A year ago, at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in New York, there were three Jewish All-Stars on hand to participate: the Red Sox’s Kevin Youkilis, the Rangers’ Ian Kinsler and the Brewers’ Ryan Braun. It sounded like the kind of event that wouldn’t be repeated any time soon. After all, it had been all the way back in 1999 since anything remotely similar had happened, though only Shawn Green is the only one I would consider truly Jewish from Green, Mike Lieberthal and Brad Ausmus.
This time, though, we only had to wait one more year. Here in St. Louis, there’s a trifecta of Jews ready to represent their teams, their leagues and, of course, their people. Youkilis and Braun are back and this time, they’ve got a new third wheel.
“It’s definitely a blast,” said Rockies pitcher Jason Marquis. “To represent your heritage is always nice. Just like the Latino players are definitely proud to represent their heritage, it’s the same thing being from Jewish descent. I want to bring hope and dreams to young kids who have the same dreams I had growing up, show them that if you work hard and keep your nose to the grindstone, you can realize dreams can come true.”
All three of these elite players are All-Star mensches at the same time. It’d be easy enough for any of them to shirk the responsibility of representing an entire people. They could even do it in a polite way, but each of them embraces the role wholeheartedly.
“Being Jewish is something I definitely take a lot of pride in,” Braun said. “There aren’t too many Jewish athletes at the highest level, so having the opportunity to be here is something I really enjoy. I plan on being a role model for young Jewish kids who don’t have too many professional athletes to look up to. It’s really cool to me.”
“I think it gives them hope,” Youkilis said of Jewish sports fans, especially young ones. “I don’t want to say there’s not a lot of good Jewish athletes, but to be honest with you there’s not really a lot of good Jewish athletes out there. They grow up to be doctors and lawyers and other great professions. For me, growing up with that heritage, it was great. Hopefully I can shine some light on some Jewish kids out there who can make it some day.”
That’s the biggest thing all three pointed to when discussing the subject during a media event the Monday before the All-Star Game. The idea of inspiring future generations of Jewish athletes to excel was an exciting one to them. They’re not expecting miracles — Jewish parents are still going to be known for encouraging their kids to pursue excellence in the classroom more than on the playing field, but maybe there’s room for both.
“If you have somebody to look up to, somebody to admire, who is a professional athlete, I think it’s something that might make them feel it’s a realistic possibility one day,” Braun said.
“It’s pro-education,” Marquis said. “Every day at school, I gave my fullest. I worked hard and brought it over to the baseball field, where I was given the talent from somebody. I applied those rules to the baseball field also.”
(Jonathan Mayo, The Chronicle’s sports columnist and a staff writer for MLB.com, can be reached at email@example.com.)