If you’ve ever participated in a free Taglit-Birthright Israel trip with Israel Outdoors, you know that Departure Day can bring a mix of emotions – excitement, anxiety, nervousness – the list goes on. It’s like the first day of school combined with the beginning of an experience of a lifetime.
But unless you’re a professional athlete, you probably can’t begin to imagine how Jake Lemmerman felt on December 12th, 2012. In a day that Lemmerman says he will remember for the rest of his life, he departed for Israel and learned he was about to be traded to the St. Louis Cardinals…yeah, the baseball team.
“I was getting on a train in New York and got a call from my teammate,” Lemmerman told Israel Outdoors after returning to the US. “He asked me if I had been traded. I didn’t know what he was talking about. Then I checked my Twitter account, and all of a sudden I had 800 new followers.”
Lemmerman, a 23-year old shortstop who was in the high levels of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ minor league system, made a few more calls. After speaking with a Dodgers executive he learned that it was true – nothing was finalized, but a trade was seemingly in the works. The executive advised Lemmerman to stay by his phone for further updates. That was easier said than done, considering Lemmerman was set to depart for Israel in just eight hours to begin his ten day adventure.
Although it was Lemmerman’s first time in Israel, he had actually already played for Israel. Just months earlier, he played for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic Qualifying Round. Baseball’s equivalent to soccer’s World Cup, Israel had been invited to participate in the qualifiers for the first time, and made it all the way to the final game. The tournament’s rules require that a country’s players be eligible for that country’s citizenship, meaning any Jewish players were allowed to represent Israel. Lemmerman found himself playing with former major leaguers Shawn Green, Gabe Kapler, and for manager Brad Ausmus, an 18-year MLB veteran. The rest of the roster was made up of other minor leaguers like Jeremy Gould, who played in the New York Mets’ minor league system and joined Lemmerman on his Birthright Israel trip.
Lemmerman and Gould now had the chance to see and learn about the country they had represented on the international stage.
“I was excited,” says Lemmerman. “Israel Outdoors seemed like the type of trip I wanted, but I really didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t have any idea what the trip would be like. It was amazing.”
In trying to pinpoint his favorite part of the trip, Lemmerman rattles off a list of highlights ranging from floating in the Dead Sea to visiting the Western Wall. But if there’s one place he relates to most, it’s Tel Aviv.
“I love Tel Aviv,” said the Southern California native. “I was born on the beach and want to live on the beach my whole life. I could see myself there [Tel Aviv].”
For now, though, he’s back in the US. While traveling in Israel he did receive a text message with final confirmation that the trade to the Cardinals had been finalized. He just doesn’t know exactly where he’ll be playing and living. That will hinge on whether or not he has a chance to immediately play for the Cardinals in St. Louis, or if he’ll continue to try to work his way up with one of the team’s minor league affiliates.
He’s certain, though, that he would welcome the opportunity to play for Team Israel in four years.
“I would love to play for Team Israel again. Hopefully there will be another chance. Even if there’s not, I’ll definitely be back in Israel.”