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Orioles rookie Dean Kremer and his Israeli-American heritage already a hit with Baltimore’s Jewish community

Bryan Putman didn’t know much about Dean Kremer before the Orioles rookie’s dazzling debut Sunday against the New York Yankees.

When the 13-year-old southpaw from Ellicott City found out that Kremer, who was born to Israeli parents in California and is the first Israeli-American pitcher in the big leagues, was Jewish just like him, his excitement level grew.

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“I’ve always wanted to be a professional baseball player, and I want to do something in sports,” Bryan said. “Him being able to do something that hasn’t been done before is something that can help motivate me and other people to start doing stuff that they didn’t think was possible.”

For generations, such inspiration came from Sandy Koufax. Bryan only knows about him from a book, one that seems well-worn.

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“I’m just happy that I can see someone like him play in real life," he said.

As much as Kremer’s debut made Orioles fans buzz over the prospect of a viable starting pitcher being in the rotation for years to come, the excitement in the local Jewish community — where the Orioles are already popular — was even higher.

“This is absolutely a fantastic thing,” said William Putman, Bryan’s father. “A lot of times in sports these days, you don’t get to relate to individual players so much. But having someone like Dean here on a local team that you can follow closely is pretty nice. It’s pretty cool.”

Kremer’s heritage has earned him plenty of attention since his start Sunday. On the postgame video conference, several reporters based in Israel participated to hear him talk about his debut. Kremer, 24, has represented Israel at several levels, including the World Baseball Classic.

He tries to go to Israel, where his parents still have family, at least once every year, and conducted most of a video call this week with Israeli media in Hebrew.

Catcher Ryan Lavarnway, who became an Israeli citizen in November, became the first Israeli-American player in the majors earlier this summer when he was called up by the Miami Marlins. Kremer wasn’t far behind, and because there wasn’t a minor league season to be following for Orioles fans tracking when he might join the major league team, it took some in the local Jewish community by surprise.

Once he got on the mound, word of his background spread quickly.

“You saw, throughout the day, a number of Jewish organizations here in Baltimore and also nationally were sharing posts about him being the first Israeli-American pitcher in the majors,” said Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council.

Were fans allowed at Camden Yards this year, Libit guessed that there would be synagogue men’s groups or community organizations trying to organize a way to be at his next home start. As a partial plan holder with Sunday tickets throughout the season, he likely would have been at Kremer’s debut himself.

The team’s acknowledgment of their Jewish fans and inclusion of them in the form of a kosher food stand at Camden Yards has helped strengthen the connection between the club and that community. So too has the fact that several Jewish players have competed for the team in recent years, including Richard Bleier, Danny Valencia and Scott Feldman.

Libit said all were highlighted by local Jewish media, and all were points of pride for the local Jewish community.

With Kremer, he said “there’s a little something extra because he’s Israeli, but I think the Jewish community here will feel pride in any Jewish ballplayer who has success with the Orioles.”

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“He’s only had one start so far here,” Libit said. “We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves. But if he establishes himself as a member of this team and starts having success, I think there’s going to be a lot of interest from synagogues and other Jewish organizations to reach out to see if he can be a speaker, see if he can make visits to Jewish day schools on off days, that kind of thing.

"I think there’s a tremendous opportunity here for him to inspire the young Jewish ballplayers as well as others in the community, to build more enthusiasm for the Orioles and for his career.”

For Bryan Putman, there’s already been plenty of inspiration. The young ballplayer did a special edition of his podcast to talk about Kremer’s debut, and connects with the role his faith plays in his life.

One of the things Bryan admired most about Koufax was his decision not to pitch in his scheduled start of Game 1 of the 1965 World Series to observe Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for those who observe Judaism.

In the past, Kremer has said he would do the same. Asked as much in his interview with Israeli media, he said he “probably wouldn’t pitch on Yom Kippur,” which this year falls on the last day of the season. His next start is Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, meaning those Jewish fans who observe the Shabbat won’t be able to follow along live.

If the Orioles keep their rotation intact after that, he wouldn’t be in line to pitch on Yom Kippur, nor on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.

Bryan, though, has to miss a travel baseball game next weekend for Rosh Hashana. He’s heartened to see a major leaguer on his local team who would make the same decision.

Though baseball isn’t a high-profile sport in Israel, Kremer’s high standing in the local Jewish community won’t be anything new considering how he’s regarded in his parent’s homeland. One start into his major league career, he was asked by Israeli media where he rated himself in the nation’s history of professional athletes.

“I think I could be anywhere,” Kremer said. “Although baseball is an unfamiliar sport and now growing in Israel a lot more, I think in the baseball world it’s significant. But overall, I think it’s going to open some doors for Israeli kids to come over here and play and eventually make their way into the major leagues.”

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