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On Yom Kippur Jews ask, is Dean Kremer the new Sandy Koufax?

Imagine being a 24-year-old starting pitcher, having been called up to the show less than three weeks ago, playing four games, and already drawing comparisons to Sandy Koufax.

Meet Baltimore’s Dean Kremer.

In his first big league season, Kremer (1-1, 4.82 ERA), a right-hander for the Orioles, has pitched 18⅔ innings in four games. He’s given up 10 earned runs on 15 hits, with 22 strikeouts, 12 walks, and zero home runs. He allowed only one earned run in each of his first three starts before struggling against Boston last Wednesday.

It’s much too soon to tell how Kremer’s baseball career will compare to Koufax’s extraordinary career line of 165-87, 2.76 ERA, and 2,396 strikeouts. But Kremer’s Jewish and Israeli heritage is quickly drawing many comparisons.

In 1965, Sandy Koufax, while not Israeli, made the well-known decision to sit out of Game 1 of the World Series because it fell on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. He had never pitched on the holiday throughout his whole career and regarded the decision as an easy one.

“It was a thing of respect,” he told ESPN in 2000.

Koufax instead started games 2, 5, and 7 — on two days rest — to lead the Los Angeles Dodgers to the World Series championship.

As with Koufax, Kremer has said that he would not pitch on Yom Kippur.

He was born in Stockton, California, to two Israeli parents who moved to America after serving in the IDF. He has dual citizenship in Israel and America and lives in Israel for two months every year to visit family. Kremer is fluent in Hebrew and English and has conducted many interviews with Israeli media entirely in Hebrew. All four of his grandparents live in Israel, as does one of his two younger brothers.

In the 2015 Major League Baseball (MLB) Draft, Kremer became the first Israeli citizen to be drafted by an MLB team. At 19 years old, he was selected by the San Diego Padres in the 38th round.

“I’d love to be the person to get Israel baseball on the map,” Kremer said after his selection.

But Kremer instead chose to play for the University of Nevada for a year before being selected by the Dodgers in the 14th round of the 2016 Draft. That time, he signed for $147,500.

Before and throughout his minor league career, Kremer also participated in baseball competitions in Israel and globally. He played for the U.S. team in the Maccabiah Games in Israel during the summer of 2013, and for Team Israel in the 2014 European Championships. He led all pitchers in the tournament in wins, Earned Run Average (ERA), and strikeouts.

Peter Kurz, President of the Israel Association of Baseball, first met Kremer in that summer of 2013 during the Maccabiah Games. “I spoke to him, I spoke to his parents and they said, ‘Yeah, he can come the following summer,’” Kurz said. “And that following summer, he was the best pitcher in the tournament. And the following year we went to the European Championship [in 2015] and he was the best pitcher in that tournament.”

As Kremer kept dominating his opponents with his low-90s MPH fastball, Team Israel advanced to the 2017 World Baseball Classic qualifier. Israel moved on to the Classic, where Kremer was the youngest player on the team at 20 years old. Israel finished in 6th place.

As Kremer’s stock was rising, the Dodgers were looking to add talent at the MLB level, and Kremer was their No. 27 prospect. On July 18, 2018, the Dodgers traded Kremer, among other players, to the Baltimore Orioles for four-time all-star Manny Machado. Kremer called the trade “expected but unexpected,” as he hadn’t pitched in a game for two weeks before the trade became official.

Dean Kremer playing for the Baltimore Orioles

Dean Kremer playing for the Baltimore Orioles Image by Baltimore Orioles

Kremer’s stock began to improve in his 2018 minor league season. He played nine games at the AA level for the first time and had a 2.88 ERA on the year, leading the minors in strikeouts with 178. He was eventually promoted to AAA during the 2019 season and played in the Arizona Fall League after the season ended, where he was named an all-star.

Going into the 2020 season, Kremer was the Orioles’ No. 10 prospect. He was added to the 40-man roster and was making an impression on his organization in spring training.

“I was really impressed with Dean,” said Orioles manager, Brandon Hyde, to the Baltimore Sun after one of his starts. “I like the life to his fastball; I like the aggressiveness. Like Keegan [Akin], he’s got a nice curveball. Threw some really good cutters. I thought Dean looked like he’d been out there before.”

When the coronavirus hit the sports world, baseball eventually restarted using 60-man player pools. A team is only allowed to have those 60 players to choose from throughout the season, and those 60 are the only players permitted to train with the organization, either with the major league ball club or at its alternate training site. Kremer was initially left off the player pool, but then got added in July.

Then, he got called up to the show.

Kremer called it a “dream come true.”

“He did a tremendous job,” said his catcher, Bryan Holaday.

Hyde has been even more impressed with Kremer throughout his first big league season. “You never really know how someone’s gonna react until they’re pitching in a big-league stadium, and I think that he’s a real confident guy that trusts his stuff … I’m looking forward for next year.”

And next year is one step closer, as Kremer confirmed to the Forward that he’s done for the year after his last outing.

Hyde said that a young pitcher like Kremer would have to spend the offseason refining what he has. “With any young pitcher, it’s improving on your command of four pitches, get better and better with every start, and take this into this offseason.”

Kremer’s impressive pitching ability has stood out. However, for comparisons to Koufax to come to fruition, Kremer, like Koufax, wants to be someone Jewish and Israeli kids can look up to.

(The Dodger’s senior publicist said Koufax appreciates the interest in him, but declined to be interviewed for this story.)

“I know that the higher I go up, the more impact I can make over there [in Israel], making that side of the game grow,” Kremer told The Sun.

“He comes out to Israel at least once or twice a year,” Kurz explained. “And the first thing he does is he goes out to the Baptist Village, which is where our main field is. He works there with the young guys; they all know him out there, and the kids have been following his career since he was 17, 18 years old.”

“It’s awesome to be able to hold the torch, so to speak, for guys like me,” Kremer told MiLB.com. “There is a list, and it’s growing every year. We’re just showing the kids over there that it’s possible.”

Hershel “Sammy” Rabinowitz attends Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C. and is an avid Washington Nationals fan.

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