An Israeli in the Game

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The Baltimore Orioles are walking into this season with some history in their stride. Among their returning lineup is Dean Kremer, 24, the first MLB player with Israeli citizenship.

Baseball player winds up to pitch ball with right hand.
Kremer pitched for the Bowie Baysox in 2018. Photo by Bert Hindman.

While the season won’t start until March 26, when the Orioles play a home opener against the New York Yankees, spring training for the team has already begun.

Baseball has been a part of Kremer’s life for a long time. He’s been playing since he was 5. He grew up a few blocks from the local Little League in Stockton, Calif. — a purposeful decision by his Israeli parents to expose him to sports. Despite growing up in the U.S., Kremer has a strong connection to Israel. He had his bar mitzvah in Israel, visits annually, and has family there. He also has dual citizenship and speaks Hebrew, Kremer believes that because Stockton was diverse, he did not encounter any negative stereotypes, particularly in the baseball community. However, being the only player in the MLB with a predilection for a high-quality shawarma may have presented some unique opportunities.


“It’s definitely opened some doors that some people may not have had the same opportunity to do,” Kremer said. “Getting to play with the different national teams in Israel, just people from our culture reaching out, congratulating me, anything like that makes me feel good, happy, like I’m doing something not just for me but for the people.”

In 2013, at age 17, Kremer pitched for the U.S. in the Maccabiah Games, an international multi-sport global event affectionately called the “Israeli Olympics.” His team won gold.

“It was more like regular Olympics, all these different people sharing the same faith, hanging out even though we’re on different teams,” he said. “The American team stayed at this camp — it was like a college dorm facility. Getting to know people from all over the U.S., it was a really good time.” He toured the country in the mornings, then competed in the afternoons.

Kremer also played for Israel’s national baseball team in his teens from 2014 to 2017, coached clinics in Israel, and became a “role model,” as Peter Kurz, general manager of Team Israel, proudly put it.

Kremer went on to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015, as the first Israeli MLB player. “I’d never played for the big league before, never been on TV,” he said. In 2018, he joined the Orioles.

Baltimore Orioles player Dean Kremer.

The highlight of his career, Kremer said, was “getting to play in World Baseball Classic and getting to go to Korea and Japan after. I’ve been very fortunate to see the world through baseball.”

Perhaps spoiled by a beautiful West Coast state and the sunny skies of Israel, Kremer has an affinity for the beauty of the world. Naming all the countries he has played in, the list more closely resembles a doctor’s dissertation essay.

“I’ve been to most of the countries that play baseball,” he said. But his favorite was Greece. Along with more countries in Europe, it is the place he would choose to return to.

But this isn’t the only reason he wants you to take him out to the ballgame.

“I like the game; it presents different challenges. Every game is different from the previous or next,” Kremer said. In particular, he enjoys his position. “The pitcher-hitter dynamic is like chess but the athletic version.”

Play Ball

Kremer is passionate about baseball, but as far as Israelis go, he might be somewhat of an anomaly.

Israelis are not all that interested in baseball, Kremer said. Imagine his surprise, then, when Team Israel qualified for the 2020 Olympics, one of only six teams that will play the sport in Tokyo.

“I don’t know if Israelis are patient enough for a game like this,” Kremer joked. “It’s just their way of life.” However, the qualification at the Olympics is “a huge stepping stone to get people to talk about it more and help gain popularity,” he said.

Kremer’s grandparents still live in Israel. He takes time to visit the homeland about once a year. “Every time I get to visit Israel is special for me because I get to spend time with my family,” he said. It’s also a chance to vacation. “I kind of just hang out, don’t do a whole lot, and try to eat as much food as I can.” Reminiscing on the fresh, healthy-but-delicious foods of Israel, Kremer said, “I eat more but lose weight.”

While he is strongly tied to Israel, his identity has not been a huge game changer (pun intended) on major life experiences. Despite that, Kremer has felt particularly connected to Jewish teammate Richard Bleier. Before they met in training last year, they knew of each other. But when they got to talking, “we were like old friends since forever.”

Kremer said Judaism, to him, is about culture. “I feel like I was raised with slightly different morals just because of my faith and parents’ background,” he said. “The bottom line is just to be a good human being, and that’s not necessarily just Jewish.”

1 COMMENT

  1. Proud to say that my son Yaniv who was born in Israel to two Baltimoreans and is the Operations Manager of the Israel Association of Baseball. Baseball has come a long way in Israel with 80 teams in 16 cities with five leagues. The sport has teams of men and women of all ages and religions and is growing in popularity from day to day.

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