Dean Kremer, the first Israeli to sign a contract with an American Major League Baseball team, reported for his first day with the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 14. Born in the United States to Israeli parents, Kremer holds Israeli citizenship. He is playing this summer on the Dodgers’ Rookie League team, the first of six levels of the minor leagues he will need to get through before making the Dodgers’ Major League roster. Many prominent Jewish players have played for the Dodgers, the most notable being Sandy Koufax in the 1960s.
Kremer began his relationship with Israeli baseball when he played for the gold medal-winning American team at the Maccabiah Games in Israel in 2013. The right-handed pitcher, who has been playing for Israel’s national teams for the past three years had been drafted earlier by the San Diego Padres, but honored his commitment to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he went 4-5 with a 4.92 ERA in 12 starts.
He spoke to Haaretz this week about baseball and playing in Israel. Calling his baseball contract a "dream come true," he was asked what he needs to do to rise through the ranks from a Dodgers rookie team to the Dodgers top team, he said that it would take a few years. "I'll have to play very well. It's a process."
Kremer acknowledged that he may be the first Israeli to play for the Dodgers organization, but he's not the first member of the Israeli national baseball team. Joc Pederson, a Dodgers centerfielder, who is Jewish but doesn't hold Israeli citizenship, also played on the Israeli national team.
When it was pointed out to Kremer that the Dodgers are the team with the league's biggest player budget, which may not make it the easiest to break into, he noted that it was the Dodgers that drafted him.
In 1965, the Dodgers' Sandy Koufax opted not to play in a World Series game that fell on Yom Kippur. What would Kremer do under such circumstances? "I would do the same thing, absolutely," he said. He is not religious, Kremer explained, but he did fast on Yom Kippur last year.
And how would his new contract with the Dodgers affect his playing on the Israeli national team? "I still hope to play on the team. We have a game in September – the WBC, which is the World Baseball Classic, which Joc Pederson also played in several years ago. I hope to play on the team and next year we have games in Europe again, and I would also like to play in that competition. It's always special and exciting to represent Israel."
Baseball, known as America's national pastime, is not widely played in Israel, which prompted the question of whether the members of the Israeli national team speak Hebrew at all. "On the team that's going to Europe, most speak Hebrew, although you have to speak only English [with] some of them. That's not a problem. I speak both languages well," Kremer replied.
Kremer's signing with the Dodgers didn't generate major headlines in Israel. When it was suggested that it would have been different if it had been an Israeli citizen signing with a professional basketball or football team in the United States, Kremer said he visits his grandparents in Herzliya almost every year and knows that baseball is not a popular sport in Israel, but he added that it may have a future in Israel and is growing.
Kremer expressed the hope that if his baseball career does takes off, the game will also become more popular in Israel. But he also acknowledged: "Israelis are not patient enough to play the game."
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