Sophomore Nate Jakobs has qualified to compete in the 20th Maccabiah Games, July 2-18, 2017, on the 16-player USA National Juniors team.
The 2013 games featured 9000 Jewish athletes from 78 countries in this quadrennial multi-sport event, known as the Jewish Olympics. The 2017 games will be held in Israel.
Q: How long have you been playing baseball, and why did you start?
A: I started playing when I was 5 years old, because my father played for a long time, and he encouraged me to play Little League Baseball, so it started from there.
Q: Had you heard about the Maccabiah Games before?
A: I had a general awareness that they existed, but I didn’t know much about them until this year.
Q: How do the Maccabiah Games compare with the Olympics, besides the fact that the athletes are all Jewish?
A: It’s similar in the sense that there is an opening ceremony and a closing ceremony – with the athletes from each country marching into the stadium – along with an “Olympic village” where the athletes stay.
Q: Have you ever been to Israel before?
A: My dad has been to Israel, but I have not. I’m interested in sightseeing in Israel, and that will be included in the trip with the Israel Connect program (where athletes tour historical and religious sites in the Holy Land and take part in cultural seminars).
I’m very interested in Israel and the history of the country, along with the modern culture. I feel that this will be a great opportunity to see both.
Q: Will your family come to watch you?
A: They’ll come a week after I go.
Q: Will the Games be televised?
A: The medal rounds will be.
Q: How did you find out about the tryouts?
A: I heard that there would be tryouts this year from ads online, (so) then I looked into it a little more and decided to sign up and try out.
Q: When and where were the tryouts?
A: In the Los Angeles area around the end of June.
There were 22 (people) at that tryout, along with a couple tryouts in other places in the country like Chicago and New York. Most people went to the tryout in New York, followed by the tryout in Chicago. The Los Angeles tryout had the lowest attendance.
Q: What were the tryouts like?
A: It was similar to most tryouts I’ve had in the past for the competitive teams that I’ve played on.
They tested throwing speed, hitting skills, running speed and various defensive moves.
Q: What were the coaches there looking for?
A: They were looking for really good players who could fill different roles on a team, such as players that were good contact or power hitters, fast pitchers, good defensive players – some of everything.
Q: What kind of drills did you do? A: (First), there was throwing velocity – how fast you could throw, pretty much – then fielding skills, a 60-yard dash, (and) then we hit on the field with a coach throwing, and the pitchers threw to a catcher with no hitter.
Q: What local team are you on?
A: I’m on the SSC Easton Cats. I play center field and third base.
Q: What went through your head when you got selected, and when did you find out?
A: I found out (I got selected) about three weeks after the tryouts (from) a letter in the mail.
I was somewhat surprised, but I had a feeling that I (had) because I played very well in the tryouts.
Q: Have you gotten to know any of your team members? How old are they?
A: I don’t know who’s on the team yet, and I’m not sure when I’ll find that out.
My team is called Juniors, which is 1992-2002 birthdays. So at the start of the games, (it will be) 18 and younger.
Q: Who is coaching, and how much time will there be to practice together before the Games?
A: The coach is Eric Holtz. We’ll arrive a week early and practice from 6 a.m.-9 a.m, I believe.
Q: Are you worried about having only a week together?
A: Not really, because all of the players selected will play on their own for the start of the summer and be ready to get together as a team.
Q: Are you going to change your workouts or practices to prepare?
A: I’ll probably switch into high gear as it gets closer, but for now I’m taking a little time off to recover from the summer and spring, (as) practices for Country Day baseball began near the end of January, and my final game of the summer was at the end of July.
Q: Are you nervous about being ready to play in the Games? It’s a lot of pressure.
A: Not really, but I probably will be as it comes closer.
Q: Do you have to be Jewish to participate in the Games?
Q: Have you told anyone at your synagogue?
A: (I told) the rabbi, Mona Alfi, because I’m pretty close with her. She was really excited about it because I’ve known her for a long time, and she’s close to my family.
Q: How does the baseball portion work? Is it tournament style?
A: I don’t know the details of the style yet, but there will probably be groups of four teams in which everyone plays against each other once with two advancing from each group to the bracket.
Q: How does it feel to represent Sacramento? The last time a person from Sacramento competed in the Games was 1969.
A: It feels like a large responsibility to be the first from this area to play in a while.
Q: What do you think are the chances of Team USA getting gold? They’ve already won four consecutive times.
A: There’s a pretty high chance of it, because baseball is a big sport in America, and not as much in other countries. But with the introduction of the Cuban team this year, it’s a larger challenge.
—By Mohini Rye