Jewish baseball players have grown accustomed, over the years, to being recognized for their heritage by a community extremely excited and aware about any members rising through the ranks.
Major leaguers, without a doubt, get celebrated the most, but even those in the Minor Leagues — thanks to the proliferation of information in spaces just like this one — are being discovered more frequently.
This phenomenon hasn’t quite filtered down to the college game — yet. Here at the Chosen 1s, we’re all about starting trends, so allow us to introduce everyone to Pitt senior starter Corey Baker.
“It’s not something I’ve come across so much in college baseball, it’s not as big as the other college sports,” Baker said. “I haven’t had that kind of recognition.”
Baker should get some more attention. The New City, N.Y., native has had four successful years on the Pitt pitching staff and on April 15, he collected career win number 22. That set a record for the school’s baseball program.
“It means a lot to me,” said Baker, who picked up his 23rd win in his most recent start. “It’s something I’m really proud of. It’s something I worked really hard for. It’s not a goal when you come to college. You want to do well, but you don’t set personal goals like that. It’s a testament to the hard work I’ve put in over four years. Being consistent is the big thing. It’s something I hope I can have my name on for a while before someone else takes it from me.”
Still, pitching in the relative anonymity of the college game along with a name that doesn’t scream out “MOT” to most, those Jewish baseball fans who like to be in the know have yet to single out Baker for his accomplishments. It’s certainly not something Baker shies away from, having grown up in a Reform congregation in New City where he attended Hebrew school and became a bar mitzva.
Baker got a strong feeling of Jewish sports identity when he competed in the Maccabi Games in the 11-to-12 age group. He’s also become aware of the attrition; as he’s continued to rise to the upper levels of the sport he loves, the amount of Jews competing has diminished.
“It makes you realize how many other Jewish athletes there are,” Baker said of his Maccabi experience. “But every time you get older and go to another level, that number keeps dwindling, not just in baseball, but in other sports, too. It’s an awesome experience. Looking back on it now, I realize how few there still are. Back then, there were so many of us.”
Baker hopes to become part of an even smaller group, of Jews in the professional game. It might be a renaissance of sorts in terms of the amount of Jews in baseball currently, but it’s still a very small club, and it looks as though Baker has a chance to join them.
A scout who has seen Pitt play said Baker should get the opportunity to be a senior sign with a Major League club. Baker doesn’t have the highest ceiling in the world, but as the scout said, you never know what can happen when a guy with a good idea of how to pitch and excellent work ethic gets into the pro game.
“It’s something I’m proud of, my background, my heritage,” Baker said. “In sports, it’s different than being, say, African-American, because being on the field, people can’t really tell. It’s not something completely obvious, it’s not written across my chest. It doesn’t make me any different than any ballplayer, but I know there’s such a small amount of athletes in this country, it’s something I’m proud of. Hopefully, I go on to play pro baseball, become part of an even smaller percentage. Maybe in a couple of years down the line, maybe it’ll be something I’d be recognized for.”
(Jonathan Mayo, the Chronicle’s sports columnist and a staff writer for MLB.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)