Major League Baseball drafts Orthodox Jewish players

Pitcher Jacob Steinmetz of Woodmere, New York was chosen 77th overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday. The Washington Nationals selected Elie Kligman, a Las Vegas native, the next day. 

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

In a historic first, an Orthodox Jew was selected Monday by a major league team in baseball’s annual amateur draft of high school and college players.

The Arizona Diamondbacks picked pitcher Jacob Steinmetz in the very respectable third round, 77th overall. His family and friends, who were watching the televised process together, erupted into cheers when the announcement was made, pounding the smiling 17-year-old woodon the back and jumping up and down in his Woodmere, N.Y., living room.

He told Newsday that he was slightly prepared for the news, as the team had let him know a few picks earlier that they would be calling his name.

“It’s extremely exciting,” he said, adding, “These are the days we dream about. This is what we work and pray for — the opportunity.”

Steinmetz, who just graduated from the Hebrew Academy of Five Towns and Rockaway (HAFTR) with a 3.8 GPA (equivalent to an A-minus), stands six-feet-six-inches tall and weighs 220 pounds. More important to the Diamondbacks, he can throw his fastball at a whopping 97 mph, an elite number matched by few pitchers even at the major league level. He rounds out his current repertoire with a looping curveball and a circle change.

The fact that Steinmetz is firm in his religious practice has captured the imagination of the local press and networks, who all covered the news. The rightie flamethrower has been very open about his commitment, noting that he has never broken the Sabbath to play ball and intends to continue that way in the future.

“I’ve walked five miles to games at times as I observe the Sabbath,” Steinmetz said. “There is discipline to it. There is faith. And I believe in what I do. It’s just something I’ve always done. It makes me who I am.”

The young man took advantage of the time-out on sports that Covid-19 forced on all schools last year by working out in his basement and putting on 25 pounds of muscle. This past season, he stayed in school via Zoom while playing in Florida for Elev8 Baseball Academy, a showcase for young talent whose games can be attended by 20-30 professional scouts at a time. MLB.com ranked him at No. 121 for his draft class by the time the season was finished.

On his own, he kept kosher, prayed daily and made sure to have accommodations within walking distance of the field for Sabbath games.

This is now decision-making time for the young ballplayer, who has also received a scholarship to play for Fordham University. If he decides to forego college ball and turn professional in the Arizona minor league system, it would mean receiving a signing bonus of about $800,000 as a third-round pick, but the pressure to perform well would increase greatly.

Both the university and the Diamondbacks understand the food and travel restrictions that his religion entails and have said that they would work with him so that he can do what he loves and excels at without compromising his faith.

‘That day of Shabbas is for God’

Elie Kligman, an exceptional pitcher and hitter,was chosen on Tuesday by The Washington Nationals.

Kligman, a student at Cimarron-Memorial High School, is even more strictly observant than Steinmetz, who plays on Shabbat although he makes sure the games are within walking distance, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported.

“That day of Shabbas is for God. I’m not going to change that,” the 18-year-old told The New York Times in March.

Kligman’s father Marc, a lawyer, is also a licensed baseball agent and represents his son. He was traveling Tuesday with Israel’s baseball team, currently on a pre-Olympics road trip across the US northeast, when he heard the news and then shared it with the players, JTA reported.