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Israel’s Olympic baseball team featured two from Richmond

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(From left) Team Israel pitcher Jon de Marte and Assistant Coach Nate Mulberg pose for a photo in 2019 during the Olympics qualifying baseball tournament.

Editor’s Note: The following article originally appeared in the November 2019 Reflector.  It is re-printed so readers can learn more about Nate Mulberg and Jon de Marte who were part of Team Israel in the recent Olympics.

Israel has had many historic accomplishments, but few expected an Israeli baseball team to be playing in the Olympics.

That will change in July since Team Israel recently qualified for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, and Richmond has the distinction of having two members of the team – Pitcher Jon de Marte and Assistant Coach Nate Mulberg.

Nate Mulberg

Mulberg is an assistant baseball coach at the University of Richmond, while de Marte is a UR baseball alumni and has played professional baseball for three years with several minor league and independent teams.

“Jon had such a big part in our team getting to the Olympics,” noted Mulberg. “He also has been a big part of the Richmond community for eight years and lives here in his off-season while playing minor league baseball.”

Mulberg added, “Neither of us would have probably been part of this team if Jon had not decided to come to UR to play baseball from New York.”

Being part of Team Israel has been very special and emotional for Mulberg. “Judaism has been a big part of my life.”

He grew up in Cherry Hill in Southern New Jersey, attended Hebrew School three days a week, went to Jewish Summer Camp and his family were members of the local JCC. He also went on a Birthright Israel trip a few years ago, played baseball for the JCC Maccabi Games in his hometown and was on the 2009 Maccabiah USA Baseball Team. Unfortunately, due to an illness, he was not able to travel to Israel to play with that team.

He recalls attending local ceremonies for the JCC Maccabi Games in New Jersey and hearing the remarks from the daughter of one of the Israeli athletes who was murdered during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Germany.

“This was when I was 14. I was tearing up listening to her speak. I know a lot about this horrible tragedy and I have never forgotten her remarks.”

He noted, “Just being part of the Israeli baseball team has been very emotional. This means so much to me. It’s an honor. Fusing together Israel and baseball is so important to me. I am so thankful for the opportunity.”

Mulberg thanked the UR administration for being allowed to be part of Team Israel for more than three weeks.

“Having a chance to be part of an Olympic qualifying baseball team while representing Spider Baseball, Richmond Athletics and the University of Richmond as a whole is a tremendous achievement that means a lot to me. I am so thankful to Team Israel head coach Eric Holtz for giving me this opportunity, and coach Woodson and the Richmond Athletic Administration for allowing me to pursue this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Mulberg said, “This experience (this summer) was extra special because I got a chance to work with Jon, who I coached during my first year here at Richmond.  Jon and I have remained close since then.”

He was invited to join Team Israel by head coach Eric Holtz who called him soon after the team won the 2019 European Baseball Championships – B-Pool – in Bulgaria in July.

Mulberg and de Marte had kept in touch during these games in Bulgaria, but he did not expect to be asked to be part of the team.  “Yes, it may have one of my dreams to be part of this team at some point in the future, but I never expected it so soon.”

Following the call and meetings with UR administration, he made plans to join the team in Bonn, Germany, in early September.

His main responsibilities as an assistant coach for Team Israel was coaching first base, throwing batting practice, and helping the coaching/administrative staff in any way they needed.

In these championships, there were 12 teams in two groups. The top 5 would qualify for the next round in Parma, Italy. Team Israel finished 4th in Germany.

In Italy, it was six-team tourney and only the first place team would get a bid for the Olympics.

“All these teams in Germany and Italy had high-level professional baseball players.  Everybody was good and competitive. But in Italy, we knew only one team would make it. A lot had to go right.  Only the team with the best record would move ahead.”

Mulberg said, “Jon pitched a lot, particularly in the Italy game. He saved the day for us.  They were 2-0 and we were 2-0. So, we looked at it as the championship game.”

Team Israel is full of professional baseball players, some with many years of major league experience like first baseman Danny Valencia and Ty Kelly.

“They all had a sense of what to do and were great to coach and work with. This group of guys are special and cared about the team first.”

He continued, “I had never been around players that cared more about the team success than individual success. Everybody was very supportive and respectful of each other. They wanted to do well to help the team win. There were no egos.”

Jon de Marte

Jon de Marte, a University of Richmond alumni, throws a pitch during an Olympics qualifying game in 2019.

With Richmond, de Marte was an Atlantic 10 All-Academic honoree as he served as a team captain during his final season and led the team with five home runs. He also was a leader on the mound, leading the team with a 2.67 ERA in 17 relief appearances in his final UR season. During his career, he made 25 total appearances and six starts on the mound. He pitched in 52.2 innings and struck out 54 hitters. As a hitter, de Marte finished with a .298 career average with 15 doubles, five home runs and 51 RBI.

In high school, he had been a Two-Time New York State Baseball Player of the year before playing at UR, graduating in 2017. “When I was in high school, this was never something on my radar. It’s more than a dream come true,” de Marte noted.

He had been part of Team Israel since the summer of 2018, but the team’s first game was not until July 2019.

“Guys were playing all over the country and in Israel, but we kept in touch. We never were able to practice together. When they got to Bulgaria this July, the team had two days of practice. I did not arrive until the day before the first game since I was playing professionally in the U.S.”

He found playing for Team Israel very rewarding.

“What was really neat about this experience was when I have been playing professionally you want to win, but you really want to do well as a player to get signed by a major league team.

“This team all had the same goal – to win as many games as possible to put ourselves in the best position to make it to the Olympics.”

He said it was similar to high school and college ball where all the players have the same goal of winning as a team. “Danny Valencia, who played major league baseball for nine years, said it was ‘the most fun he had playing baseball.’”

“Ty Kelly played in a World Series and you would not have known it.  And others had extensive experience.  From day one, everyone wanted to know everybody. We all got along well.

“There was so much team chemistry and camaraderie. Everybody had the same common denominator.  We all connected and were playing for the country of Israel – the Jewish State,” he noted. “We all wanted to put Israel on the map for baseball. This made it the most incredible baseball experience of my life.”

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