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For Astros’ Josh Zeid, road to ‘The Show’ has been an excellent adventure

Josh Zeid

Josh Zeid: “There’s no better place, if you’re a young player, to be than the Houston Astros.” (Hillel Kuttler)

BALTIMORE (JTA) –  For Houston Astros pitcher Josh Zeid, a recent game against the Baltimore Orioles provided a microcosm of his up-and-down tenure in organized baseball and with the club over the past several months.

Entering a 2-2 game in the seventh inning, with two runners on and two outs, Zeid struck out Manny Machado to end the threat. But he allowed a leadoff homer to Nelson Cruz on his first pitch of the next inning before retiring the side.

Houston rallied for two runs in the top of the ninth, putting Zeid in position to gain the win. But facing other relievers, Baltimore tied the score in the bottom of the inning and won in the 10th.

“Within a 20-minute span, it was pretty intense,” Zeid said the following morning, sitting near the Astros’ on-deck circle.

“You have such an emotional high, and then you have one quick, mechanical-mental lapse. That’s the thing in the major leagues: One bad pitch can lose the game in a heartbeat.”

Zeid’s path to the majors has zigzagged much like the Baltimore sequence.

The Astros promoted the right-hander from AAA Oklahoma City last July, but he didn’t make the team out of spring training. Zeid, 27, was back shortly after the season launched, on April 8, but was demoted April 10. Zeid rejoined the Astros nearly a month later in Detroit.

In college, after being named Gatorade Connecticut High School Player of the Year, he pitched sparingly at Vanderbilt before transferring to Tulane. In 2009 he was drafted in the 10th round by the Philadelphia Phillies, but was traded two years later to the Astros. Six months before reaching the majors, Zeid married Stephanie Tiedemann, whom he had met at Vanderbilt.

He also played for the Israeli team trying to qualify for the 2013 World Baseball Classic, where his manager was current Tigers skipper Brad Ausmus.

“It’s been a pretty interesting journey,” said Zeid, who flashes a near-constant smile on his bearded face.

Documenting every step has been his mother, Karen. Since her son’s baseball abilities took off as a high schooler in New Haven, Conn., she has penned entries in journals covering each peak and valley — 15 books and counting — that no one has been allowed to read.

In March, she and her husband, Ira, drove to Philadelphia to attend the opening of the National Museum of American Jewish History’s exhibition on Jews and baseball. Two Zeid items are displayed there: a baseball-themed white kippah she painted and gave to guests attending her son’s bar mitzvah and the lineup card from his first major league game.

Karen Zeid, right, with husband Ira and daughter Emily at the Astros game against the Orioles in Baltimore on May 11, 2014, has chronicled her son's roller-coaster baseball journey with a journal. (Hillel Kuttler)

Karen Zeid, right, with husband Ira and daughter Emily at the Astros game against the Orioles in Baltimore on May 11, 2014, has chronicled her son’s roller-coaster baseball journey with a journal. (Hillel Kuttler)

The couple and their daughter, Emily, were here to watch Zeid’s roller-coaster game and the one on Mother’s Day, when the Astros won but he did not pitch. His grandparents and other relatives were on hand, too, for the extra-inning loss.

“To see his dream become a reality, to see his hard work, his determination, pay off — you always want your child’s dreams fulfilled,” Karen Zeid said at the Mother’s Day game as she sat behind home plate with other Astros’ families.

“He’s taken us on a journey with him,” she said.

Along for the ride has been Jarred Cosart, who was pitching for the Astros that day. The two played together in the Phillies system before their trade to Houston.

A row in front of the Zeids, Cosart’s mother, Cindy, turned around to display a smartphone photo of Cosart at Zeid’s wedding; he was the best man. Cosart’s parents attended, too.

Astros pitching coach Brent Strom says Zeid is “an aggressive pitcher who competes extremely well,” adding that Zeid’s “cerebral” approach will help him learn from failures like Cruz’s homer.

“His ability to make the adjustment is going to be key,” Strom said. “I see him doing it. He’s an intelligent young man with a passion for pitching.”

Strom says Zeid is “a very valuable part of our future, in my mind. He’s here now, and I expect him to stay.”

Contributions from Zeid and anyone else are desperately needed on a young team experiencing growing pains. The Astros are last in the American League West and were on pace to match last year’s 51-111 record, the worst in Major League Baseball. Houston’s bullpen stands second-worst in runs allowed per game and blown saves.

In a previous conversation with JTA at the Astros’ Minute Maid Park, Zeid discussed the joy of reaching the majors and striving to improve. He recalled attending baseball camps at Yale, where an alumnus and fellow Jewish pitcher, current Red Sox reliever Craig Breslow, offered instruction. Zeid told of descending from Connecticut’s elite pitching prospect to going virtually unused at Vanderbilt to nearly scrapping baseball at Tulane for law school.

“It humbles you,” Zeid said. “It’s a slow process of how to heal from that. It still reminds me that I have to work harder than anyone else.”

The baseball pressures eased at Tulane, Zeid said, after he put greater focus on his studies as a senior and attained a 3.7 GPA. His enhanced production for the Green Wave led to his being drafted — what he called “the coolest thing on the face of the planet.”

Zeid is four credits short of a degree in English and political science. He intends to graduate one offseason or post-baseball.

While some figure that playing for the Astros is demoralizing, Zeid begged to differ.

“There’s no better place, if you’re a young player, to be than the Houston Astros,” he had said in the earlier conversation. “The future is bright. I’m serious.”

Back in Baltimore, Zeid echoed his optimism from October.

“We have a very strong group of guys, character-wise [and] the talent to win some close games, but the ball hasn’t been rolling the right way as of yet,” he said at Camden Yards. “There are still over a hundred games left in the season, and anything can really happen. That’s why you play the game.”

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