When Gaylord Perry made it to the major leagues with the San Francisco Giants in 1962, manager Alvin Dark told him that while he had the makings of being a good pitcher, he would be a terrible hitter. In fact, Dark told Perry that man would walk on the moon before Perry would ever hit a home run.
Seven years later, on July 20, 1969, much sooner than Dark had expected, Apollo 11 astronaut Neal Armstrong walked on the moon; shortly afterward Perry hit his first big league home run. While Perry had many thrills in his 22-year big league career, winning 314 games on his way to the Hall of Fame, he never received a World Series ring as none of the eight teams he played for made it to the World Series.
Jewish outfielder Richie Scheinblum hit his only home run of the 1969 season as a member of the Cleveland Indians on the same day Armstrong walked on the moon. After that, Scheinblum orbited around the minor leagues for a couple of years. When he made it back to the majors, he kept on orbiting as he was traded five times within three years.
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It was my third trip to the new Yankee Stadium this year and seeing Freddy Schuman made it even more enjoyable. Freddy roamed around the old stadium for over 20 years and is a fixture in the new version of Yankee Stadium.
Wearing a Yankees jersey, Freddy, now 84, is accompanied by creative and colorful signs on poster board with his signature “Freddy Sez” on top of the message. You always know when he’s around because he allows fans hoping for a rally to hit his frying pan with an oversized spoon. He’s become such a celebrity that fans ask to pose with him while a camera-toting friend snaps away.
While Freddy is one of a kind, there are more than 80 people holding the same kind of sign. They’re oversized paddles decorated with the Yankees logo and pinstripes titled, “How May I Help You.” They call themselves ambassadors and are there to help you navigate the magnificent new stadium and quickly find what you’re looking for.
A trip to the new Yankee Stadium is more enjoyable than it was in previous years as the Yankees organization has become much more fan friendly.
The latest Yankees innovation is really something: A kosher Yankees fantasy camp where you get to train and play in the Yankees’ beautiful Tampa spring training facilities. Coaches are former Yankees greats and legends – and you’ll be issued your own Yankees uniform to keep after the week of instruction and games to wear the following year at a Yankee Stadium reunion game.
Best of all, you’ll get glatt kosher food and the week is topped off by the Friday Dream Game where campers get to play against the former Yanks. A Shabbat program at the hotel will feature religious services arranged by the local Young Israel, meals, and an interesting roster of speakers.
I’m looking forward to the upcoming camps – November 16-22 and January 11-17, and meeting you and sharing some of my stories on how an Orthodox Jew spent years in the press box, dugouts, clubhouses and front office. Of course, I’ll have plenty of Yankees stories on interviews I did with Joe DiMaggio, Billy Martin, Thurman Munson, Reggie Jackson and numerous others. There will be other interesting speakers, including Orthodox agents who represent all-star big leaguers.
So, how did this come about?
Ira Jaskoll is the man behind it. Jaskoll, associate dean of the Sy Syms School of Business of Yeshiva University, has coached high school and youth baseball and basketball, and kept in shape last year for his 60th birthday by attending the Yankees fantasy camp. But as an Orthodox Jew, Jaskoll faced a couple of problems – the food and the big game, which was held on Saturday afternoon.
“When I inquired,” Jaskoll recalled, “I discovered that I was the first Orthodox or observant Jew who had wanted to attend. To my great relief, they were very accommodating, and said that I could bring my own food and they would reimburse me. I still had one major hurdle, however – the Dream Games, where each team plays against the Yankee Legends on Saturday. I would miss the highlight of the week.”
Jaskoll decided to attend the camp, and though he was unable to participate in the big Saturday game, he still had a great experience playing on a team coached by Ron Blomberg and Chris Chambliss. And Jaskoll was joined by a second Orthodox camper, Stu Shapiro, who came all the way from Israel.
“It was great,” said Jaskoll. “Everyone was extremely respectful of my decisions and limitations. I got to play second base, first base and the outfield. I had the opportunity to get the game-winning hit in our first game in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded. I completed a double play in the field and had the incredible experience of being coached by the great Chris Chambliss.”
Jaskoll, whose uniform was topped off by a yarmulke, was called “rabbi” by the former Yankees, many of whom asked him questions about Judaism. He used his teaching experience to answer their queries and pave the way for the upcoming Yankees’ Kosher Camp.
At the end of the week, Jaskoll approached Julie Kremer, the director of the fantasy camp and assistant general manager of the Tampa Yankees, about the possibility of modifying the schedule so that observant Jews could fully participate and not miss the big Dream Game this year.
“To my delight,” said Jaskoll, “she agreed, and the Kosher Fantasy Camp was born.” Jaskoll will be back in uniform to meet and greet participants. He can be contacted for further details at 201-836-3195, but not on Shabbos, of course. You can reach the Yankees for camp info at 800-360-CAMP or visit firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mrs. Jaskoll was very supportive of her husband’s decision to attend the camp and even traveled from their New Jersey home to Tampa at the end of the week to cheer him on.
Now, that’s a real aishes chayil.
Irwin Cohen, the author of seven books, headed a national baseball publication for five years before earning a World Series ring working as a department head in a major league front office. His Baseball Insider column appears the second week of each month in The Jewish Press. Cohen, who is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, may be reached in his dugout at email@example.com.