Steinmetz, First Orthodox Jew taken in MLB Draft looks ahead to representing Israel at WBC

Mar 7, 2023 | Jews in Sports

Israel takes to the diamond this coming Sunday as they will once again participate in the World Baseball Classic and will look to stun baseball aficionados with strong play as they did back in the most recent edition of the competition which took place in 2017 as well as when they participated in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The blue-and-white will field their most talented team ever with Major League stars in two time World Series Champ Joc Pederson, Dean Kremer and Ryan Lavarnway while four time all-star Ian Kinsler will be the club’s manager together with a coaching staff that includes Brad Ausmus, Kevin Youkillis, Jerry Narron and Josh Zeid.

There is no question that talent will be oozing from Israel in Miami where they will play in Pool D but they will face stiff competition in Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Nicaragua who they will play once each between March 11-15.

In addition to Israel’s group, there will be three other pools of five teams which will play in Phoenix, Tokyo and Taichung with the top two teams of each pool advancing to the quarterfinals while the final four will take place in Miami.

Jacob Steinmetz – Photo Credit: Instagram

Just ahead of Israel’s first pitch, The Sports Rabbi spoke to pitcher Jacob Steinmetz who made waves back in 2021 when he was the first ever Orthodox Jew to be selected in the MLB Draft. The Queens, New York native was taken 77th overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks and at only 19-years old will be a part of the blue-and-white’s squad for the WBC.

“I’m very excited to be playing for Israel in the World Baseball Classic. It’s something that was in teh back of my mind since 2017 which was the first WBC that I watched. It was a dream and a goal of mine. At that point college baseball wasn’t even a thought for me as I was in my freshman year of baseball. To be able to play for Israel is an honor.”

While Israel advanced to the second round of play in the 2017 WBC, Steinmetz says the team as a whole has loftier goals this time around as he also explains what he himself has set his sights on as well on an individual level.

“Our goals as a team is to win every game we play, but it’s not going to be easy. We have solid squad and we can compete with the goal of winning gold. For myself, I just want to enjoy the experience as I’ll be one of the younger guys on the team. It will be an opportunity for me to talk to the big league guys and other veteran minor league players as well as the staff. I am here to help at any capacity for the coaching staff and the team. While I spoke to pitching coach Josh Zeid, I am not sure yet what my role will be this year but it will most certainly be a chance to hopefully build relationships.”

Jacob Steinmetz – Photo Credit: Twitter

Now that he will be surrounded by players and coaches who have played and starred at the highest of levels whether it is Kinsler, Pederson or Youkilis, Steinmetz shared that he did not have any Jewish baseball role models or any baseball role models in general along the way.

“I don’t know if I had any Jewish role models in baseball growing up as I was Yankees fan. Ironically, Kevin Youkillis who is now a coach was a rival with the Red Sox and Alex Bregman is on the Astros, so there were no Jewish baseball role models for me. I never really tried to emulate anybody but I do enjoy watching the top guys always and maybe take little things, but from no one in specific.”

However, Steinmetz was able to emulate his parents, especially his father Elliot who has been leading the Yeshiva University Maccabees men’s basketball team and was able to guide the young flamethrower as he prepared to take the next step in his very young career.

“As they are for many people, my parents were true role models for me and my dad really helped me out with his experience when it came to recruiting for college and knowing what coaches are looking for.”

Jacob Steinmetz – Photo Credit: Instagram

While Steinmetz always had played organized baseball as a child whether it was part of the local synagogue league, city or school leagues, it was only during the pandemic that he felt that he had a chance to go pro and play at the top levels of the sport.

“I felt that I had a chance to became a professional baseball player in the summer of 2020. I started working out in my basement during the Covid-19 pandemic and when things opened up and I was able to play scouts began to watch me and tings took off from there.”

Draft day in the summer of 2021 was extremely exciting for the Steinmetz household as a dream turned into reality but he is also aware that there is still a long road ahead of him.

“It was pretty cool when I was drafted with all of my friends and family being with me and not having to wait and sit around for a while! It was huge to be with everyone. But none of that matters anymore and we are pros now with the goal of making it to the show.”

Jacob Steinmetz – Photo Credit: Instagram

Being an Orthodox Jew obviously presents certain challenges but as Steinmetz explains one of his biggest concerns going in was ironed out fairly quickly, “It hasn’t been too hard and the team has been very accommodating. The biggest thing for me was having Kosher food and the team was able to set that up for me with meals being delivered twice a week for lunch and dinner. As for Shabbat that also hasn’t been problem as I am close by and then I stay for the day and head back afterwards.”

After making his debut in the Arizona Complex League in 2021 and made one start for the Rookie League team, last season Steinmetz pitched in 11 games and struck out 27 batters in 24 innings.

“My best pitch is my curveball, but I don’t look at myself as a one pitch type but I am a well-rounded pitcher with a fastball in the low to mid 90’s and my off-speed pitch is pretty good,” the right-hander said.

As MLB is in the midst of Spring Training, the minor leagues are also busy gearing up for their season as well, Steinmetz said, “The Minor League camp is similar to the Major League one as we are working on the same type of things. We play games just like they do on the back fields and we also back-up the big league games as well. So it’s very similar with the majority of the guys here trying to make Double A, High A or Low A, while the guys at the Major League camp are either already in the big leagues or are trying to earn a spot. But at the end of the day the level we are at is just a starting point to continue to move up.”

Ryan Turell Jacob Steinmetz – Photo Credit: Twitter

Over the past couple of years, Steinmetz along with fellow baseball player Elie Kligman and hoopster Ryan Turell, who played under the pitcher’s father at YU, are all observant Jews who are looking to take their talents to the highest level possible. In the past, the thought of being Orthodox and playing in the NBA or MLB was just an impossible dream and not a possible reality. But now this young trio are pushing the limits as to what can and can’t be done all within religion.

“As for being Orthodox, every family is different and it depends on who is willing to do what. Back years ago there were a lot of cases of Orthodox Jews who would have wanted to play professional sports but there wasn’t much thought about it and you just weren’t able to play, although some families would have been willing to do it. Right now, me and Ryan Turell who is doing it with basketball along with Elie Kligman who is in college show that it can done.”

Steinmetz is well aware that the Jewish world has their eyes on him and the Israel baseball team as the WBC gets underway with the chance of representing both the religion and country he loves but is also something that he is already used to.

Jacob Steinmetz – Photo Credit: Instagram

“It will kind of be similar to what I have been doing up until now. Representing the Jewish people when I was drafted and since I have been playing pro ball. It will be an opportunity, for Jews, young and old, Observant or cultural to feel a sense of pride in Israel and being Jewish. It was the same as when my dad’s team won all those games in a row at Yeshiva University where they were representing every Jew and it’s the same thing here. I hope that I can inspire some people.”

Ultimately, as game day is approaching, Steinmetz is super excited for what is on the horizon and can’t wait to get the games underway, “The thought of pulling on the Israel jersey and put on the blue-and-white hat will be cool and exciting. It is a dream come true.”

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