Junior Nate Jakobs came back to the U.S. from Israel with more than just an Israeli flag and a keychain.
Instead, he came back with the best souvenir of them all – a gold medal.
Jakobs played third base and outfield in the 20th Maccabiah Games, July 4-18, on the Juniors Boys’ U.S. team.
The Maccabiah Games, also known as the “Jewish Olympics,” is a Jewish athletic event that takes place every four years in Israel.
In the 2017 Maccabiah Games, over 10,000 Jewish athletes from 85 countries competed in 45 sports.
Jakobs, who has been playing baseball since he was 5 years old and currently plays for Sacramento Sports Center, tried out for the U.S. team at the end of June 2016 in Los Angeles, where coaches evaluated his hitting, running, throwing and fielding. Thirty players tried out in LA, and 150 tried out throughout the country.
In October Jakobs received a letter from head coach Eric Holtz and assistant coach Dan Kaufman, confirming that he’d made the team. Holtz also coaches the Israeli national team.
“I was pretty confident that I would make the team because I had a really good tryout,” Jakobs said.
Jakobs left LA on June 27 and flew to Israel to meet the rest of his team, consisting of 18 players, all of whom were 18 and younger. At 16, Jakobs was the youngest on the team, he said.
Jakobs said players came from all over the country, including New Jersey, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Florida and Massachusetts.
However, Jakobs was the first from Sacramento to compete in the Maccabiah Games since 1969.
Jakobs said his teammates were a talented group.
In fact, many have already committed to Division I schools or will be playing in the major leagues, according to Jakobs.
But Jakobs said he didn’t find them intimidating.
“They were cool guys,” Jakobs said. “I was roommates with a couple of them, and I got to know them well, so I wasn’t really intimidated.”
Leading up to the tournament, the team began their practice schedule.
The team practiced every morning. They would get up at 5:15 a.m. and leave the hotel to drive to the Tel Aviv field at 5:30 a.m. After two hours of practicing, the team would return to the hotel then go out for a day of sightseeing.
The Jewish Olympics and the Olympics have many similarities, according to Jakobs.
One is the opening ceremony.
“It was really cool,” Jakobs said. “(The ceremony) was a really big event in Israel. There were about 40,000 people there. I actually walked out wrapped in the U.S. flag.”
Other similarities include the same types of sports and the closing ceremony.
After a week of practicing and seeing sights such as Old Jerusalem, the Western Wall and the Dead Sea, Jakobs had his first game on July 5 against Canada.
However, he said he was a little disappointed in the crowds.
“Only about 40 people actually watched our games (in the field),” Jakobs said.
In addition, there were only two other countries, Canada and Israel, who sent baseball teams to the Jewish Olympics because many of the other countries backed out at the last minute, according to Jakobs.
The U.S. had a good start, soundly defeating Canada, 10-2.
“Baseball is just a prominent sport in the U.S.,” Jakobs said. “There’s a bigger pool of players to choose from. We were just overall better than them at everything. It was an easy win.”
Their next game was on July 9 against Israel, and Jakobs’s team defeated them 9-3, and defeated them, once again on July 12, 10-0.
After crushing Israel two times in a row, the U.S. team annihilated Canada, 10-1, securing them a spot in the championship game.
Finally, on July 14 Jakobs and his team defeated Canada, 10-0.
And along with this win came the gold medal.
“The U.S. ambassador to Israel was at our championship game,” Jakobs said. “It was pretty cool.”
Aside from the ambassador, Jakobs said the highlight of the championship game was driving in the final run.
Ironically, Jakobs said the best game of all wasn’t even a part of the competition. Instead, it was a scrimmage with the national Israeli team set up by Holtz.
“(The scrimmage) was the most memorable thing that happened throughout the whole experience,” Jakobs said. “Just that whole game was so memorable.”
Even though the national Israeli team consisted of 25- to 30-year-old professional players, Jakobs and the U.S. team beat them, 7-2.
Jakobs said he enjoyed everything about the trip except the Tel Aviv hotel the team stayed in the first week. He said the rooms were way too small for four baseball players.
Jakobs also didn’t like the signs of the political tension in Israel.
Israeli Defense Forces accompanied the team whenever they went outside the hotel during their free time.
Jakobs said he had a quite scary experience one day when he and his teammates were escorted by the soldiers near the border with Lebanon.
“There was one day when there was a lot of shooting in the area,” Jakobs said. “It was nerve-wracking.”
Although it was worrisome to leave the hotel at times, Jakobs did enjoy going to the beach and meeting Israelis and other athletes from different countries who were competing.
But the best part of the experience was seeing Israel, he said.
“The city and culture were the most interesting,” Jakobs said.
—By Annya Dahmani