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Good afternoon and happy Spring Training Opening Day!
OK, so the games don’t count, but Major League Baseball teams are playing today, and I, for one, am excited. So is Jeff Passan, ESPN’s senior MLB insider, who I spoke to this week as he traversed the Phoenix area visiting a number of big league camps.
Read on for our conversation — and sign up for our event Jews on First: A Celebration at the World Baseball Classic to see Jeff, alongside other exciting Jewish baseball experts and personalities, talk baseball and the WBC.
Jeff Passan on Hebrew school, Sandy Koufax and Jewish baseball history
Since joining ESPN in 2019, Jeff Passan has quickly become one of the most prominent and trusted baseball reporters in the industry. He constantly breaks news to his million Twitter followers and shows up across ESPN’s TV, radio and podcast shows.
But like many of us, Passan also grew up going to Hebrew School and looking up to Sandy Koufax.
So when it came time to interview Koufax for his book on pitchers and Tommy John surgery — which itself was an arduous process, as Koufax rarely grants interviews — Passan was, understandably, nervous.
“I was in awe the whole time,” he told me. “Generally speaking, when I’m talking to people, I’ll call them by their first name. He was Mr. Koufax.”
Passan also told me about his Jewish upbringing, finding camaraderie with fellow Jewish reporters and players and why he thinks Jews love baseball so much.
MACCA-SEE YOU LATER. The Yeshiva University men’s basketball team lost in the Skyline Conference semifinals on Thursday, bringing the Maccabees’ season to an end. The club had forfeited a crucial matchup last Saturday, citing inadequate warmup time after Shabbat. The no contest cost Y.U. a shot at the top seed.
SPEAKING OF FORFEITS. The Miami Catholic school team that had brawled with a team from a nearby Jewish school forfeited its semifinal game in a state soccer tournament last weekend. The school’s athletic director confirmed the decision was made due to the brawl, but he didn’t offer further details about the incident.
A SECOND CHANCE. Meyers Leonard, the NBA player whose career took a turn in 2020 after he used an antisemitic slur online, has signed a contract with the Milwaukee Bucks. Leonard has apologized numerous times — including in a recent interview with Jewish ESPN reporter Jeremy Schaap — and has engaged with the Jewish community to make amends. The Bucks cited Leonard’s Jewish community work when they signed him this week.
BEST OF THE BEST. MLB Network has been slowly releasing its list of the top 100 players entering the 2023 season, and Max Fried (a fitting number 36) and Alex Bregman (24) both ranked fairly high. Both players also improved over their 2022 ranking (Fried was 48th; Bregman was 29th).
BOBBLE BABY BOBBLE. The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum in Milwaukee — whose Jewish founder I wrote about in 2021 — has announced its newest bobble: Jewish Olympian Jason Brown.
IN OTHER JASON NEWS. Two-time All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis officially announced his retirement this week. Kipnis is now a practicing Roman Catholic, but his father is Jewish and he reportedly grew up self-identifying as Jewish. Kipnis once celebrated a home run with a “Hava Nagila” dugout dance.
Jews in sports to watch this weekend
🏒 IN HOCKEY…
Zach Hyman and the second-place Edmonton Oilers face off against the last-place Columbus Blue Jackets tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. ET. On Sunday at 5 p.m. ET, Adam Fox and the New York Rangers host the LA Kings, while Jakob Chychrun and the Arizona Coyotes play the Nashville Predators at 7 p.m. ET. Chychrun is expected to be traded imminently.
🏀 IN BASKETBALL…
Deni Avdija and the Washington Wizards host the New York Knicks tonight at 7 p.m. ET and face the Chicago Bulls Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET. Over in the G League, Ryan Turell’s Motor City Cruise, who have won five straight, play the Delaware Blue Coats tonight at 7 p.m. ET and the Raptors 905 Saturday at 7 p.m. ET.
⚾️ IN BASEBALL…
Spring Training games begin today — here is the full league schedule. The Boston Red Sox and new reliever Richard Bleier hosted Northeastern University for their annual exhibition game at 1:05 p.m. ET today. There are 17 games tomorrow (yes, there are only 30 teams, Spring Training is weird). Baseball is back!
A yeshiva wrestling tournament returns
The Henry Wittenberg Invitational Wrestling Tournament, an annual competition sponsored by the Yeshiva Wrestling Association, returned for its 26th year last weekend after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic.
Hosted by the Frisch School in Paramus, New Jersey, the competition featured 120 wrestlers from a dozen schools in New York, New Jersey, Boston, Atlanta and Chicago. The host school won the championship.