For nearly a decade, Baltimore Orioles right-handed starting pitcher Dean Kremer has been the face of Israel’s national baseball team.
During the 2017 World Baseball Classic, Kremer was the youngest player (20) on Team Israel, but as the first-ever Israeli American to be selected in the MLB draft and later play in the big leagues — he was first picked by the San Diego Padres in 2015 but ultimately went to UNLV for a year before getting drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016 — is quick to point out his involvement with the up-and-coming program predates his WBC debut in 2017. It was, in fact, in 2014, merely several years removed from his bar mitzvah, that the native of Stockton, Calif., represented his parents’ home country on the global stage when he anchored the pitching staff for Team Israel in the European Championship qualifiers.
After dominating for a second consecutive summer in the 2015 Euro Championship qualifiers for Team Israel and later toeing the rubber for the Israelis during the 2017 WBC, Kremer this decade has established himself as a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter for an Orioles team whose current edition is unexpectedly contending for a World Series title, while being on pace to crack 100 wins – a feat that was never accomplished in Baltimore during the Cal Ripken Jr. years. Certainly, two years ago, when Baltimore nosedived to a 52-110 finish, there wasn’t much talk of the franchise contending in the near future. But at this hour, as October looms, should the Braves capture the National League pennant, the O’s stand as the favorite to be their opponent in the Fall Classic.
“To the Orioles who have struggled the past few years and then when we started turning it around last year, we were heavily doubted, saying last year was a fluke,” said Kremer, who was acquired by the Orioles in a 2018 trade from the Dodgers. “Trying to prove it otherwise this year.”
Both Kremer and the Orioles had a rough 2021. The 27-year-old, who has dual American and Israeli citizenship, speaks fluent Hebrew, and makes regular off-season visits to Israel, where most of his extended family lives, posted an 0-7 record with a 7.55 ERA two summers ago. But a bounce-back 2022 season for both Kremer (8-7, 3.23 ERA) and Baltimore (83-79), one marked by modifications made to the hitter-friendly dimensions of their home ballpark, Camden Yards, has given way to a 2023 campaign that has seen Kremer atop the American League wins leaders and Baltimore in the thick of the AL pennant race.
“I don’t know about one thing in particular,” Kremer responded when asked if there’s one thing he can attribute to the drastic two-year improvement. “It’s just been gradually trying to get better every year. Whether that be stuff or mechanics or just everything in general, scouting. Just kind of a process.”
To be sure, looking over his shoulder and seeing a left-field wall that is nearly 27 feet farther away and six feet taller than it was in seasons past hasn’t hurt.
“I think it gives you a little bit more comfort at our place to be able to pitch without worrying about giving up homers left and right on balls that shouldn’t be,” added Kremer, who, before pitching for Team Israel, represented the United States in the 2013 Maccabiah Games.
Kremer, like virtually every other big-league pitcher this decade, is no stranger to taking the hill amidst an evolving stadium backdrop as his first taste of Major League Baseball was during the 2020 COVID season when ballparks were desolate edifices.
“I would like to say that it [summer 2020] was a nice ease into the big leagues since there were no fans and it was basically just a competitive intersquad game almost with no people there,” said Kremer. “It kind of brought me back to my redshirt days at junior college where I had to throw an intersquad game every Monday against our starting position players.”
If the Orioles, as expected, play deep into October in pursuit of their first World Series title in 40 years, Camden Yards promises to be packed to the brim with a boisterous crowd – truthfully, a rarity during regular season games for as long as Kremer has been in Baltimore.
“I’m definitely looking forward to it,” Kremer said about the impending electric atmosphere at the old-timey/trailblazing ballpark. “I really hope I don’t hear it. Hopefully, I’m in my own world out there on the mound like I usually am to not let that affect me in any way.”
World Series parade or not, Kremer will be headed back to Israel this winter for his annual two-week off-season visit. In addition to catching up with family and friends, perhaps enlightening some on baseball happenings, he will also show off his newfound cooking skills that he has developed while carving up American League East lineups.
“It [cooking] was something that came about in 2020 over COVID and I moved out of my parents’ house shortly after,” said Kremer, who specializes in serving up Israeli, Italian, Japanese, and Chinese dishes and even has an Instagram account for the endeavor, @offseason_bites. “I was fortunate my mom cooked dinner for us every night basically. It was something that she’s really good at and something that I like to do as well now. Every dish is kind of like a challenge for me, where I look at a recipe or gather similar recipes and put them together and come up with a meal that people get to enjoy.”
Outside of family gatherings, Kremer walks around Israel as a stranger – a testament to baseball’s still-nascent popularity in the country he represents every week when he takes the hill for the Orioles.
“In Israel, it [baseball] is definitely growing,” said Kremer, who was the ace for Team Israel’s pitching staff during last spring’s WBC. “There’s a lot more kids playing and a lot more kids involved. Here, there’s a lot more people around pro ball – Jewish baseball players that want to participate in those kinds of games.
“The kids that I’ll see and the kids that are around the baseball atmosphere there [Israel] are definitely intrigued, but outside of that, like walking around on a normal street, I’ll never get recognized. It’s not big enough there – yet. Hopefully one day.”