Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson and Dean Kremer?!

The first four are the Baltimore Orioles pitchers from my childhood who accomplished the unimaginable—these four were 20-game winners in a single season—1971.  Dean Kremer?  Well..there is no way he can win 20 games in a season, given the 2020 season only has 60 games!  We are proud of Dean, nonetheless.

I have been following Dean Kremer, the Israel Baseball player for many years. Now, he is Oriole, bringing pride to Baltimore baseball fans, Jewish and non-Jewish alike.  WJZ-TV in Baltimore captured the excitement with its headline before his first MLB start against the New York Yankees: 

Mazel Tov! Orioles’ Dean Kremer Becomes 1st Israeli to Reach Majors, Debuts Sunday Against Yankees”

Kremer came to the Orioles as part of the Manny Machado trade in 2017. He almost reached the big leagues last season with his 3.72 ERA and 122 strikeouts over 113 2/3 innings across three levels of minor league baseball.  He went 9-4 in 15 starts with Double-A Bowie, and went as far as AAA.

According to WJZ, he assumes the roster position of pitcher David Hess, who was optioned Saturday night, and took the rotation spot of Asher Wojciechowski.  Kremer debuted on Sept. 6 against the New York Yankees.  He allowed only one run and one hit, struck out seven batters in 6 innings and was credited with the win as the O’s beat the Yanks 5-1.

Kremer pitched 5 more innings vs. the Yanks on September 12 with 7 more strikeouts.  His third start was against the Devil Rays on September 17, where he pitched 5 innings and had 6 more strike outs. Kremer didn't factor into the decision in the first game of Thursday's doubleheader against the Rays, giving up one run on three hits and three walks. Kremer reported, “I didn’t have my best stuff today, but I really needed to compete,” Kremer said. “They put eight lefties in the lineup so it took me a while to get my breaking ball going. It’s a good thing I had my cutter to get me through, but it was definitely a day where I had to grind through each at-bat.”

 His ERA is currently an impressively low 1.69. 

The Orioles are officially out of the pennant race.  Kremer faces the Boston Red Sox’s Nathan Eovaldi (3-2) in Boston tonight, his final start of the season.

Kremer was born in Stockton, California to Israeli parents and is the first Israeli to sign with an MLB team.   He was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 38th round of the 2015 Major League Baseball Draft.  He chose not to sign. He was drafted again–by the Los Angeles Dodgers–in the 14th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball draft.

Kremer previously pitched for the Team USA baseball team in the 2013 Maccabiah Games in Israel, where the team won the gold medal.  In 2014 and 2015, Kremer pitched for Israel in the qualifying for the European Baseball Championship, where he received the Most Valuable Pitcher award. He also pitched in September 2016 in the qualifier for Israel at the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

We are excited to watch Dean Kremer continue to accomplish great things—both in the MLB and for Israel.  Fellow Californian and Team Israel teammate, Ryan Lavarnway, proudly wears double chai (#36) for the Florida Marlins, where the 33-year-old has served as backup catcher and had 4 hits in 11 at bats.  Lavarnway was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in 2008, and has played for several major league teams, with a career .215 average in 419 at bats. (see my 2019  Jerusalem Post article about Ryan!

Go Dean and Ryan!

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Rosh Hashanah featured major changes, some sadness, and even a possible miracle.

Rosh Hashanah was just different this year, regardless of your level of observance, preferred place of worship, or at home customs.  Services took place on Zoom, they took place outdoors, they were shorter, socially distanced, they featured shofar blowers in various neighborhoods, and there were no big festive meals.

And Jews woke to the sad news that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died Erev Rosh Hashanah (Friday) from complications of metastatic cancer at the age of 87

But there was also a happy story—perhaps even of a miracle—which may have slipped by without notice this Rosh Hashanah.  Diego Schwartzman, a very nice, proudly Jewish 28-year-old professional tennis player from Argentina, stunned Rafael Nadal in straight sets on Saturday at the Internazionali BNL D’Italia Italian Open tennis tournament in Rome.  True, he wasn’t in synagogue this Rosh Hashanah, but there is a parallel between Schwartzman’s actions, and the story Jews who were in synagogue were reading. 

On the first day or Rosh Hashanah, we read about Abraham and Sarah, and the birth of Isaac, after many years of waiting.   Maimonides, the famous rabbi and commentator from the Middle Ages, notes that Abraham had to undergo 10 trials or tests from God.  Two of the tests are alluded to in this reading:  God tells Abraham to send Hagar (Sarah’s maidservant) away after having a child with her, and he becomes estranged from his first son, Ishmael. 

Abraham’s 10th and final test is the story we read on the 2nd day of Rosh Hashanah—the Binding of Isaac, when God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac on the altar, then calls him off after he passes the test.

I don’t think Schwartzman (#15) was thinking about this story while on the clay with Nadal (#2).  But, he, too survived his 10th test—he beat Rafa after losing their nine previous matches.  Schwartzman’s Rosh Hashanah miracle was beating Rafa 6-2, 7-5 in just over two hours in the quarterfinals of the Italian Open.  Nadal is ranked No. 2 in the world; Schwartzman is 15th.  Schwartzman excitedly said, “For sure, it’s my best match ever.  I played a few times against the three big champions in tennis. I never beat them until today. I’m very happy.”

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, Schwarzman defeated Denis Shapovalov, the 21-year-old Canadian, who was born in Tel Aviv.  Schwartzman won Sunday’s semifinals match, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (4).

Today, Schwartzman squared off against world #1, Novak Djokovic, in the finals.  What a difference a few days and weeks makes.  I wrote in the Jerusalem Post about Schwartzman’s shocking first round loss in the US Open. And every news outlet in the world covered the story of Djokovic being  disqualified from the US Open just a week ago for unintentionally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball.

Djokovic has beaten Schwartzman in all four previous matches before today’s finals—though Schwarzman took Djoker to five sets in the 2017 French Open.  And he took him to 3 sets in last year’s Rome semifinals.  In today’s finals, Djokovic defeated Schwartzman 7-5, 6-3. 

Schwartzman may not have been in shul this year, then again, who was?!  Thank you, Diego, for bringing us so much pleasure this Rosh Hashanah.  They say that what happens on Rosh Hashanah is a siman, a sign of what is to come this year.  Best wishes for a sweet, successful year on and off the court, Diego!

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I have tennis on my mind 24/7 these days!   Yesterday, I was delighted to have two tennis articles published in the Jerusalem Post—one featuring Israeli tennis legend, Andy Ram, and the other featuring American Jewish tennis player, Noah Rubin, who is making a name for himself on the court and off, with his Behind the Racquet series, where he has helped more than 50 professional tennis players share their stories of challenges, mental health issues, etc. (I couldn't resist sharing my photo with Andy Ram from the Davis Cup in Florida a few years back–and the photo from a US Open media tournament!)

I have been thinking about tennis since the very exciting, albeit with no fans or media US Open, which just came to a close. I was lucky enough to have a good number of articles published in the Jerusalem Post; while Noah Rubin made it “in,” my final US Open wrap up piece didn’t make it—this happens sometimes given the time frame between writing and publishing—especially with Israel 7 hours ahead of the US!  The never published piece—which references the extremely exciting Zverev/Thiem match, Osaka/Azarekna, Wheelchair Tennis, and the upcoming French Open—scheduled to take place with fans—is in italics below.

Tennis is also on my mind since I have been lucky enough to play 3 or 4 times a week these past few weeks.  It seems that tennis’ popularity really IS on the rise.  In a pre-US Open blog, I noted that racket and balls sales are up in recent months—tennis IS the social socially distant sport—unlike basketball or football or so many other sports, it is possible to socialize while maintaining a safe distance while playing tennis.  

It has been especially fun to play on public courts with so many different partners, from so many different backgrounds.  It is fun going to the local pubic courts and watching parents introducing children to the game on one court, while pros give lessons on other courts, and old friends play on yet other courts.  Let’s hope the weather holds out for outdoor tennis—just a few more weeks!  Perhaps by then, indoor courts will open somewhere, and the grass growing through the public park cracks will die—just in time for next season!


US OPEN WRAP UP—by Howard Blas

Another US Open, albeit an unusual one, is in the books.  No. 5 Alexander Zverev and No. 2 Dominic Thiem walked out on the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium at 4:17 pm New York time to battle it for the winner’s trophy and top prize of $3 million ($1,500,000 for the runner up).   Zverev raced off to a two set lead and appeared to be on track to quickly defeat Thiem, despite Thiem leading the head-to-heads, 7-2, including a 3-0 edge in the majors.  At the 2020 Australian Open, Thiem met Zverev in the semis and said, “I know what Sascha is capable of.  The last match we had in Australia, we were both, I mean, really, really good. It was such a close match.”

Three hours later, Thiem learned what Thiem is capable of!  Thiem battled back to win the greatest comeback in US finals history, winning 26, 46, 64, 63, 76 (8-6) in four hours, two minutes and becoming the first US Open finalists to come back to win from two sets down.  Thiem experienced right leg cramps in the tie breaker, but managed his fastest served of the match at 132 MPH, while encountering two Zverev double faults and a weak 68 MPH second serve.

In the post-match interview, Zverev said, “It was a tough battled.  I wished you would have missed a little more and I would be holding the trophy.”   He then began crying in describing his parents’ absence from the tournament due to a positive Covid test.

Thiem responded, “I wish we could have had two winners today.  We both deserved it.”

Prior to today’s match, the most significant feature of this year’s US Open finals was that it didn’t feature anyone named Nadal, Federer or Djokovic.  At the start of the tournament, 17-time Grand Slam champion, Novak Djokovic, appeared on track to be the easy tournament winner.  The tennis world was stunned when he was defaulted in the fourth round last Sunday after hitting a ball in frustration that struck a line judge in the throat on the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium. This was truly a US Open for the record books.

On Saturday, No. 4 seed, Naomi Osaka trailing by a set and a break, battled back for an incredible 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory over former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka to win the women's singles title.  Osaka, 22, captured the 2018 US Open under very different circumstances. Serena Williams, who lost in this year’s semifinals, was penalized a game for calling the chair umpire a “thief” during a protracted argument, with play delayed and fans booing.  Osaka ultimately won, 6-2, 6-4 for her first Grand Slam title.

At the conclusion of yesterdays’ match, Osaka recounts, “I feel like two years ago, I maybe would have folded being down a set and a break, but I think, all the matches that I played in between that time shaped me and made me or forced me to mature more. Especially all the matches that I've played here were very tough. I think definitely I'm more of a complete player now. I feel like I'm more aware of what I'm doing.”

Azarenka, the 31-year-old Belarussian, who reached her last Grand Slam final seven years ago, and spent several years in a complex custody battle over 4-year-old son, Leo, was proud of her performance while also paying proper tribute to Osaka.  “I did everything I could today. Could I have played better? I think I could. But I left everything I could on the court today. She won the match. All the credit to Naomi. She's a champion.”

Osaka is the first woman to rally from a set down to win the singles championship match since Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in 1994. She is also the first Asian player to win three Grand Slam singles titles, breaking the tie she held with China’s Li Na.  Osaka’s father, Leonard Francois, is Haitian-born, and mother, Tamaki Osaka, is Japanese. 

Osaka has made headlines these past few weeks for taking a stand on social justice issues. 

Naomi Osaka wore masks featuring names of Black victims of police brutality and racial injustice throughout the entirety of her U.S. Open run. Her masks honored the memories of Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Philando Castile and Tamir Rice. 

In the Western & Southern Open tournament leading up to the US Open, also played on the grounds of the US Open, Osaka followed the lead of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks basketball team, who walked off the court before a playoff game against the Orlando Magic, setting off a two-day sports blackout.  Osaka’s boycott and wiliness to forfeit lead to the tournament taking a brief break before resuming.

At a press conference following her US Open final victory, a reporter noted that Osaka has been receiving thank you messages from some of the families of those killed and asked if she would be willing to meet with families and talk with them once the tennis season is over.  Osaka replied, “Yeah, I mean, definitely. I feel like for me I learn more through experiences. Everyone sort of thinks they know, or I actually don't want to know how they're feeling or how they felt during the process. For me, I feel like sharing stories and hearing people's experiences is very valuable.”

With Osaka’s US Open victory, she returns to the Top 3 in the world rankings.

This year’s US Open featured men’s and women’s doubles and wheelchair tournaments, but not mixed doubles or juniors.  The USTA originally planned to not feature wheelchair tennis this year in an effort to keep the number of people onsite to a minimum; ultimately, they relented and hosted men’s and women’s wheelchair singles and doubles and quads singles and doubles.

Shingo Kunieda, the No. 1 seed form Japan, won the U.S. Open men's wheelchair singles title, defeating Alfie Hewett 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (3) in a 2 hour 54-minute marathon.

In a press conference with USTA CEO Mike Dowse and US Open tournament director Stacey Allaster, held just three hours before the historic men’s finals, the two reflected on the tournament, lessons learned and the upcoming French Open. They were proud of their decision to carefully and thoughtfully proceed with the tournament.  Dowse reports, “We really established some guiding principles at the beginning. The first one was could we do it in a healthy and safe way for everyone. That included the players, the staff, even the local community here in New York.  The second guiding principle was is this good for the sport of tennis, will it reignite our industry in the broader tennis ecosystem. The third question is frankly did it make financial sense, that included for the players and for the USTA, again the broader tennis ecosystem.”

With the tournament winding down, they addressed finer points of the tournament, including automated line calls on the outside courts.    Allaster reports, “We've had four weeks of the experiment of Hawk-Eye Live. It's been a terrific success. There's no debate.”  She shared interesting data points. “Over the four weeks, Hawk-Eye Live has made a total of 304,000 calls. Close calls, 11,901. Those are the red or green that the chair umpire is seeing. The close calls during the US Open, just over 9,000.  This was a 2020 focus. We made no decisions around 2021. But this was a great effort on behalf of all of our competition team and the Hawk-Eye team members, both tours, to support the experiment. We couldn't be more pleased with how it has been executed.”

When asked about key takeaways from the US Open, Dowse spoke of the importance of ongoing collaboration with so many people and agencies in the decision making process. Allaster adds, “I think these four weeks have been able to demonstrate to the world how our sport can return to play safely.”  Dowse notes, “We had weekly calls with our peers at the Grand Slam board, so we've shared best practices with them, specifically Roland Garros who is starting in a few weeks.” 

This has been a most unusual year for professional tennis.  Wimbledon, which usually takes place in July, was cancelled.  The rescheduled French Open, usually held in late May, will take place in two weeks, from September 20-October 4th.  Unlike the US Open, held with no spectators and few members of the press in attendance, the French Open will permit spectators.  “I trust that the French Federation, with their leadership, and the French government, that they're managing the virus with their medical facts. They've deemed in their country, in their city, that it's safe,” notes Allaster.

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Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

After early US Open ouster, 24-year-old outspoken New Yorker gives feedback on tournament organizers and players’ mental health in these crazy times

Being successful as a professional tennis player requires natural ability, dedication and hard work. Making it during a global pandemic while also exposing injustices in “the system” and bringing attention to the mental health issues of fellow players requires you to be Noah Rubin.

Rubin, only 24 years old but wise beyond his years, is no stranger to the US Open and to advocacy.

A proud Jew, Rubin – No. 228 in the world in singles and No. 703 in doubles – was eliminated with partner Ernesto Escobedo in the first round of the men’s doubles tournament at the recently completed, spectator-less US Open, held in New York City. Their match vs Israel-born Denis Shapovalov and Rohan Bopanna was suspended due to rain and continued the next day, when Rubin and Escobedo lost 6-2, 6-4.

This was Long Island-native Rubin’s seventh trip to the US Open since competing in his first qualifiers in 2013. Rubin spent the days leading up to his first-round defeat with all other players and tournament personnel at the Garden City Hotel. He said ironically, “I live nine minutes away. It was a strange situation.”

Rubin spoke with The Jerusalem Post about his experience in the US Open “bubble,” gave suggestions for improving pro tennis, and reflected on his popular “Behind The Racquet” project.

The United States Tennis Association took great pains to assure the Grand Slam tournament would be played this year. USTA CEO Mike Dowse and US Open tournament director Stacey Allaster shared details of the safety plan at several press briefings.

“We really established some guiding principles at the beginning. The first one was could we do it in a healthy and safe way for everyone. That included the players, the staff, even the local community here in New York. The second guiding principle was is this good for the sport of tennis, will it reignite our industry in the broader tennis ecosystem. The third question is frankly did it make financial sense, that included for the players and for the USTA, again the broader tennis ecosystem. As we went through this journey starting in mid-March, we couldn’t say yes at all times against those three guiding principles. But ultimately on June 16 we said ‘yes’ with this formula we put together.”

Rubin and other players had mixed reviews of the plan and of the tennis bubble.

“At first, there were very few problems,” noted Rubin. “It was great. I gave them so much credit before the tournament – for how much work they put in.”

Rubin playfully noted that the players-only set up meant that players could wander the grounds freely.

“I didn’t see my third-grade teacher asking for tickets!

“It was great, [but] then there were issues that they handled poorly.”

Rubin spoke of the boredom.

“They had basketball [in the hotel] – it was fun shooting hoops – and they had mini golf, but there is only so much 9-hole mini golf you can play!”

Rubin reported spending some days “lying down in the middle of the park…not their fault.”

And he spoke of playing in front of empty stands.

“The thrill is with the fans, but I am used to not having people at my matches.”

Rubin began to witness problems after the first coronavirus case were detected.

“It didn’t seem they were ready.”

Rubin felt communication was poor and that rules were constantly changing.

“They didn’t really tell us everything. It seemed like they were hiding something. And there was a lack of consistency.”

Rubin was referring to a situation where French player Benoit Paire tested positive for the coronavirus on the Sunday before the US Open, though he was not showing symptoms. Paire, the No. 17 seed, was set to play Kamil Majchrzak of Poland in the first round and was forced to withdraw from the tournament.

“There was a lack of consistency. Top players were put on a pedestal.”

Rubin described it as “a fake bubble in a lot of ways,” with hotel staff going home, therefore coming in and out of the bubble. He also reports sharing the hotel with other guests not connected to the tournament.

“They got to the 10-yard line and dropped the ball a little bit. They did the hard parts really well. It was a good effort.”

Rubin is no stranger to speaking out on issues which he says as affecting professional tennis. He has spoken out on income inequality the sport, and started the “Behind the Racquet” website and podcast, where he allows professional tennis players to share personal stories of mental health issues and other struggles.

As Rubin wrote on the website: “From the beginning of my life there was nothing I loved more than chasing around that yellow ball.

Wherever it went, I followed. I could not always articulate the impact I wanted to make but I had this innate feeling that I needed to leave my mark on this sport. As I progressed through the levels, meeting and experiencing all there is to, I started understanding that there is a true disconnect between how spectators interpreted this field and what actually is the reality.

“The perceived glamorous, travesty-free lifestyle was far from what is actually taking place. The combination of this blinded misconception along with the antiquated mentalities of some at the top, running our sport, made me feel a responsibility to implore change.

“I have grand dreams to drastically evolve the sport we all love in order to prevent this continuous decline of fans. This is where ‘Behind The Racquet’ (BTR) plays a major role. I realized that this disconnect has arisen partially due to the lack of connection between potential fans and players. I started BTR to give players the platform to share their stories on their own terms, while also giving fans an opportunity to relate to a player on a deeper level.

“In doing so, I am also helping to fight the stigma of talking about mental health, especially in the world of professional sport. I truly dream that these stories, told by honest and bold people, inspire you to see deeper into who they truly are. Everyone has a story and it’s time to share yours.”

Despite the tennis tour being on hiatus until recently due to COVID-19, Rubin reported that “life is the most hectic it has ever been.”

While he hopes to play in the upcoming French Open in two weeks, he is devoting a great deal of time to “Behind the Racquet.”
“I have worked six years in six months,” exclaimed Rubin, who has built a team, collected 50 stories, and has a book and possible documentary on the horizon.

His mother, Melanie Siegel Rubin, is proud of all of Noah’s accomplishments.

“Noah has trained all his life to accomplish what he has on the court as a junior and professional tennis player. His dedication and determination are beyond admirable. In recent years, Noah’s off-court endeavors, through ‘Behind The Racquet,’ have taken my admiration of him to an even higher level. Noah giving other players an outlet to express themselves, resources to help themselves and a platform to reach so many, has surpassed what I could have dreamed for him. His work with NAMI [National Alliance on Mental Illness], North Shore Animal League and as a voice for change for his fellow players are just some of his undertakings that should be commended. I couldn’t be more proud of my boy.”

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