Diamondbacks select first known Orthodox Jewish player ever drafted

A 17-year-old pitcher named Jacob Steinmetz made history on Monday. When the Arizona Diamondbacks selected him in the third round of the MLB Draft, snagging him with the 77th overall pick, he became the first known practicing Orthodox Jewish player drafted.

According to the New York Post, Steinmetz, a 6-foot-6 Long Island native, keeps kosher and observes the Sabbath, which means that from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday, walking is his only form of transportation. He can’t use a car, bus, train, or plane. While some refrain from doing any work on the Sabbath, Steinmetz has said that he’s willing to pitch on Friday nights or Saturday before sundown and on Jewish holidays. 

Balancing baseball and religion

Despite being just 17, Steinmetz has a maturity beyond his years. That’s what it takes to balance his commitment to baseball and his commitment to Orthodox Judaism.

Observing the Sabbath while pitching for teams in high school and over the summer has meant making adjustments. To avoid using any kind of transportation on the Sabbath, he’ll arrive at tournaments early and seek out hotels as close to the ballpark as possible. Sometimes the hotels aren’t actually that close — he’s had to walk five miles one way to get to a game — but for him, it’s just part of his life.

“It’s never been frustrating to me,” Steinmetz told the New York Post. “It’s just something I’ve always done. It makes me who I am. It’s definitely made [my life] different, but in a good way.”

Steinmetz’s summer coach Daniel Corona told the New York Post that he believes Steinmetz’s dual commitment to baseball and Orthodox Judaism has made him truly special. 

“There’s a difference between being committed, doing all this hard work and having this extra layer,” his summer coach, Daniel Corona, said. “I don’t know if there’s ever going to be another Jacob, as far as this whole process goes. He set an example that anything is possible as far as being committed to multiple things at once and still believing in yourself, your dreams, to make them happen.”

College baseball or professional baseball?

Steinmetz, who began taking baseball seriously at age 11, told the New York Post that he never imagined he’d be an MLB prospect. But his life started moving toward that just last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and he was forced to stay indoors most of the time. He put on 25 pounds of muscle after lifting weights in his basement all year, and joined an online pitching academy. 

He eventually decided to join Elev8 Baseball Academy in Florida, which allowed scouts to get a good look at him. They liked what they saw — a pitcher with increasing velocity who even at 6-foot-6 still isn’t done growing — and he began landing on prospect lists. 

After word of his talent started spreading, SEC schools began showing interest in him. But Steinmetz had already committed to Fordham University in the Bronx and didn’t want to pitch anywhere else. But now the Diamondbacks have come calling. 

Now Steinmetz has an important decision to make: Will he go college and play for Fordham, or will he sign with the Diamondbacks? It won’t be easy, but there’s one thing he can put out of his mind: Fordham has said that they’ll accommodate his Kosher diet and observance of the Sabbath, and professional teams his family has spoken to have to said the same thing. 

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