Orthodox Jewish ace from Long Island expected to be picked in MLB draft

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At 6-foot-6, 224 pounds and armed with a 97 mph fastball, Jacob Steinmetz has rare gifts for a 17-year-old. Those gifts have landed him a scholarship to Fordham University and could make him a lot of money in this week’s MLB draft.

But the lightning in his right arm is just part of what makes Steinmetz so unique. In the next few days he may become a trailblazer — the first known practicing Orthodox Jewish baseball player to get drafted.

“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.”

The Woodmere, L.I., native, projected to be picked in rounds 3-7, is an impressive pitching prospect who took part in last week’s draft combine and had recent workouts for the Dodgers and Angels. Baseball America ranks him No. 181 in this draft class, while MLB.com has him 121 and Perfect Game lists him 102.

Steinmetz keeps the Sabbath and eats only Kosher food. From sundown Friday until sunset on Saturday, he cannot ride in a car, bus, train or plane. He can only walk. For baseball tournaments, he will travel ahead of time and arrange hotels within walking distance of the fields. Sometimes, that can mean five-mile hikes the day he pitches. He will play during the Sabbath and on Jewish holidays.

“It’s never been frustrating to me,” Steinmetz said. “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.”

His father, Elliot, said they have never discussed cutting corners. Fordham has said it will work with Steinmetz to make sure eating Kosher or keeping the Sabbath aren’t impacted. Professional teams the family has spoken with have expressed a similar sentiment. According to MLB Network draft guru Jim Callis, teams that interviewed Steinmetz at the combine came away impressed by how well he articulated his plan to balance baseball and his faith, and why it is so important to him. Steinmetz declined to say if he would be willing to make concessions if there were no other option at the professional level.

“It seems to be something he has in his heart and something he enjoys is a part of him,” said Elliot, a real estate attorney who is also the men’s basketball coach at Division III Yeshiva University. “It’s part of the discipline and the commitment he has to baseball. A lot of that I think comes from his relationship with religion. The fact he’s able to interview the way he [does] or have poise the way he does or figure out things the way he does, a lot of it is because of his religious background.”

Steinmetz’s rise has come as somewhat of a surprise. Steinmetz admitted when he committed to Fordham in the fall of his junior year, he never anticipated becoming an MLB prospect. It wasn’t until last spring, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, that his life began to really change. Without anything else to occupy his time, he began lifting weights in his basement and adding significant muscle to his lanky frame. He joined Tread Athletics, an online pitching development company, and put on 25 pounds in the span of one year.

In first bullpen session after quarantine last summer, he was hitting 91 mph. By January, he was consistently in the low 90s without maximum exertion. The ball was coming out effortlessly.

“He’s already got good stuff and you feel he can get better,” Callis said. “He’s not done maturing physically.”

He played for his high school team, The Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway, as an underclassman, but this past season, Steinmetz wanted to showcase himself against top competition, and traveled to Delray Beach, Fla,. to play for Elev8 Baseball Academy. He found himself in front of 20-30 pro scouts per game. His velocity kept on going up, all the way into the mid-to-upper 90s.

SEC schools approached his coach, but Steinmetz wasn’t interested. He had made a commitment to Fordham. If he was going to college, it would be in The Bronx.

While living on his own in Florida, Steinmetz was still able to juggle his responsibilities without his parents’ help. He would go shopping for Kosher food once a week, pray daily and keep the Sabbath by staying close enough to the team’s field to walk there. He remained enrolled at his high school over Zoom and graduated with a 3.80 GPA.

It wasn’t always easy to balance the two. When Steinmetz first began taking baseball seriously at the age of 11, traveling for the first time, he was unsure how it would work. There have been plenty of long walks to games. He will leave a few extra hours early so it doesn’t affect him on the mound. Most hotels don’t have Kosher food, so he has to pack extra in a cooler bag.

He has spoken to other Orthodox Jewish athletes about the challenges he faces and the hurdles that remain. One of them is Tamir Goodman, who was known as the “Jewish Jordan” years ago. Goodman, considered one of the best high school basketball prospects in the country in 2000, was set to attend Maryland. But there was friction with the coaching staff over his refusal to play on the Sabbath.

He ended up enrolling at Towson, started most of his freshman year and, after alleging the new coach, Michael Hunt, assaulted him in December of his sophomore year, went professional in Israel.

Steinmetz’s road has been clear in comparison. He hasn’t faced any opposition.

“When I look back at it and hear stories about what Jacob’s doing, it just makes me so happy because it makes me feel that these ups and downs I went through [happened] so the next generation — Jacob’s generation — could be a little smoother for them. Maybe he doesn’t need to explain as much, or God forgive he doesn’t have to go through some of the things I went through,” Goodman said, adding, “It’s very exciting for the Jewish community.”

Corona recalled one game several years ago, when Steinmetz pitched his team to a quarterfinal victory. Steinmetz and his father were walking back to the hotel three miles away in the oppressive Florida heat when the team bus approached them. It stopped and his teammates ran out.

“I have video of the team, 11- and 12-year-olds just jumping off the bus and walking three miles with him to the hotel, just making him feel welcome,” Corona said. “Like, ‘Dude, you just pitched a helluva game, we understand what you’re going through. We want to be a part of it.’ ”

In Woodmere, Steinmetz is a role model for younger Orthodox Jewish kids. He will get approached frequently, asked for photos, autographs and advice. Steinmetz doesn’t seek out attention, he doesn’t broadcast his faith. But he may not have a choice. He is fast becoming an Orthodox Jewish icon, an example that anything is possible. Soon, he could make history.

“It’s a great opportunity for him to continue to evolve as a leader and continue to show people you can break down certain walls, do certain things and not have to necessarily sacrifice your background for it,” Elliot said. “I think he’s the right kid for it, just because he has a good head on his shoulders and he’s mentally tough. Hopefully, he’s able to be a light for everybody else.”

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