As the 2023 MLB Draft concluded on July 11, the number of Jewish players drafted into the top North American major sports leagues increased to nine.
Although there were no Jewish players drafted into the NFL this year, the number of Jewish players drafted into pro leagues will likely increase when the MLS SuperDraft takes place in the Fall.
Before you see them on the field or court, get to know the new Jewish stars in the NBA, WNBA, NHL and MLB.
Amari Bailey was selected as the 41st pick in the 2023 NBA draft in June. Bailey, who was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, was raised in Chicago by his Jewish mom.
A former five-star recruit, Bailey moved to Los Angeles to play for the famed Sierra Canyon School to train alongside players like Bronny James. The 19-year-old competed for one season at UCLA before entering the NBA Draft.
It’s unknown whether the 6-foot-5 shooting guard is a practicing Jew, but his agent told The Forward that Bailey identifies as Jewish.
Last year during the offseason, Bailey trained at Shalhevet High School, a modern orthodox day school in Los Angeles, alongside other NBA and college ballers.
Abby Meyers is the only Jewish player in the WNBA this year. The 24-year-old guard was drafted No. 11 in April by the Dallas Wings, but was waived during training camp.
Meyers joined the Washington Mystics for a short stint on a hardship contract. During her time in D.C., Meyers notched her first WNBA points, her first official playing time and a spot on the Mystics’ rotation. Her time with the Mystics also gave her the opportunity to play just nine miles from her childhood synagogue, Washington Hebrew Congregation.
Meyers, who played for three seasons at Princeton before transferring to the University of Maryland for a Master’s in business and management, was involved in campus Jewish life while in school.
After establishing her leadership and shooting prowess, Meyers captained Team USA to a gold medal at the 2022 Maccabiah Games in Israel.
As one of the rising stars in the basketball world, the Maryland native wants to use her platform to speak about her Jewish identity.
“When given the opportunity to educate people, to talk about my Jewish heritage, and how I grew up, I don’t hesitate,” she told The Forward.
Out of the 224 players selected in the NHL Draft in June, Andrew Cristall is the only Jewish player to be drafted. The 18-year-old left wing was selected as No. 40 by the Washington Capitals.
However, Cristall is not expected to play for the Caps next season. The Canadian is expecting to spend another season with his junior team in Kelowna as his body develops. Still, Cristall is preparing to prove himself at rookie camp, which he will miss his family’s Rosh Hashanah celebrations to take part in.
This will not be the first time Cristall is forced to decide between Jewish holidays and his hockey career. Last year, he had to choose between fasting on Yom Kippur and playing for Kelowna in his own Sandy Koufax moment.
“I didn’t sit the game out, but I fasted as long as I could, and ate my pregame meal right before the game,” Cristall told the Canadian Jewish News.
Cristall — whose favorite Jewish food is challah — has spent his life deeply entrenched in Vancouver’s Jewish community. He attended Vancouver’s Talmud Torah elementary school where he won the school’s “Mensch of the Month” award in 2014 and had a Bar Mitzvah.
As one of the few Jewish hockey players, Cristall feels a responsibility to educate others about Judaism, much like Edmonton Oilers star Zach Hyman, who is Cristall’s favorite Jewish athlete.
“I like to represent, I think,” Cristall said. “I grew up with it and my family is Jewish, and we take a lot of pride in it. So it’s definitely not something that I’m gonna be shy of, but also I hopefully follow in Zach’s footsteps a little bit.”
Out of the 614 players drafted to MLB this year, six of them are Jewish, according to Jewish Baseball News. The first of these was Delaware native Jake Gelof who was selected as the 60th pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The 21-year-old third baseman graduated from the University of Virginia where he played with his older brother, Zack Gelof.
With his remarkable performance over the past two seasons, Jake Gelof has been recognized as “one of college baseball’s best hitters” by Bleacher Report. His record speaks for itself, holding the all-time home run record at Virginia.
The Gelof brothers grew up and attended Hebrew school in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Zack Gelof played on Team Israel in the 2023 World Baseball Classic, and Jake is expected to join his older brother on the roster in 2026.
Zach Levenson was selected 158th overall by the St. Louis Cardinals. The Jewish right fielder out of the University of Miami hails from Ovieda, Florida.
Levenson, 21, comes from a baseball family with both his brother and father having played in college.
In his two seasons in Miami, the slugger hit .295 and recorded 21 home runs. He transferred to UMiami from Seminole State College of Florida when he was a sophomore.
“Zach is a guy that definitely can do well at the next level just because of his approach and being consistent,” former Hurricanes coach Gino DiMare told the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
Lucas Braun was selected No. 189 by the Atlanta Braves. The first of two Jewish pitchers drafted, 21-year-old Braun played for two seasons at California State University, Northridge, after he transferred from the University of San Diego.
The right-handed ace earned his way to the All-Big West Second Team during his two seasons after recording a 3.97 earned-run average.
Hailing from Los Angeles, RJ “Ogre” Schrek was selected by the Seattle Mariners as the 277th pick in the 2023 Draft.
Schrek played for four years at Duke University before pursuing a graduate degree at Vanderbilt University. The 23-year-old outfielder posted 40 home runs over his years playing college baseball.
Schreck grew up in a Jewish family that encouraged him to play baseball and continue to pursue the sport.
“I had two older brothers in a pretty sports-centered family,” Schreck told the Vanderbilt Hustler. “I think I started playing organized baseball when I was three. There are tons of pictures of me before I was even able to walk with a catcher’s mask over my head.”
Ben Simon will be returning home after playing for three seasons at Elon University. The New Jersey native was drafted 396th by the New York Mets.
The right-hander struck out 103 batters in 88.1 innings over his three seasons as a Phoenix. The 21-year-old finished his junior year in May, but plans to finish his college degree, which he will be discussing with the Mets.
Becoming a Met has been a lifetime dream for Simon, whose family has always supported the team.
“I grew up in a Mets household,” Simon told the Trentonian. “I’ve been to a lot of Mets games and been through a lot of great moments with them.”
Will King was selected as the 609th overall pick by the Atlanta Braves, joining fellow Jewish player Lucas Braun.
King grew up in New City, New York, a predominantly Jewish town in Rockland County. He later transferred to the renowned sports preparatory school, IMG Academy.
During his three-season stint at Eastern Kentucky University, King, a catcher, distinguished himself by hitting 25 home runs and achieving a batting average of .306. In recognition of his performance, the 19-year-old was named to the Second Team All-ASUN in his junior season this year.
“It’s pretty surreal, it’s a dream come true, but honestly, it’s just another stepping stone and part of the process,” King said of his experience being drafted into the big leagues. “I’m excited to start.”
Originally Published Jul 16, 2023 05:39PM EDT