We were thrilled to hear that Jacob Steinmetz, an Orthodox star high school pitcher from Woodmere, Long Island, was chosen by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the major league baseball draft. We were elated to hear a day or two later that Elie Kligman, from Summerlin, Nevada, another Orthodox young man who starred as a pitcher, infielder and catcher was drafted by the Washington Nationals.
I think of Moe Berg often (athlete, scholar, spy and infielder, catcher in the major leagues in the 1920s and ’30s). Why? Because I knew his teammate and roommate Rick Ferrell and writer Jerome Holtzman, who said Moe would often use the two words “wonderful” and “magnificent.” When I see or hear something good, (besides the appropriate brochos) I think that Moe’s around booming out those words. He would have said “Wonderful!” to the Steinmetz news and “Magnificent!” when he heard about Kligman.
Steinmetz and Kligman are lucky to have fathers who are successful lawyers and also have coaching experience. They can negotiate contracts and have a good idea what’s ahead for their sons. Both youngsters are 18 and are about 6-foot-five. They still may have some growing ahead, and if they reach the majors, they’ll be the tallest Jewish players to do so.
Let’s look at the road ahead for both guys. Steinmetz is rated a better prospect and was snapped up quicker in the lower round (third) of the draft, 77th player chosen, while Kligman was selected in the 20th round.
Major league baseball teams have scouts around the country searching for the most talented high school and college players. It’s no secret who’s good and often school coaches contact teams about a player. Many different teams could have a scout watching the same game. Teams know who they want to draft and in what order but can’t choose anyone until it’s their turn in the draft. The team with the worst won-lost record the previous season gets to choose first. Then the second worst team based on last year’s record gets to choose and on and on. Then it’s on to the second round and so on.
When a player is drafted he can choose not to sign with the team that drafted him and instead opt to go to college and play on that team. College players usually go higher in the draft and get a bigger signing bonus, and such players would most likely end up in a different organization while working their way up to the major leagues.
The Arizona Diamondbacks thought highly of Steinmetz, as most teams would have chosen other players while he was still available. Diamondbacks scouting director Deric Ladnier feels Steinmetz has a “lot of potential,” and has one of the best curveballs available in the draft. “Our organization will work with his schedule with his religion.”
Steinmetz, who is used to a Young Israel davening, will find many shuls when and if he makes the major leagues. I think he will make it if he has good control and doesn’t walk too many batters. He already has the fastball and curveball and has to learn to tease batters with another pitch. But that’s what the minor leagues are for – to polish up the potential of young players.
Here’s Jacob’s ladder: He’ll start with the Rookie League team near Scottsdale, and if he’s good enough Jacob could skip the low A Visalia Rawhides (California) and go to the High A Hillsboro Hops near Portland, Oregon. Double A is a higher brand of ball and Arizona’s club in that league is the Amarillo Sod Poodles (Texas) and one step below the majors is the Triple A Reno Aces (Nevada).
While Steinmetz says he’ll walk to the ballpark on Shabbos and Yom Tov, Kligman won’t leave for games until after Shabbos and holidays. Until now these guys were probably the best players on the field. Now they’ll be one of many and will have to be better than their teammates to secure a starting position. Elie is going to concentrate on catching, as catchers usually get a day or two off a week because of the demands of that position. He’s used to the Chabad style of davening and should have many Chabad choices as he works his way up in the Washington Nationals organization.
He’ll start with the Gulf Coast League Nationals, only about three miles from my dugout in Century Village of West Palm Beach. I already extended a Shabbos invitation and I’m sure the six Chabad houses in the area will also house him. The next stop is Low A, Fredericksburg Nationals (Virginia), then it’s on to High A Wilmington Blue Rocks (Delaware), Double A Harrisburg Senators (PA) and Triple A Rochester Red Wings (NY). Food or Chabad should be no problem in those areas.
Having been around many clubhouses, dugouts and lockers during my time in baseball, obviously not as a player, I would offer this advice: While you’ll have the respect of just about all the players and probably all the coaches and managers, you still have to be on guard. There’s always a jokester or two who may want to take you off the religious pedestal. Enter your hotel room carefully as someone may try to plant a person of the female persuasion there. And they may be armed with a camera. Christian chapel services are in the clubhouse Sunday mornings and teammates will tell you to come listen in. That should be your own prayer or learning time.
I heard this question a few times, you’ll probably hear it more: “Why don’t you believe in Jesus?” I always used the same answer: “We have a lot in common. We both believe the Messiah will be a Jewish guy.”
I’m sure your fathers bless you on Friday nights with, “May you be like Ephraim and Menashe.” Let’s hope so. Remember, we’re you on the field and you’re us off the field. Every pitch Jacob throws and every pitch Elie hits will be followed. But it’s how you conduct yourself off the field that will go in the heavenly record books.