Lakeland Alum is Hoping to Pitch His Way to the Top
Since graduating from Lakeland High School in 2011, Jonathan de Marte has played Division I college baseball, pitched in independent leagues across the United States and competed around the globe. He qualified for the 2020 Summer Olympics with Israel, and last year signed a minor league contract with the Chicago Cubs.
But the coronavirus pandemic put the career of this former high school standout on hold last year as the Tokyo Games were postponed and the minor league season was canceled.
Now, with spring training due to start soon for minor leaguers and the Summer Games back on (for now), de Marte is beyond ready to return to the mound.
“I feel really accomplished when I get to lay everything out and talk about the past and the ins and outs of my career that have helped me get there,” the right-handed pitcher says. “But I am very hungry for more.”
De Marte, 27, has dreamed of becoming a major leaguer since before he can remember, and now has an additional goal: winning an Olympic medal.
“Representing Israel on a world stage was one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of, and I cannot wait for the opportunity to do that again,” said de Marte, who was born and raised Jewish and gained Israeli citizenship, a point of intense pride, in 2018.
And he is grateful to be part of the storied Cubs organization. “But I’m very, very hungry and eager to get started and see what I’m capable of, and hopefully be at a higher level of minor league ball with the Cubs, and having a chance to be so close to the major leagues,” he said. “I’m really excited for the opportunity to see where I stand against everybody else.”
His journey has been years in the making.
De Marte grew up in Yorktown Heights with his parents, Vinnie de Marte and Dorrie Derfler, and triplet siblings, Julie, Anthony and Matthew, who graduated from Lakeland in 2014. He began playing baseball around age 4 or 5 with the Shrub Oak Athletic Club.
He was a four-year varsity starter at Lakeland High School, and won a slew of major awards, including Gatorade New York Baseball Player of the Year in his junior and senior years.
De Marte remembers his time with the top-ranked Hornets fondly. “I would not trade my high school sports experience for anything in the world,” he said.
He credits his Lakeland coaches, Mike Robinson and Dennis Robinson, for motivating him to be the best player he could be. “I really learned what it meant to work hard and grind through the hard parts of a season, dealing with playing while you’re sore, playing while you’re tired and really just pushing through as best you possibly can because we’re doing what we love,” said de Marte, who also appreciated the support of Bill Casey, Joe Knapp and Matt Novak.
While he thought he might get drafted out of high school, de Marte played for the University of Richmond, where he earned a bachelor’s in communications and a master’s in human resources management. Serious injuries kept him off the field for his freshman and senior years and part of his junior year.
Again, he believed he could get drafted after college, but he played independent minor league ball instead. From 2017 to 2019, he played with the Normal CornBelters of Illinois, the York Revolution of Pennsylvania and the Quebec Capitales in Canada. During the winter of 2019-2020, he pitched in Australia’s major leagues for the Perth Heat.
After Australia, he flew to Israel in preparation for the Olympics, and on to Arizona for workouts with several teams ahead of spring training.
When he learned he would be getting an offer from the Cubs, he pulled over to the side of the road to take it all in and shed a few tears. “That was one of the most fulfilling sports moments of my life,” said de Marte, who signed on Feb. 26, 2020. “I never really lost the confidence that I had what it takes to play at that level.”
He is thankful for the strong foundation he gained at Lakeland, and for the sense of community and support from his coaches, teachers and teammates.
“I don’t think I would be at this point in my career if I was not a part of a district as strong as Lakeland in every way possible,” de Marte said. “It felt very special to put on the green and gold uniform every single day, as a ballplayer and a regular student. It was a collective group where teachers, faculty, staff and everybody involved clearly wanted all students to make the most out of their high school time by preparing for whatever was next and also enjoying everybody’s company while trying to become the best individuals that we can be.”