It’s day 11 for Birthright bus No. 286, and this Israel Outdoors group of 22-26-year-old Taglit tourists are flagging but still interested in the day’s first stop, the Haas Promenade overlook in southern Jerusalem, which offers a clear view of classic Jerusalem sites on this cold Sunday morning.
Jake Lemmerman and Jeremy Gould bound off the bus, baseball gloves and ball in hand, ready to play some catch while tour guide Asher Drimer gives the group a quick bird’s eye tour of the terrain below.
“We gotta stay in shape,” said Lemmerman, 23, a shortstop who was just traded for the minor leagues of the St. Louis Cardinals from the Chattanooga Lookouts, an affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
His ball buddy on this trip is fellow former Duke University player Jeremy Gould, 24, who was a relief pitcher for the New York Mets and most recently played for the Savannah Sand Gnats in Single-A.
Both Lemmerman and Gould played for Team Israel — “it was so cool,” said Lemmerman — in the qualifying rounds of the World Baseball Classic in Jupiter, Florida, in October, during which the squad fell one game short of qualifying for the main tournament.
“There were lots of American Jewish players,” said Gould. “It was good to raise awareness about Jewish and Israeli players; there’s just a lot of common ground.”
The trip to Israel — the first time for both — came at the right time given that it’s still off-season for the baseball players. They weren’t quite sure it would come to pass once Operation Pillar of Defense started in November, but soon received word that the trip was back on.
It’s been a great 10 days, both ball players agreed, including hikes in the Golan Heights up north and the Mitzpe Ramon crater in the south, and their plan is to extend their trip for a few more days in Tel Aviv, spending some time on the beach playing matkot, the popular paddle-and-ball beach game.
“Yeah,” they agreed. “We can do this.”