As far back as Hebrew school, Jake Lemmerman says, he hoped to turn his education into a hands-on experience.
He wanted, he says, to see and touch the articles that were a part of the homeland for his Jewish ancestors.
Lemmerman, 23, a member of the Chattanooga Lookouts in 2011 and 2012, got his chance in December with a trip to Israel through Taglit-Birthright Israel (www.BirthrightIsrael.com), an organization that funds educational trips to the country for qualified Jewish adults ages 18 to 26.
"I wanted to understand [his Jewish ancestry] better," he says. "I wanted to put my learning about it into reality."
Lemmerman, a native of Corona del Mar, Calif., also says he wanted to spread the gospel of baseball in the Israel, where basketball and soccer are the most popular sports. That desire, he says, was fueled by the September qualifier games he played with Team Israel for the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
The team, managed by former Major League Baseball catcher Brad Ausmus and coached by former Major League Baseball infielder Mark Loretta, also includes former New York Mets star Shawn Green, New York Mets prospect Jeff Kaplan and Lemmerman's Duke University teammate Jeremy Gould.
The Birthright Israel trip -- Lemmerman's was Dec. 12-24 -- affords visits to Jewish national, archeological and historical sites, Holocaust remembrance sites, arts and cultural events, and the Western Wall.
Lemmerman says the visit to Jerusalem, to its Dome of the Rock shrine and to the Western Wall, as well as the "super-orthodox practices" of some of its residents, were the most impactful parts of his trip.
"Going through all these old towns" that "haven't changed," touching stones that have been in place for millenniums, "floating in the Dead Sea" -- "I like that kind of stuff," he says.
The trip itself, Lemmerman says, did "a great job in terms of [helping] you understand the culture."
While there, he and Gould would play catch when possible and even got some children in a kibbutz community interested in the sport. Some soldiers that accompanied the trip didn't know how to put a baseball glove on, he says, but the kids were eager "and wanted to know what was going on."
In the future, Lemmerman says, he hopes to return to the country, not only to raise the awareness of baseball but also to use the three college semesters of Hebrew he has taken.
"I could read and write but not speak it," he says. "I want to keep that up, learn [to speak] it, and go back there and communicate with the local population."
As for his baseball career, Lemmerman believes a December trade from the Lookouts -- a minor league team for the Los Angeles Dodgers -- to the St. Louis Cardinals' system the night before his Israel trip will work out well.
"They traded me for a big leaguer [Skip Schumaker]," he says. "That shows they're interested in me, that they think I can be a big leaguer, that I can fill a position they lost. The [general manager] said it's a good opportunity, that they are not deep in the middle infield [second baseman or shortstop], and I can play both."
Lemmerman hit .233 with seven home runs and 46 RBIs with the Lookouts in 2012, his first full season in Double-A, but he earned Most Valuable Player honors in the rookie Pioneer League in 2010 and hit .293 with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in the Class A-advanced California League in 2011.
"Hopefully, I'll do well, show what I can do with a new organization and get a shot at the big league next year," he says.
Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...