was clear that for baseball-loving Jews everywhere, his debut was bigger than baseball itself – and I was ecstatic that Kremer led the Orioles to a victory!
Kremer answered one question in Hebrew during his post-game press conference, showing how proud he is of his connection to Israel and eager to share that connection with all baseball fans.
I spoke to a few of my former baseball players from Israel’s baseball league, and they could not contain their excitement over Kremer’s successful first outing.
Although known as America’s Pastime, baseball has been played in Israel since 1986 and has continued to gain in popularity, albeit slowly. Sometimes Israeli players feel left out when they talk about and play baseball while their friends look confused, preferring to play basketball or soccer. But watching Kremer play in a Major League game, and seeing multiple Israeli news outlets cover the occasion, in Hebrew, not only surpassed all expectations, it gave my players added hope that their favorite game may someday gain traction among their friends in Israel.
Having Dean Kremer, a talented pitcher, a proud Israeli citizen, and an overall mensch as someone young Jewish-American and Israeli ballplayers can look up to and emulate can only help spread the word.
With the Team Israel qualifying for the Olympics and what will hopefully be a long and successful Major League career for Dean Kremer, I hope that Israelis will continue to learn about baseball, what it has to offer – and love it as much as I and so many people here already do.