The first Orthodox Jew in a Major League Baseball organization

Jacob Steinmetz is the first Orthodox Jew to have been drafted by a Major League Baseball organization. In 2021, the Arizona Diamondbacks drafted the Long Island high school pitcher, then 17 years old.

Link to the Washington Post article here.

Orthodox Judaism, as generally practiced in the United States, is a particularly strict branch of Judaism, with strict observance of certain rules and proscriptions that can make a life in professional baseball difficult. These include broad kosher dietary restrictions, and a prohibition of "work" on the weekly Sabbath, from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday, which often even includes the use of mechanized devices, such as riding in cars.

Steinmetz was drafted in the third round, which indicates fairly significant potential to make the major leagues. About 40% of those drafted in that round eventually reach the major leagues. But first drafted players must play in the minor leagues, to develop their potential, hone their craft, and prove their ability. The Diamondbacks promised Steinmetz they would work with him to ensure he could play professionally and still observe his religion.

During the Sabbath — 25 hours from dusk Friday night to dusk Saturday — Steinmetz will not ride in a motor vehicle or use any electronics. He will walk to the ballpark, often traversing several miles there and back. Before and after games, as his teammates tuck into whatever spread the team has provided, Steinmetz instead consumes rigorously prepared kosher meals. The Diamondbacks schedule his starts for earlier in the week, although he would pitch on the Sabbath if required.

So far, the Diamondbacks have accommodated Steinmetz's religious requirements, even as his teams travel to the smaller cities of the minor league circuit.

The first challenge was food. The requirements of a kosher diet are strict, and the Diamondbacks "quickly realized we weren't going to be able to prepare kosher meals in our kitchen," Barfield said. Steinmetz spent the first year-plus of his career in the Arizona Complex League and ate just about every meal from kosher Scottsdale eatery Kitchen18. "He's probably had close to a thousand meals from that kitchen already," [Arizona farm director Josh] Barfield laughed. …

They've spent on more than just food. When Steinmetz got to Visalia, Barfield personally bought him a bicycle to ride the four miles from his house to the ballpark. He doesn't take it on the road, and when the team hotel is not a walkable distance from the field, the club puts Steinmetz up in a different, closer hotel. When that's not available — or when the team commutes to nearby cities like Fresno — Steinmetz is told to stay back rather than hoof it.

Steinmetz's decision that he would pitch on the Sabbath if required is a controversial choice within the Orthodox community.

Most are in Steinmetz's corner, according to the family, but some Orthodox Jews quibble with their interpretation of the Sabbath, on which work is not permitted. "Some people say it's not in the spirit of the Sabbath," the [Jacob] Steinmetz said, "but it's to everyone's interpretation."

Steinmetz's results so far have not been stellar. Over the three seasons he's played minor league baseball so far, he's compiled a poor 6.46 ERA, although at only 20 he's been about three years younger than the average age of the players he's been competing against. And there are reasons for optimism: his fastball reaches the upper 90s mph, his curveball is reported to be effective when commanded, and he has a low 1.89 ERA over his last four outings.

Here is Steinmetz pitching for Israel in the World Baseball Classic last spring.