PARMA, Italy – Jonathan de Marte, a 2011 graduate of Lakeland High School and two-time Gatorade New York State Baseball Player of the Year, is on his way to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games as a pitcher with the Israeli baseball team.

Team Israel, ranked No. 19 in world, clinched a berth in the games by defeating South Africa, 11-1, in the six-team Europe/Africa Olympic qualifying tournament in Parma, Italy, on Sept. 22.

“It was the most incredible few weeks of my life,” said de Marte, whose teammates include ex-Major Leaguers Jon Moscot, Ty Kelly, Danny Valencia, Jeremy Bleich and Zack Weiss.

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“It’s hard to put words around everything that happened, the ups and downs emotionally.” he said. “It was insane. When I was in high school, this was never something on my radar. It’s more than a dream come true.”

This marks the first time that Israel has qualified for the Olympic baseball tournament and it is also the first time that any Israel team will play in the Olympic games since its men’s national soccer team in 1976.

“I think we are the fourth team sport ever from Israel,” said de Marte, who became a dual Israeli-citizen in October 2018. “It means everything to me. Just to be with a group of guys like this, it’s the most amazing accomplishment of my life. We had an amazing group of guys. I am so happy that I am going able to represent more than just myself, my career and my teammates, but a whole country that doesn’t really know a whole lot about the game of baseball.”

Peter Kurz, Israel’s general manager, is attempting to raise awareness and support for the game in the country, de Marte said.

“By qualifying for the Olympics, being the first team sport to play in the Olympics, in all these years, is huge,” de Marte said. “I mean, what this could do for the sport in our country, it could help it grow and reach levels of other European baseball. It means so much to me and I am so grateful that I was chosen to be a part of this team and play a big role in helping us reach all the achievements.”

Between the Europe/Africa Olympic qualifying tournament and the European Baseball Championships in Germany, de Marte pitched 9 innings, allowing no runs, just 5 hits, no walks, 1 hit batsman, while recording 15 strikeouts, and was 2-0, with the wins coming against Italy and Germany.

The 4-2 win against Germany, on Sept. 9 in day three of the European championships, was particularly an emotional one.

“It goes without being said, Israel versus Germany, in Germany, right there after everything happened in World War II,” de Marte said. “To see defeat in the face of a country like that, knowing that, not necessarily these people but these people’s ancestors, what they might have been involved in, with guys on our team, and Israelis all around the world, what has been done to them. To see defeat in the eyes of those Germans and to see their coach so upset and disappointed, probably was one of the best feelings on the baseball field I have ever had. I don’t mean to make it negative like that but I think that’s a very historical event.”

As for his next step, de Marte is signed to play in the Australian Baseball League, the Major League Baseball equivalent in that country.

“I’m signed for the second half of the year, so I leave like Jan. 1 and I will go play for a month and a half there for the Camberra Cavalry,” said de Marte, who added that he is still chasing the dream of playing Major League Baseball. “I’m hoping that everything that has happened this year and then these tournaments, there were a lot of scouts there, I’m hoping to get a spring training invite or maybe something in winter ball in Latin America. If that happens, that might change my plans to go to Australia, since that’s a non-binding contract. But right now I plan on going to play in Australia.”