Episode 18: Dean Kremer, first Israeli to be drafted into Major League Baseball

Traded from the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Baltimore Orioles, the up-and-coming pitcher opens up on living the life of a professional athlete and what it was like making history.

The guest: Dean Kremer is not just any pitcher. In June 2015, at 19 years old, he became the first Israeli to ever be drafted by a Major League Baseball team. This past summer, he made news again when he was part of a blockbuster trade. The Los Angeles Dodgers picked up superstar shortstop Manny Machado and, in exchange, sent five up-and-coming prospects to the Baltimore Orioles. One of those players was pitcher Dean Kremer. In addition to his major league play Kremer, who holds dual citizenship with Israel and the United States, pitched for Israel's national baseball team at the 2014 European Championships and in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, a tournament where Israel stunned the international baseball community with four straight wins.

The gist: Kremer is now finishing up his first season playing for the Baltimore Orioles Double A minor league team in Bowie, Maryland. The life of a minor leaguer is not all glitz and glamour – playing a grueling schedule of around 150 games each year. What's more is he doesn't have many days off, and even if he did, Kremer doesn't have a car. On today's episode we catch up with him to chat about the big trade that brought him to the Orioles, what it's like sleeping on a bus most nights and why baseball is gaining popularity in Israel.

Further reading:

"Our Friend from Israel" is hosted by Benyamin Cohen. Our podcast theme music is by Haim Mazar, a Hollywood film composer who grew up in Israel. Follow our podcast on Facebook for behind-the-scenes access to the show and sneak peeks of upcoming episodes.

Want to get our podcast episodes delivered straight to your phone each week? Here's how.

Dean Kremer pitching in a game for the Bowie Baysox, a minor league team of the Baltimore Orioles. Dean Kremer pitching in a game for the Bowie Baysox, a minor league team of the Baltimore Orioles. (Photo: Bert Hindman)

Pitcher Dean Kremer of Israel celebrates his team's 15-7 victory after the World Baseball Classic Pool A Game Two between Israel and Chinese Taipei in Seoul, South Korea. Pitcher Dean Kremer (17) of Israel celebrates his team's 15-7 victory vs. Chinese Taipei at the 2017 World Baseball Classic in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo: Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images)

Transcript

Benyamin Cohen: On this episode of Our Friend From Israel ...

Speaker 2: He's all in one to count. Here he comes, a pitch. Swinging a ground ball up the middle, backhanded pickup by Robinson, under hands to second for the out to end the ball game. What an effort for Dean Kremer. A complete game, seven inning shutout. It is debut of the Tulsa Drillers, 11 strikeouts.

Benyamin Cohen: Dean Kremer is not just any pitcher. In June 2015, at just 19 years old, he became the first Israeli to ever be drafted by a major league baseball team. This past summer, he made news again when he was part of a blockbuster trade.

Speaker 3: Manny Machado. What's the latest news on the Oriole start?

Speaker 4: A trade of Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers in increasingly likely baring a last minute snag. That is the outcome rival clubs expect Orioles would get a package of prospects expected to ...

Benyamin Cohen: The Los Angeles Dodgers picked up superstar shortstop Manny Machado and, in exchange, sent five up-and-coming prospects to the Baltimore Orioles. One of those players was pitcher Dean Kremer. In addition to his major league play Kremer, who holds dual citizenship with Israel and the United States, pitched for Israel's national baseball team at the 2014 European Championships and in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, a tournament where Israel stunned the international baseball community with four straight wins.

Speaker 5: Dae Ho Lee strikes out and team Israel wins it two to one in ten innings. And how bout that and we're ...

Benyamin Cohen: Kremer is now finishing up his first season playing for the Baltimore Orioles Double A minor league team in Bowie, Maryland. The life of a minor leaguer is not all glitz and glamour – playing a grueling schedule of around 150 games each year. What's more is he doesn't have many days off, and even if he did, Kremer doesn't have a car. On today's episode we catch up with him to chat about the big trade that brought him to the Orioles, what it's like sleeping on a bus most nights and why baseball is gaining popularity in Israel. Stay tuned.

Benyamin Cohen: Welcome to Our Friend From Israel. A podcast brought to you by fromgrapevine.com. I'm your host Benyamin Cohen and each week we'll have a conversation with an intriguing Israeli. They'll come from all walks of life; actors, artists, athletes, academics, archeologists and other news makers. On today's show we chat with Dean Kremer. The first Israeli to ever be drafted by a major league baseball team.

Benyamin Cohen: Hey Dean. Let's test your microphone. Can you tell me what you had for breakfast this morning?

Dean: I had three eggs, some egg whites and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Benyamin Cohen: You are a lot healthier than I am. You sound really good actually. I think we should be good.

Dean: Your from the Grapevine?

Benyamin Cohen: Yeah.

Dean: Yeah, I've done somethings for you guys. News last year.

Benyamin Cohen: We've written about you and then we started this podcast and then each week we just interview another interesting person. Actors, athletes, archeologists, you know, anyone interesting. You certainly fit.

Dean: I don't know if I'm that interesting but sure we'll go with it.

Benyamin Cohen: It'll be a really short episode. No, I'm kidding. Alright so here we go. So I'll just kind of open the show.

Benyamin Cohen: Hello everybody and welcome to the show. We are joined today by Dean Kremer. Welcome to the show.

Dean: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Benyamin Cohen: So, we're speaking to you. You're in the minor league ball park for the Baltimore Orioles in Bowie Maryland, is that correct?

Dean: Yes, sir.

Benyamin Cohen: And I know you were in the news recently. You used to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers and were recently part of a mega trade where the Orioles sent superstar Manny Machado to the Dodgers and the Dodgers sent five players to Baltimore including you.

Dean: Correct.

Benyamin Cohen: How are you adjusting to life in Baltimore and living in Maryland?

Dean: I mean after the trade went though we kind of packed up all our stuff, all five of us packed up all our stuff and headed out here to the East Coast.

Benyamin Cohen: Yeah.

Dean: Not even 24 hours later and then ... I mean the clubhouse here, all the guys they welcomed us in here with open arms and it was pretty ... it was a simple adjusting period to the new team. The new organization with the different rules and other things, like how they run was just a tad different so that took a little bit longer but I mean baseball's baseball. You go out there and play a game every day. So that much wasn't the difficult part.

Benyamin Cohen: I was going to ask you is there a difference between West Coast and East Coast?

Dean: The weather first of all. I spent most of my years so far in the California league and we didn't have one rain out. As soon as I got here we've had a good five or six.

Benyamin Cohen: Yeah.

Dean: It's sprinkling showers all over the place. It's a little different.

Benyamin Cohen: I live, as the crow flies, I live next door to you guys in West Virginia. So I know we get a lot of interesting weather in this neck of the woods for sure. I'm curious about minor league baseball life for people ... My only experience, I've obviously attended minor league games. We have a minor league team in my town where I live and people have seen like probably Bull Durham or any of those kind of famous movies. Is playing for the minor leagues ... What is it like for those of us ... who aren't really a part of it on a day to day basis?

Dean: It's not as glorified as people make it out to be. The big leagues yeah, you get a lot more money whereas people don't know you don't get nearly as much. Most guys that are on their rookie contracts still make about between $1200 and $1800 a month. That's pretax so it's not ideal living style. To put it in one work it's a grind. The travel your taking buses everywhere, sometimes you have a travel day and you play 7 P.M. game you finish at 10, 10:30 then you won't leave the clubhouse until like 11:30 and then sometimes you have a four, five, six, seven hour bus ride to the next location. So you get in at like five, six A.M. and play another game later that night. So it's not ideal living style.

Benyamin Cohen: It sounds grueling, yeah.

Dean: The end game is worth it and that's what we're all here for.

Benyamin Cohen: You've played in a lot of different cities. I was looking, doing a little research before talking. You're in Bowie Maryland now and then Ogden Utah, Rancho Cucamonga California, Tulsa Oklahoma, Midland Michigan for the Great Lakes Loons. Am I missing any other ones?

Dean: No, those are the teams I've played for so far. And then kind of been playing teams in the region in those leagues. So, I've seen ... Before pro-ball I didn't do much traveling within the United States but now I feel like I've been to the majority of the states here.

Benyamin Cohen: So it's like become a baseball player and see the country.

Dean: Pretty much.

Benyamin Cohen: Do you have a favorite city you've played in?

Dean: I really enjoyed my time in Rancho Cucamonga in California. That was our home ball park and it was 45 minutes just about away from every beach down there. Like Charamusca, Manhattan, Santa Monica, and so off days were nice. We'd go ... group of us would go to the beach on the off day and get to relax. That made it fun.

Benyamin Cohen: Right. What would surprise people about the life of a minor leaguer? I mean I know you started saying that where it's a lot of traveling and it's not as glamorous.

Dean: What would surprise you? I mean we play, I think I counted it up last year. We play about 140 games in about 153 days.

Benyamin Cohen: Oh wow.

Dean: 154. So we play every night. You don't get much time to do anything really other then baseball. So that's kind of what surprises people. They're like "Oh, you should come do something during the summer." I'm like "I can't I kind of have a game everyday."

Benyamin Cohen: Oh, your going to be in this town you should go visit this attraction.

Dean: One I don't have a car especially when we're away and two not much time to do it in.

Benyamin Cohen: Right. So you're all traveling on a bus together, there like pranks going on, is there ... You must have some funny stories from being on the road.

Dean: I'll tell you what on the night games where we have our get away day so to speak, happen to be night games. Nobody really says anything on the bus everybody's trying to get their sleep by the time we get to the next place. Our buses are usually even keel, usually there's movies going on on the loud speaker on the T.V.s so it's pretty relaxing.

Benyamin Cohen: So it's just a regular bus. There're not like beds on the bus you're just sleeping in your chair?

Dean: Yeah, pretty much.

Benyamin Cohen: That's tough and to have to play the next day. Geeze.

Dean: Yeah, my back doesn't appreciate it most days.

Benyamin Cohen: And how many days, as a pitcher, do you have to wait between games? Is it like two days or three days?

Dean: It depends. I'm in a starter role which means I pitch every fifth day. So I get four off days in between. In between my games that I pitch but if you're out of the bull pin you can go back to back nights, you can go every two nights, you can go every three nights. It really depends on the situation and how the manager chooses to use you.

Benyamin Cohen: So what's the hardest thing about pitching?

Dean: I'd say it's more of a ... it's the mental side. At least for me it's more difficult. I'd say there are a lot of days where you throw the ball where you want but it's the cat and mouse game between the hitter and the pitcher. Knowing what to throw in what situations and how to get guys out.

Benyamin Cohen: Right.

Dean: I think that's the fun part and the toughest part. The cat and mouse game.

Benyamin Cohen: The mind games, yeah. I know a lot of athletes in general, no matter the sport, they all have strange rituals or habits that they do on game days or during the games. Do you have any of those?

Dean: Me, no. I try to ... I'm not the most superstitious person. I believe every outing or game is independent of the last. So it doesn't matter how you're feeling or you're going to feel different every time you step onto the field. I mean you can try to do as best as you can to feel the same but I mean reality you're never going to feel the same. So you kind of take it with how it is.

Benyamin Cohen: Right.

Dean: Try to prepare yourself.

Benyamin Cohen: I'm assuming your ultimate goal is to pitch in a major league stadium, is that correct?

Dean: Absolutely.

Benyamin Cohen: How do you ... What's the game plan you tell yourself? How do you work to get to that position then?

Dean: Well that's kind of ... for me that's looking too far into the future. If I tried to ... I mean my main goal is to get better every time I step on the mound or I step to the rubber. Or even during days where I don't have to throw off the mound. Just tweaking stuff and mentally working on things. Just to try and get better everyday. That's kind of my main goal. I feel like if I do that and pitch to the best of my ability then things will take care of itself.

Benyamin Cohen: When we return Dean talks about what it was like to make history as the first Israeli to be drafted by a major league baseball team.

Dean: It was a surreal feeling. I'm honored to be in a headline where I'm doing something to honor a country or represent a country and be the first to do something. So it's definitely and honor to do that.

Benyamin Cohen: All that and much more after the break. You may remember a recent episode we had with From the Grapevines resident chef Sarah Berkowitz.

Sarah No, I had an interest in psychology since I was very little. You know I loved the idea of nurturing people and helping them fix their problems and I've really discovered that food has a way of doing that. The act of eating and the cooking for someone is very intimate and I find that it creates a strong bond. It's the kind of gift ... When you give someone homemade food or when you cook a meal for someone it really strengthens your bond. It's more then just food.

Benyamin Cohen: She's made more then 400 recipes for our site and now we're offering something special. Sarah will send one lucky listener her famous cranberry pistachio biscotti and chocolate truffle biscotti. If you want that scrumptious deliciousness sent to your mailbox here's all you need to do. As you've heard me say on the show before the more reviews a podcast has on the iTunes store the easier it is for new listeners to discover the show. So we're asking you, our loyal listeners, to help us out. Head on over to the iTunes store, search for the Our Friend From Israel podcast and write us a review. We'll be looking at those reviews over the next few weeks and for the person who writes us the best review. Sarah will mail a dozen biscotti for you to enjoy. So pull up the iTunes store on your phone or on your computer and show your creativity, help out the show and a box of biscotti could be on its way to your door. We'll name a winner on an upcoming episode of the podcast. Thanks for your help.

Benyamin Cohen: And now back to today's interview with Baltimore Orioles pitcher Dean Kremer.

Benyamin Cohen: So can you tell us where did you grow up?

Dean: I was born and raised in Stockton California.

Benyamin Cohen: And did you always want to play baseball? Was that something you did as a child?

Dean: Yeah, I've been playing baseball since I was four or five years old. Funny story: my dad came ... both my parents came over together from Israel.

Benyamin Cohen: They moved from Israel to the U.S.

Dean: Yeah. My dad came to play. He got a college scholarship to play at the University of Pacific which is in Stockton and when I was born he had just finished his career and he was burnt out on tennis. Didn't want to be anywhere near the courts and there was a little league two, three minutes down the road from our house. So that's kind of how it started.

Benyamin Cohen: So you started playing little league in Stockton California?

Dean: Yeah.

Benyamin Cohen: Were your siblings also into sports?

Dean: Yeah, both my younger bothers they played sports. My middle brother he was more of the tennis with my dad. I mean their almost spitting images of each other but he plays ... we all started out with baseball and soccer in the spring and the fall and then my middle brother branched off to tennis and then my youngest brother he doesn't play baseball anymore he plays soccer.

Benyamin Cohen: Are any of them playing at the same level as you now in their adult life?

Dean: No. They're younger. So my middle brother he is 20. He is in the Israeli Army actually.

Benyamin Cohen: Oh, wow.

Dean: And my youngest brother is a junior in high school and he plays soccer.

Benyamin Cohen: Speaking of your family, I think I read your Great-Uncle is Haim Saban.

Dean: Yep, this is correct.

Benyamin Cohen: The Power Rangers creator.

Dean: Yeah.

Benyamin Cohen: That's pretty funny. It must be funny family get togethers.

Dean: Sometimes yeah.

Benyamin Cohen: So tell us about ... And you grew up in America. Tell us about the first time you went to Israel.

Dean: Well to be honest I can't even remember the first time that I went to Israel. I mean, I was an infant. I go back every year. I try to go at least once a year, see my family and catch up and all that kind of stuff.

Benyamin Cohen: So you still have family there?

Dean: Yeah, everybody except for my parents and my youngest brother now.

Benyamin Cohen: How's your Hebrew? [foreign language 00:18:32]

Dean: No. I'd say I'm fluent. I'm conversational.

Benyamin Cohen: Yeah.

Dean: It's not like English but my Hebrew's decent and then when I go over there it gets better as I get there because my vocabulary gets bigger and that's just being around it. Like when I'm at home too as well it gets better because my parents obviously speak it to me and most of the time I'll return the favor and speak it to them.

Benyamin Cohen: Do you have a favorite Israeli food?

Dean: Yeah, I'd defiantly say falafel.

Benyamin Cohen: Yeah.

Dean: Falafels my favorite food.

Benyamin Cohen: Can you get a good falafel in Bowie Maryland?

Dean: I don't know I haven't tried. I don't really have a car out here so I can't really go out searching.

Benyamin Cohen: Yeah. I got you. Well, Baltimore has a big community. I'm assuming they have some good Israeli restaurants in there.

Dean: I hope so.

Benyamin Cohen: So speaking of Israel in 2015, if I recall correctly, you were just 19 years old and you became the first Israeli player to be drafted by a major league team, right?

Dean: Yes.

Benyamin Cohen: So what was that like? How did it feel being part of such a historic moment?

Dean: It was a surreal feeling. I'm honored to be in a headline where I'm doing something to honor a country or represent a country and be the first to do something. So it's definitely and honor to do that.

Benyamin Cohen: Right. It was very ... I'm sure it was a very proud moment for your parents.

Dean: Yeah. I mean just to professional baseball was a huge achievement for me and my parents were very proud of me and doing that. I mean it was an added bonus that I was the first Israeli.

Benyamin Cohen: Right. So you pitched for team Israel at the World Baseball Classic last year and I remember reading. It was a Cinderella style underdog story. I loved the way ESPN described your team as and I'm going to quote here "Essentially the Mighty Ducks, Hickory High, and the Jamaican Bobsled team all rolled into one." I mean you guys beat Korea, China, Cuba, The Netherlands. That must have been a really meaningful experience for you.

Dean: Yeah, it was an awesome experience. I couldn't replace it with anything. We had a great group of guys. The team chemistry was unbelievable. We're just going out there and having fun every day. Also we're able to get the chance to see Korea and fortunate enough to see Japan as well and those two awesome countries.

Benyamin Cohen: Well both of those countries, especially Japan, are baseball crazy countries. You know, that's like the countries number one sport.

Dean: Yeah, it's a totally different game out there. Everybody's really, really respectful. Being in the Tokyo Dome and how it echos in there and every seat in the stands is full and when they're up to bat each player has their own song that everybody in the stands sing. Or like they have like their own chant and their screaming at the top of their lungs and then when we're hitting it's not that it's quiet it's like they let us go about our business the way we need to and there is no trash talking and hateful slurs and all that kind of stuff. It was an amazing experience.

Benyamin Cohen: We're you guys accepted over there, the Israeli team?

Dean: Yeah, absolutely.

Benyamin Cohen: My wife and I were in Japan a couple years ago and we went to a baseball game there and you're right it is a ... I mean it's probably equivalent of going to like a football game in America. They are so devoted and it's just a fun ...

Dean: Yeah, minus the drunk people.

Benyamin Cohen: Yeah. They serve beer but you're right it was much more behaved crowd I'd say.

Benyamin Cohen: If you're looking for more episodes of Our Friend From Israel head on over to fromthegrapevine.com One episode we'd recommend is our interview with Brian Blum the author of a book about an Israeli start up called Better Place and it's charismatic young CEO Shai Agassi.

Benyamin Cohen: I think I read in your book he was also a competitive poker player with Ben Affleck and Toby Maguire and he ran in their circles.

Brian Blum: I would think that he ran in those circles but he used to sometimes play in the World Series of Poker which took place in Las Vegas and at some point Ben Affleck and Toby Maguire were also in those World Series of Pokers. Shai won a few small but decent sized pots as part of his poker playing but he gave that up actually when he started Better Place. When Better Place went out of business actually he went back and played a little poker and won a little bit more.

Benyamin Cohen: Look for that episode at ourfriendfromisrael.com.

Benyamin Cohen: And now back to today's interview with Baltimore Oriels pitcher Dean Kremer.

Benyamin Cohen: Speaking of countries and the sports and the countries Israel is really known for being a basketball country maybe a soccer country. Why do you think baseball hasn't taken off and do you think it is going to be taking off there?

Dean: Why I don't think baseball has taken off. I'd say it's a little slow for the Israeli taste. That'd be my best guess but I mean once you really get to know the game and you get to play it. It's not as slow as you think as your watching. And do I think it's going to take off. Yeah, absolutely. There's a ... they're doing a really good job over there of starting to make it grow and there's a group of ... So there's a group of guys around my age, a little bit younger all the way up until like 30s, and those guys are starting to pass the torch off to a younger group. Which are anywhere between 9 and ... 8 or 9 to about 14 and I believe when that group starts getting older is really when baseball is going to be peaking over there.

Benyamin Cohen: So in the next few years you think.

Dean: Yeah within the next five, half decade.

Benyamin Cohen: Yeah. Are they developing players over there? Is there a grassroots excitement for the game?

Dean: Yeah. I read somewhere that it's gone from like a thousand players to like 2,500 players within the span of a year and a half or two years or something like that. I definitely think it's going to catch on and get bigger. Especially if Israel keeps making its name in headlines with baseball next to it.

Benyamin Cohen: And so that's were Israel's going to be in five or ten years. Where do you hope to be in five or ten years if I called you up and had another conversation with you in five or ten years. Where do you think you'll be?

Dean: Hopefully in the big leagues or still playing ball somewhere. That's kind of my ultimate goal, to play this as long as I can and just do the best that I can.

Benyamin Cohen: Can you think as far ahead as, you know, past baseball; retirement what you'd want to do?

Dean: When I'm done playing I could definitely see myself sticking around the game. Whether it's here in the pro atmosphere or in Israel trying to help develop younger guys but I can definitely see myself sticking around the games.

Benyamin Cohen: This is a question I like to ask all the people I interview. Is there any question that I didn't ask you that I should have asked you?

Dean: I don't really think so. I don't know, that's the first one ... this is the first time I've ever come across that.

Benyamin Cohen: Was there anything else you want to add before we sign off for today's episode?

Dean: I'm happy to be, I don't want to say the torch bearer but honored and fortunate enough to be the first to do something and I'm going to try and do the best I can to represent my families name as well as the whole country of Israel in the sport of baseball.

Benyamin Cohen: That's a great philosophy and a great way to conclude our conversation. Dean I really appreciate you taking the time. I know as you said you have an extremely packed schedule and traveling and I appreciate you taking the time to stop by and chat with us today.

Dean: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Benyamin Cohen: Alright, take care.

Dean: Alright, you too.

Benyamin Cohen: Our Friend From Israel is production fromthegrapevine.com. Extra notes and a transcript of today's episode can be found at ourfriendfromisrael.com. Want behind the scenes access to the show, including sneak peeks of future episodes? Join the Our Friend from Israel Facebook group. Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Play or your favorite podcast app.

Benyamin Cohen: If you haven't already please leave us a review on the iTunes store, it only takes a minute and when you do it helps others discover Our Friend from Israel and remember were teaming up with our resident chef Sarah Berkowitz to mail a dozen of here delicious biscotti to the person who writes us the best review on iTunes. So head on over to the iTunes store search for Our Friend from Israel and enter your review of our show.

Benyamin Cohen: Our show is produced by Paul Kasko, editorial help from Jamie Bender, our head engineer is Everett Adams, our theme music is by Haim Mazar, a Hollywood film composer who grew up in Israel. You can visit our website at ourfriendfromisrael.com to find more episodes of the show and if you have an idea for future guest that we should interview send me an email at bcohen@fromthegrapevine.com.

Benyamin Cohen: I'm your Benyamin Cohen and until next time we hope you have a great week.

MORE FROM THE GRAPEVINE:

Photos and SlideshowsPhotos and Slideshows

Related Topics: Sports

Episode 18: Dean Kremer, first Israeli to be drafted into Major League Baseball
Traded from the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Baltimore Orioles, the up-and-coming pitcher opens up on living the life of a professional athlete and what it was li