Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The 2019 baseball season is underway. One date that’s marked on my calendar is Jewish Heritage Day: Sunday, May 19, when the Miami Marlins host the New York Mets.

I attended the spring training version of Jewish Heritage Day in Jupiter, FL, last month, when the St. Louis Cardinals hosted the New York Mets. I was among those invited to view the game from a rooftop suite on the first base side and treated to a sumptuous, strictly kosher meal. Dr. Roni Raab, executive director of the South Florida Jewish National Fund, did a great job of overseeing the planning.

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Shai Abramson, chief cantor of the IDF, belted out the national anthem while Mets and Cardinals players stood at attention. When the chazzan finished, many players gave him a thumbs up. Dr. Raab hopes over 5,000 Jewish fans will purchase tickets for the regular season Jewish Heritage Day on May 19.

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The National League has a greater number of good teams than the American League, which only has four: the Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros, New York Yankees, and Cleveland Indians. The Indians should win the A.L. Central Division easily as they are far better than their competition, but the team is no match for the Astros, Red Sox, or Yankees. Houston is clearly the best in the West, and Boston and New York will fight it out in the East. All should advance to the postseason.

The National League West’s best team is the Los Angeles Dodgers. Moving to the Central: The Reds are my favorite. They added three pretty good pitchers and also beefed up the lineup. Translation: their pitchers will give up fewer runs and their hitters will score more runs. It will be nice to see Cincy’s beautiful downtown ballpark, with its white exterior and red interior, buzzing with more excitement this year.

The Reds also have one of my favorite players, Scooter Gennet. What a great story: Milwaukee let the 5′ 10″, left-handed second baseman go, and he hung on in the majors with his native Cincinnati Reds. He rewarded his hometown club by batting .295 with 27 home runs (four in one game) in 2017 and was consistent last season as he upped his batting average to .310 while hitting 23 homers. Scooter led all second basemen in hits (181) and RBIs (92).

The Reds have a great infield, with third baseman Eugenio Soarez (.283, 34 home runs, 104 RBI) and shortstop Jose Peraza (.288, 14 home runs and 23 stolen bases). First baseman Joey Votto had an off year (.284, 12 home runs), but the addition of outfielders Matt Kemp (.290, 21 home runs) and Yasiel Puig (.267, 23 home runs) in a trade from the Dodgers gives this team a powerful lineup.

Managing this interesting team is Cincinnati native David Bell, who had a 12-year big league career followed by coaching and managing in the minors and working for the San Francisco Giants as director of player development. David’s father (Buddy) and grandfather (Gus) also spent several seasons in the major leagues. A Bell has appeared on baseball cards for six decades.

Gabe Kapler, of the Philadelphia Phillies, is one of two Jewish managers in the MLB.

Another manager we’ll be watching this year is Gabe Kapler of the Philadelphia Phillies, one of two Jewish managers. (The other is Brad Ausmus of the Los Angeles Angels.) Kapler is expected to lead the Phillies to the postseason with the addition of free agent Bryce Harper and other strong players.

The Phillies face stiff competition in the National League East Division, however, as the Atlanta Braves, New York Mets, and Washington Nationals all have a chance at the top spot.

So, there are more competitive teams in the National League than the American League, but I expect that the American League’s three best teams – Boston, Houston, and the Yankees – to beat the National League’s best in the World Series.

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Author, columnist, and public speaker Irwin Cohen headed a national baseball publication for five years and worked for a major league team, becoming the first Orthodox Jew to earn a World Series ring. He can be reached in his suburban Detroit area dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.