Orthodox Players Believed First Drafted by MLB

Orthodox Players Believed First Drafted by MLB

Arizona Diamondbacks drafted 17-year-old Jacob Steinmetz and Washington Nationals picked 18-year-old Elie Kligman.

A rising sophomore at Georgetown University, Nathan plans to major in government and minor in film and media studies as well as statistics, hoping to eventually get into a career creating digital content for campaigns or  covering them for the Atlanta Jewish Times and other media outlets.

In an apparent first, Orthodox Jewish baseball players have been drafted into the MLB. While Sandy Koufax was remembered for sitting out a World Series game during Yom Kippur, these two draftees are believed to be the first-ever Orthodox players to play in the MLB.

The two teenage players Jacob Steinmetz and Elie Kligman are expected to follow their religious beliefs as they head into the major leagues. Both will soon choose whether or not to play at a professional level or for college programs. Kligman is expected to choose the latter, his father told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. And Steinmetz expected to skip college for the pros, according to The Times of Israel.

Steinmetz would be what is believed the first practicing Orthodox Jewish player to make it to the big leagues if he forgoes college at Fordham University. Steinmetz has been able to compete so far by visiting tournaments ahead of schedule to make arrangements, from setting up hotels and kosher meals to walking five miles to play on Shabbat. Steinmetz seems to have eased the worries of the Diamondbacks, who selected him in the third round, much higher than anticipated.

Steinmetz, a 17-year-old pitcher from New York, has clocked pitches in the mid to high 90s. Kligman, an 18-year-old from Nevada, plays a variety of positions, including pitcher and shortstop, but has been moving towards catching, as of late.

Steinmetz has, until now, been bringing kosher food with him, but hopes that the attention being placed on him will help ease being observant. With Phoenix believed to have a sizable Jewish community approaching 100,000, Steinmetz told JTA, “I know Arizona has a big Jewish community, so there’s going to [be] a bunch of kosher food. Once I start moving up … the plan is to either ship food there or bring my own food or however I do that. It shouldn’t be that difficult for me.”

Diamondbacks Scouting Director Deric Ladnier told reporters that he isn’t worried about Steinmetz’ religious beliefs. “We loved his stuff, big arm; what we felt was one of the better curveballs in the draft. There were some things with regards to his religious background being an Orthodox Jew, we’re going to respect that. … As an organization, we’ll have to work with his schedule to make sure he can maintain his schedule with his religion.”

Steinmetz doesn’t expect to go straight to the majors, but told the JTA that he hopes to make it in “three, four years.” He didn’t believe a major league career was even possible until “a couple months back,” as he went through a growth spurt and was able to increase his fastball speed. Steinmetz has also gotten into contact with Kligman recently, once they started hearing about each other in the lead up to the draft, telling the JTA, “We obviously just heard about each other recently, when all this stuff started coming out, so we got in contact.”

As Steinmetz received the call for the majors, family members and friends erupted in celebration, many wearing kippot. His religious observance was noted by commentators, who announced the draft picks, with MLB analyst Jonathan Mayo saying, “Mazal tov and B’Hatzlacha!” Both terms mean good luck.

At only 17, there is a good chance Steinmetz will make the major leagues with his already fast speed.

While neither of the new MLB picks have been asked to play on Team Israel, which is in Tokyo for the Olympics, both said they would be honored to receive the call.

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