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History-making Diamondbacks right-hander Jacob Steinmetz joins JI’s podcast

In 2021, Steinmetz became the first practicing Orthodox Jewish baseball player drafted into the MLB

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Jacob Steinmetz of Team Israel throws a pitch during the second inning against the Dominican Republic at loanDepot park on March 14, 2023 in Miami, Fla.

It’s not hard to see how Jacob Steinmetz developed a passion for sports as a child — his father, Elliot Steinmetz, a longtime basketball coach, has headed the Yeshiva University Maccabees since 2014 — but despite obvious talent, few would have imagined that a young, religious kid playing T-ball in his synagogue’s league would go on to become the first practicing Orthodox Jew to be drafted by a Major League team.

Fast forward to 2021, after graduating from The Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway (HAFTR), Steinmetz, a 17-year-old hard-throwing right-hand pitcher, was chosen as the 77th overall pick in that year’s MLB draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Now 19, Steinmetz has nearly three years of professional ball under his belt and is currently a starter for the Visalia Rawhide, the Diamondbacks’ Single-A affiliate team in Visalia, Calif. Earlier this year, the 6-foot-6 Steinmetz made headlines again during the 2023 World Baseball Classic when, as part of Team Israel,  he struck out six-time All-Star Manny Machado, two-time All-Star Gary Sánchez and 2022 World Series MVP Jeremy Peña.

During the most recent episode of Jewish Insider’s podcast, Steinmetz joined co-hosts Rich Goldberg and Jarrod Bernstein to discuss his journey into professional baseball as an observant Jew.

Below are selected portions of the conversation. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

On his draft day journey: “I kind of had an idea that I was going to get drafted, and where I would get drafted. But leading up to it, I really had no idea about pro ball. I committed to college November of 2019, so right before COVID, and even then had no intentions of playing pro ball out of high school. [I] was thinking maybe I could see how college goes and maybe play after college. COVID happened and then I started working out a little bit during COVID and started taking it more seriously. And that summer, in 2020, my coach for travel ball that year happened to be a former scout who had a lot of relationships in the Long Island area with other scouts, and he also happens to be an advisor, or works with the agency I’m with right now, True Gravity Baseball. So we had a good relationship with him for about a year at that point, and he started bringing scouts out to the games. And me and my dad, I mean I was just there to pitch and have fun or whatever and try to get ready for college obviously, not thinking much of it, and my dad thought he was nuts. So that summer kind of went and started picking up a little bit of steam, so that off-season in 2021, in the winter, I decided I was going to go for it and see where I could take it. So, at the time they’re not agents, they’re called advisors because agents would be an NCAA violation somehow, so you call them advisors, and they and my family and myself decided that it would be best to get seen and go down to Florida for that two, three months, and we decided on that and it worked out well.”

On what it’s like to play professional baseball: “You definitely see that it’s a job and, I mean, it’s tough work. We go at it for 100, I mean, big leagues are 162 games, I’m not sure how many the minor league games are, but we go six days a week and we’re at the field for pretty much most of the day. As a pitcher, as a starting pitcher, it’s a little easier just because I pitch once a week and I know I’ll have the next six days off, but I mean I still love it, especially on days where I pitch. Once you go out there… there’s nothing like it.”

On how he’s managed to maintain a religious lifestyle in Visalia: “Thankfully, it’s been super easy so far, especially out in Arizona. The team has been unbelievable about it, finding me kosher food wherever I go. Even when they told me that I was going to be moving up to Visalia, they told me and they also said that they’re going to do whatever they could to try to find me a place closest to the field for me to walk on Friday nights and Saturdays, and they’re gonna try to find me kosher food and stuff, and work with me about that, so they’ve been very helpful with that which has made it a lot easier. But for me, the kosher food isn’t as big of a problem just because I know, worst case, I can do an Instacart order or something from a supermarket that has just bagels and cream cheese, and that could be my go-to meal if I have to. But we’ve been figuring it out pretty well, and I also know that… I could have my parents ship me something out here, which is what I’ve been doing so far and seems like I might be doing for however long I’m in affiliate ball or at least in an area where there isn’t as much kosher food. And for Shabboses, for Sabbath, the team has also been trying to avoid me having to pitch on Saturdays, which in minor league ball is pretty easy, because we have six-game series, as I said, and we have six starters, so it kind of worked out that each person has their own day, so they just slotted me in on whichever day, and so Saturdays I’m able to just kind of walk to the field and not really have to worry about anything else.”

On playing in the World Baseball Classic: “In 2017, I was a freshman in high school just watching the World Baseball Classic with my brother, who’s a couple years younger than me, and we saw Team Israel was making a run and we thought it was really cool. And at the time I hadn’t been playing super high level, but I was trying to see if I could play college baseball so I thought to myself, it’d be pretty cool if I’d be able to play with them one day, not really expecting anything and not even thinking about pro ball at the time, and maybe kind of thinking about college baseball, but nothing crazy yet. And fast forward… five years, when we started having conversations, I think my dad reached out to somebody, and we were kind of just trying to get a contact with Team Israel to kind of reach out and see what we can do about getting on the team or just even building a relationship for maybe the next WBC once I’m a little older to be on the team. We talked with them for a good amount of time. They had to see who would play, who was going to play, who wasn’t going to play, how much roster space they had available, and eventually, I got the opportunity to play for them. [I wasn’t] really expecting much playing time, really just kind of joining just because I wanted to have the experience and being able to be around the big league guys and other minor league guys, and kind of just learn from the experience and build relationships for maybe the next couple of years and being able to contribute then. Going in [I] thought maybe I’d have a bullpen role, come in if we’re down by a lot or up by a lot, just eat outs or something like that, and they had me start one of the exhibition games down there. We had played against the Washington Nationals in a spring training game, and I started. I had a pretty good first inning, that was all I pitched, so had a pretty good outing, and I guess they liked what they saw there, and they told me I was going to start that game against the Dominican Republic, so there was kind of a quick turn of events there, but it was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.”

Bonus lighting round: Favorite major leaguers to watch growing up? “My go-to is usually Derek Jeter.” Favorite Jewish sports player of all time? “I don’t know if I really had a favorite Jewish sports player, I mean, I always say that like I know Kevin Youkilis was a Jewish sports player, but he was with the Red Sox so [being a Yankees fan] I couldn’t like him. Alex Bregman’s with the Astros, so I couldn’t really like him. So, it kind of seems like a lot of the Jewish sports players that I grew up watching were rivals with the Yankees, so I don’t really know if I had a favorite.” Favorite restaurant in the Five Towns? “I mean, you can’t go wrong with Doma [Land + Sea], it’s more of a fancy-type restaurant, but [I] don’t go there as much, but I’ll go with a different one. I probably went to this place over 100 times throughout my four years of high school, so I have to say Holy Schnitzel.” Favorite baseball movie of all time? “I mean a lot of baseball movies I had watched when I was a lot younger, so I don’t really remember them as much. I mean, I’ve seen all the classic ones: I’ve seen ‘The Sandlot,’ I’ve seen ‘Rookie of the Year,’ I’ve seen ‘Bull Durham,’ I’ve seen ‘Major League.’ Favorite? The ‘Major League’ movies I always found pretty funny, especially as a younger kid.”

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