A century and a half after Brooklyn’s slugging infielder-outfielder Lipman Pike made baseball history by becoming the sport’s first Jewish professional player, signing with the predecessor of the Brooklyn Dodgers, another Jewish athlete made athletic history last week. Dean Kremer, a California-born pitcher with Israeli parents, signed a $147,000 contract with the Dodgers.
Kremer, 20, who has played for the Israeli national team for the last three years, in tournaments like the European Baseball championships, became the first Israeli to sign a major league contract. He lives most of the year in Las Vegas, where he pitches for the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, but returns to Israel for two months each summer. “It’s definitely home, ” he told the Las Vegas Review Journal.
This is a “huge” step for baseball in Israel, according to Nate Fish, aka the “King of Jewish Baseball.” “The kids in Israel are already talking about it” Fish told the Jewish Week by email. “[They] look up to him as an Israeli baseball role model.”
While it is difficult to gauge the potential of a baseball player, Fish thinks that Kremer has “a lot of upside.” “He has the whole package of physical and mental gifts,” said Fish, the Israel national team head coach, “and he comes from a good family.”
Baseball in Israel has been making strides in recent years, according to the Jerusalem Post. While the Israel Baseball league folded after one season in 2007, youth participation in baseball has seen a dramatic increase. In 2014, the IAB launched the Israeli Baseball Academy, which is recognized by the MLB as an elite academy for youth players.
A native of Stockton, Kremer was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 38th round last year but did not sign.This year the Dodgers re-drafted him, in the 14th round. By signing with the Dodgers, Kremer is joining a team with a rich tradition of Jewish players, fans and ownership.
Most notably, Dodger pitcher Sandy Koufax endeared himself to the American Jewish community after sitting out game 1 of the 1965 World Series due to its coincidence with Yom Kippur. But the team’s Jewish roots run deeper. Before Koufax, there was “Goody” Rosen, who played outfielder for the Dodgers in the 1930s and '40s while they lived in Brooklyn. And brothers Norm and Larry Sherry, who played with Koufax, the latter of whom was MVP of the 1959 World Series. More recently, there was Shawn Green, who played for the Dodgers in the early half of the 2000s.
And, even earlier, Pike, who was known as the “iron batter.” Pike’s nickname stemmed from his home run-hitting prowess — he once hit six dingers in one game. In the summer of 1866, he spurned his hometown Brooklyn Atlantics, the predecessor to the Brooklyn Dodgers, later renamed the Los Angeles Dodgers, to score a paid deal with the Philadelphia Athletics, effectively making him the first Jewish professional baseball player. His salary was $20 a week.
Last year, Jewish Dodger fans successfully campaigned for the addition of kosher hot dogs in Dodgers Stadium. Now, they are excited about the prospect of trading in their dogs with mustard for some falafel and hummus. Stuart Tochner, who helped lead the Kosher hot dogs effort as president of the Lou Barak Memorial Kosher Hot Dog Committee, is “speechless” over the signing. Tochner said his son Jonah, also a Dodgers supporter, summed it up best. “This is in the nature of the Dodgers, who have been breaking ground and signing important new players from different communities since Jackie Robinson in 1955. I am proud as a Jewish fan and as a supporter of Israel about this signing” said Jonah.
One of the men directly responsible for the signing is Stan Katsen, the team’s president and part-owner. Katsen is Jewish himself, a graduate of the Yeshiva University High School for Boys.
This season, Kremer team-up with Jewish All-Star Joc Pederson, who, along with Fish, has played with Kremer on the Israeli national baseball team. Kremer will officially be welcomed into the ever-growing Dodgers’ Jewish family when he makes his debut with the Dodgers’ rookie league team this summer.