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MLB's First Orthodox Jewish Player: A Trailblazing Journey

Jacob Steinmetz’s Remarkable Path in Professional Baseball

As Jacob Steinmetz embarked on his first international road trip as a professional baseball player, he had more to consider than just the game. The 20-year-old pitching prospect, who made history in July 2021 as the first Orthodox Jew drafted into MLB, was gearing up for his third start with the Hillsboro Hops, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ High-A affiliate in Oregon, as they traveled to face the Vancouver Canadians.

Steinmetz's preparation involved more than pitching. Ensuring his dietary and religious needs were met presented unique challenges. Typically, the Diamondbacks’ organization has supported him by ordering kosher food and arranging accommodations close enough to the field for him to walk to practice on Saturdays. However, in Vancouver, no hotels were within walking distance, and there were concerns about kosher food shipments from Los Angeles getting stuck in customs. Steinmetz's family stepped in, securing local kosher restaurants and an Airbnb near the ballpark.

“I had a kind of expectation going in of it being much harder,” Steinmetz said of his Orthodox lifestyle in professional baseball. “With [the Diamondbacks] putting all that together, and just being so open and honest about everything, and just so willing to adjust to anything I need, it’s been a lot easier than I could have ever imagined. Thankfully I haven’t had to stress out too much about anything.”

Since being selected 77th overall in the 2021 draft, Steinmetz has steadily climbed the ranks within the Diamondbacks’ minor league system. After starting in the rookie-level Arizona Complex League, he moved up to Low-A with the Visalia Rawhide in central California, making 19 appearances. His breakout moment came during the 2023 World Baseball Classic, where he struck out three major leaguers while playing for Team Israel against the Dominican Republic.

Adjusting to professional life, Steinmetz has settled into a routine that accommodates his Orthodox practices. The team arranges for frozen kosher meals, grape juice for Shabbat, and matzah for Passover, ensuring he can observe his dietary laws even on the road. While some of his coaches are still learning about his religious needs, they respect his observances, even when it means missing practice or games.

“There’s definitely some explaining being done,” Steinmetz said. “But at the end of the day, they’re just trusting me with a lot of it. And I don’t take it lightly. Whenever I can be there, I try to be there. Whenever I have a little bit of a dilemma, I’ll tell the coaches and they’ll always say, ‘Hey, whatever you need, don’t worry about that.’”

Steinmetz's background includes makeshift Shabbat services and playing in remote tournaments, experiences that have prepared him for the demands of minor league life. His teammates, curious about his lifestyle, often ask about kashrut and Shabbat, and some have even started explaining it to others.

Steinmetz's focus remains on improving his game. After starting 2024 with Visalia, he posted a 3.60 ERA with 59 strikeouts in 50 innings before being promoted to Hillsboro. His improved command and confidence in his pitches have helped him reduce walks and go deeper into games.

In addition to his baseball gear, Steinmetz carries symbols of his identity: an Israeli flag sewn onto his glove and an Israeli flag headband under his hat. These items not only manage his long hair but also signal his pride and solidarity. “When people see my headband sometimes they’ll be like, ‘Hey, I stand with Israel,’ or ‘Cool headband,’ stuff like that,” he said. “It’s just kind of showing who I am and not hiding from it.”

Steinmetz’s family closely follows his progress, occasionally traveling to see him pitch. His father, Elliot Steinmetz, and his grandfather, Michael Steinmetz, express immense pride in his achievements and his dedication to both his faith and his sport.

Jacob Steinmetz’s journey is an inspiring testament to balancing professional aspirations with personal beliefs. His story resonates with many, demonstrating that it’s possible to pursue one's dreams while staying true to one's values. Share this remarkable journey and subscribe to our newsletter for more stories celebrating Israel and its exceptional individuals.