JEWISH BASEBALL NEWS — Many Jewish athletes are proud of their religion but don’t want it to define their career. For them, faith is a subject best kept private.

But not Garrett Wittels. According to a fascinating article in the Jerusalem Post, the college baseball phenom — who hit safely in all 56 games this season at Florida International University — is a practicing Jew who has found a way to integrate Judaism into his athletic routine:

(B)aseball is a game of superstitions, and it’s there that Wittels’ Jewish background emerges. While his slate of of good luck rituals has been noted repeatedly in the mounting media coverage of the streak, the mainstream media has missed this one: Before each game, Wittels kneels in the outfield and recites the Shema, the Jewish prayer declaring the unity of God. Wittels also carries a travel mezuzah, which contains the Shema prayer, and on road trips he brings a copy of the Jewish Wayfarer’s Prayer, according to his mother, Lishka, a member of Miami’s “Jewban,” or Cuban-Jewish, community. And, she added, when FIU traveled this spring, he kept as kosher for Passover as he could.

Added Wittels’ mother:

‘He has said he would marry a Jewish girl and talks about how important it is to carry on the Judaism with his life,’ his mother said. ‘My son is the most spiritual, non-traditional young athlete you will ever meet. He carries his religion in his heart.’

This summer, Wittels is carrying a disappointing .203 average while playing for the Peninsula Oilers of the Alaska Baseball League, a far cry from his .413 average spring as an FIU sophomore. But the 20-year-old’s followers know that he hit just .246 freshman year at FIU, and thus may be a slow adapter.

Tonight (7/14/2010) at 9:00pm ET  on ESPN, Wittels will find out if he is the winner of the 2010 “ESPY” award for Best Male College Athlete. He is one of five finalists for the honor.

My thanks to Jeff Zaremsky for pointing out the Jerusalem Post article.

— Scott Barancik