Don’t let Dean Kremer’s polite, soft-spoken manner fool you. When the 22-year-old, California-born pitcher toes the rubber like a praying mantis, you’d best watch out. Blink and you’ll miss a fastball searing the corners of the strike zone. Or a curveball plunging just below it. Maybe even one of those nasty sliders or changeups in his back pocket for special occasions.

That’s why the rebuilding, pitching-starved Orioles sought Kremer in the haul of prospects they netted from the Los Angeles Dodgers for superstar shortstop Manny Machado on July 18.

Dean Kremer

Dean Kremer (Photo by Bill Vaughn)

While focused on his assignment to develop as a starter with the Bowie Baysox (the Orioles’ AA affiliate), Kremer is proud of what his career already means to Jewish fans who celebrate him as the first Israeli citizen ever selected in the Major League Baseball draft. He recently sat down at Prince George’s Stadium before a Baysox game and spoke to Jmore about his life and career.

Jmore: Nice to meet you. And on behalf of our community, welcome to Baltimore! [Hands Kremer a personalized Orioles kippah].

Kremer: This is so awesome! Thank you! [Laughing] I don’t even really know what to say. You really have no idea how happy my mother is going to be when she sees this!

You know that wherever I’ve been sent in the minor leagues — from Tulsa to Rancho Cucamonga [Calif.] — I’d have multiple people reaching out to say, “Hey, this is a small Jewish community. If you ever want to have dinner or anything like that, be sure to let me know.” It happened instantly here [in Bowie], too. Even today, I got a letter from a fan who works in a financial institution. It’s kind of funny to hear from successful doctors, lawyers and bankers who really care so much about supporting what I’m doing on a baseball field. But it’s nice to know that Jewish community is so strong in so many places.

What’s it like being MLB’s first Israeli player?

While I’ve never technically lived in Israel, my whole family is from there, and I’ve gone back at least once a year every year of my life, sometimes for stretches of up to two months at a time. Hebrew is also the language my parents speak at home with me and my brothers, so Israel has just always felt like my home away from home.

Also, I can’t get enough falafel. And it’s best over there, so I think of Israel when I’m really hungry. [Laughs]

Are you a fan of Israeli pop culture? 

I listen to so much Israeli music. My friends and I stay current with it.  It’s always blaring on my headphones.

Are you religious?

Well my family is more Reform and secular, but the holidays are definitely important times for us. Obviously, we do the big ones like Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Passover. Even when I’ve had to be away, we will always do the dinners over FaceTime because they are special times to be together. We also never miss Chanukah, which is always a lot of fun, too.

Dean Kremer

Hurler Dean Kremer joined the Bowie Baysox last month. (Photo courtesy of the Bowie Baysox)

Do you bring any Jewish superstitions onto the field?

I’m not a big superstition guy. But I do wear my Star of David all the time. I like to know it’s there. So maybe that counts?

And you won’t pitch on Yom Kippur?

Definitely not.

You played for Team Israel in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. What was that like?

That was just amazing! Being able to represent Israel in a positive way with such a great group of guys was an unmatched experience for me. You know, I still walk around wearing the Jew Crew T-shirt from that team all the time. I was actually just wearing it back in the clubhouse here.

It would be great to play on their next [WBC] team, too. I was the youngest player last time so I’d like to earn a bigger role. I also heard that Israel is putting together an Olympic team, which is only for guys who have an Israeli passport, so it’s a smaller group to start. I’m not sure about the exact timing on that, but I would be honored to play with them too.

What’s Israeli baseball like these days?

It’s still got a lot of room to grow. But they are doing a good job over there helping baseball expand. I would say the younger generation is definitely aware of the game. There has been a slight gap, with a bunch of older guys in their mid-to-late 20s and even 30s being pretty into baseball. They’re followed by kids ages 8-13 who are really starting to come up. As soon as those younger guys are old enough to play in tournaments all over Europe, they are going to be successful. So I think Israel is on the rise as a baseball country.

How did you get into baseball?

Both my parents came to the United States after the [Israeli army], and my father came on a tennis scholarship to the University of the Pacific. When he was done with tennis, I was born, and at the time when I started to get into sports, he wanted to be anywhere but near the tennis courts. So he found the next best option. We lived two blocks from a Little League, and that is where I started playing. So it was mainly my love of the game that got him into it.

Any first impressions of Maryland?

It’s been a lot to take in. Other than the [Team Israel WBC] qualifier in 2017 in Brooklyn, this is the only other time I have ever been on the East Coast. The East Coast is totally new to me. Camden Yards is incredible, though. There was a rain delay when I visited a few weeks back for the first time, but wow, what a ballpark.

Interests outside of baseball?

When I’m not playing ball, I am a pretty easygoing, tranquil guy. So it might not sound so exciting, but I just really like the beach. I like sitting, relaxing and listening to the waves. The beaches near Tel Aviv are always the first place I go when I get to Israel, and any off day that I had in Southern California was at the ocean. I’ll admit that I watch a lot of TV, too. I like watching action shows, but mainly it’s medical shows or lawyer shows.

What do you think your odds are for a big league call-up when rosters expand? 

It’s really not something I would even ask about. I know that I just have to keep throwing well, regardless of where I am and everything will work out. It’s simple, right? Just be consistently great, and you’ll be where you want to be.

So there’s no kvetching in baseball?

Not if you can help it.

Ira Gewanter is a Baltimore-based freelance writer and rabid baseball fan.

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