LITHUANIA – Lakeland graduate Jonathan de Marte made history by pitching for the Israel national baseball team.
Israel advanced to the A Pool of the tournament for the first time by clinching the B pool title.
They clinched the title with a 2-0 sweep in the best-of-three playoff series against the Lithuania national team, winning 12-2 on July 26, and 15-0 on July 27, in Urena, Lithuania.
Israel will compete in the A pool tournament Sept. 7-15 in Bon, Germany, where they are scheduled to go against teams from the Czech Republic, Belgium, Austria, Great Britain and the Netherlands.
“I am both honored and thankful to be a part of baseball history in Israel,” said de Marte, who became a dual Israeli-citizen in October 2018. “Peter Kurz and Eric Holtz have been working diligently to put together the strongest team of Israelis to reach the Olympics. Ever since watching the 2017 WBC run, I knew this was a group of ballplayers I wanted to be a part of, not to mention the opportunity to represent a country with minimal baseball history and help put them on the map.”
The two-time New York State Gatorade Player of the Year at Lakeland is very excited about the next step for Israel.
“If our team continues to mesh and grow at this level, I believe we have something special in the making that can greatly influence the game of baseball in Israel,” de Marte said. “Impacting the game for a country where I have a religious connection that is also willing to take on my citizenship is an opportunity I am grateful to have. We are all ready to make the most of this experience and are counting down the days until Sept. 7.”
The 2011 Lakeland graduate was 2-0 with a 3.60 ERA, and in five innings struck out five batters, with his two wins tying for tops in the tournament. Both of de Marte’s outings were against Russia, one in pool play, and one in the B Pool 2 tournament finals, in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria.
“I believe that if you have a routine, stick with it, and do what it takes to prepare your individual self on each given day, you will put yourself in the best position for success,” de Marte said. “When game time comes, knowing what it takes to get yourself prepared in the bullpen, trusting your arsenal of pitches, and throwing each pitch with confidence and conviction are my keys to success, whether competing in Europe, North America, or anywhere else in the world.”
If Israel is one of the top five teams out of the 12 total in the A pool tournament, it will move on to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games qualifiers, for Europe and Africa, which will take place in Parma, Italy, Sept. 18-22.
“We have treated every game like a playoff, Olympic qualifying game, because one loss could send you home or close to it, depending on the situation,” de Marte said. “The ultimate goal is to reach the Olympics and win a medal, not have our run end in Italy. Placing top five in Germany to qualify for the event in Italy would be another remarkable notch to add to Israel’s baseball belt.”
The Lakeland graduate, who graduated from the University of Richmond in 2015, and completed graduate school while still playing for the Spiders in 2017, has pitched for the Normal CornBelters of the Frontier League, York Revolution of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball and Les Capitales de Quebec of the Canadian-American Association of the Professional Baseball League.
His ultimate goal is to play Major League Baseball.
“If I did not believe I have what it takes to do this, I would have already hung up my cleats,” de Marte said. “The strides I have made each year since returning to the mound show me that the sky is still the limit and my full potential still has not been reached. In the same breath, I am realistic and understand the window of opportunity for Major League Baseball gets smaller each year.”
He added that there are countless opportunities for careers in baseball even outside of America.
“I hope with my successes and development over the last couple of years I continue to reach new limits and explore as many opportunities in professional baseball as I possibly can,” de Marte said. “You only get one chance in life to play the game you love, and I take this mindset and the fact that any day could be your last to the ballpark every day.”