Jacob Steinmetz made Major League Baseball history last night.
The New York native is 17-years-old, 6-foot-5-inches tall, has a 97 mile-per-hour fastball… And he’s an Orthodox Jew.
That makes Steinmetz the first known Orthodox Jewish player to be drafted by a US major league baseball team. He was selected in the third round — 77th overall — by the Arizona Diamondbacks and his slot has a value of $805,600.
Here are some things you should know about Steinmetz:
He’s a trailblazer
The MLB’s official ranking had listed Steinmetz as the 121st best major league prospect, so he was picked far earlier than expected for a very impressive top 100 pick.
He was watching the draft on TV with his friends.
“It’s extremely exciting. The Diamondbacks let me know a few picks earlier that my name would be called,” he told Newsday.
He honed his skills while attending Jewish school
Steinmetz is from Woodmere in Long Island, New York. After competing for his high school team, he spent the last year sharpening his pitching skills at ELEV8 Baseball Academy in Delray Beach, Florida. Thanks to the powers of the internet, he was able to keep attending school at The Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway in Long Island via Zoom.
He’s Shabbat and Kosher observant
Steinmetz keeps kosher and observes Shabbat.
He does play during Shabbat and on Jewish holidays, but during the draft process, he explained to the teams that he has found a way to juggle both his faith and baseball career.
Though tournaments provide logistical challenges, Steinmetz told the New York Post that he has found workarounds. For baseball tournaments, he traveled ahead of time and arranged hotels within walking distance of the fields. Sometimes, that meant five-mile hikes the day he pitches.
Most hotels don’t have Kosher food, so he packs extra food in a cooler bag.
The team has expressed it will work with Steinmetz to make sure eating Kosher or keeping the Sabbath aren’t impacted, according to his father, Elliot.
Being Jewish “makes me who I am,” he said.
“It’s never been frustrating to me,” Steinmetz told the New York Post. “It’s just something I’ve always done. It makes me who I am.”
He acknowledged that he knows it makes him different, but he doesn’t see it as a bad thing.
“It’s definitely made [my life] different, but in a good way.”
What this means for Judaism
We reached out to the Sports Rabbi, aka Joshua Halickman, to put this in context through a Jewish lens:
“It’s huge for Jews around the world and especially in North America to have a Orthodox Jew drafted to play in the MLB. First off, there aren’t many Jews in the four major professional sports although baseball does have the most of any of them so right off the bat he becomes someone for young Jewish children to look up to. Secondly, as an Orthodox Jew he is outwardly Jewish and he has the opportunity to sanctify Gods name in Kiddush Hashem. Many people in and around baseball and outside of it as well will be curious and want to know more about Judaism in essence he becomes an ambassador for the Jewish people. Thirdly, he will face a ton of pressure in having to not only perform but also having to potentially make decisions about where he will stand on various religious issues. It will certainly be exciting to see where this journey will take him!”
He has a scholarship to Fordham University
In the fall of his junior year, Steinmetz already secured a scholarship to attend college at Fordham University and play baseball for the college team, the Fordham Rams.
It was the pandemic that changed his entire course
At the time he commited to Fordham, he never anticipated becoming an MLB prospect. It wasn’t until last spring, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, that his life began to really change.
“Without anything else to occupy his time, he began lifting weights in his basement and adding significant muscle to his lanky frame. He joined Tread Athletics, an online pitching development company, and put on 25 pounds in the span of one year,” the New York Post reported.
Now, Steinmetz will have to decide between going to college and playing for Fordham University or starting his professional career in Arizona.
Athletics run in the family
Elliot Steinmetz, Jacob’s father, played college basketball at Yeshiva University.
Now he coaches the team which had a historic season before the pandemic.
He’s become somewhat of a local celebrity
In his hometown, Steinmetz reportedly gets approached frequently, asked for photos, autographs and advice.
His historic achievement has made him an icon and role model in the Jewish world.
“It’s a great opportunity for him to continue to evolve as a leader and continue to show people you can break down certain walls, do certain things and not have to necessarily sacrifice your background for it,” Elliot said. “I think he’s the right kid for it, just because he has a good head on his shoulders and he’s mentally tough. Hopefully, he’s able to be a light for everybody else.”
Originally Published Jul 15 2021 01:11PM EDT