Zach Kapstein (

By Zev Ben Avigdor/Jewish Baseball News

In 2010, Zach Kapstein was drafted out of Tiverton (Rhode Island) High School by the team he grew up rooting for, the Boston Red Sox. The young catcher had put together a senior year the Sox simply could not ignore: a .603 batting average with five home runs, 22 RBI, and a perfect 24-for-24 in stolen bases. But it was what he quietly did off the field that makes him a hero in our hearts.

In an interview with Jewish Baseball News, Kapstein, now 20, talked about his own heroes, including his “hard-nosed, no-B.S.” family, U.S. soldiers, the Maccabees, and the mentally and physically challenged kids he helps play baseball.


What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?

Chanukah. I just like the story behind it, the history behind it. With the Maccabees and the freedom fighters. It has the eight nights. It’s not just a single day, it’s an entire week—plus one. And the eternal light lasting longer than it should have, with the oil running out. I’ve always found that pretty interesting. And how tough the story is behind the holiday. It kind of sums up my personality, my family’s personality, the way I was raised. My grandfather, my dad, and my uncle were just really hard-nosed, no-B.S., straight-to-the-truth, bottom-line type of people, which I think is great. So if I had to pick, it would definitely be Chanukah.

You mentioned that you like that it’s eight days and not just one.

You have a longer amount of time to focus on the holiday. I mean, you can think about a holiday as long as you want. It doesn’t have to be just on the exact date of the holiday. But Christmas you have the one day and then it’s over. Chanukah you have the eight nights you light the candles, eight nights in a row you’re with your family. For me, being a baseball player, it’s when you’re home for the off-season with your family. And it’s pretty good food, which is a bonus.

Family and your family’s history are very important to you.

My great-great-grandfather, Abraham, came from Western Russia, escaped the pogroms, and walked across Europe, by himself. He was lucky enough to escape the pogroms. He survived all by himself. And somehow he managed to get on a boat and cross the ocean to the United States. He landed and started brand new, like a lot of people did in the early 1900s. I’ve always been very proud of that story, that it’s part of my background.

What’s you favorite not-Jewish holiday?

July Fourth and Memorial Day. Memorial Day—my birthday is May 28th, so every couple of years Memorial Day falls on my birthday, and that’s kind of neat. But really it’s because of how we honor the veterans, the servicemen and -women, on that day. I certainly don’t honor them for just that one day. I do it every single day, every year. And then July Fourth, because it is a holiday in America we all celebrate together—it’s Independence Day for the United States.

You’re wearing a Marines t-shirt. Is that a personal connection?

Personally I’ve never had anyone in my family in the Marine Corps. I’ve had a lot of close friends [in the Corps]. My uncle was in the service for four years. My grandfather was in the Army before World War II. And then he enlisted right after Pearl Harbor in the Navy. He was in the Navy from ‘41 until the summer of ’45. I think he saw his wife—my grandmother—maybe three times at the most. He was actually in both theaters of war. He was on a troop transport ship. He went to Europe first. Then he came through the Panama Canal, stopped in San Francisco, and then went out to the Pacific. He was going to be on the invasion force, if we had to invade Japan. I know most of my grandfather’s brothers were in the army—I know my Uncle Eddie, my grandfather’s brother, served in World War I and World War II. So I’ve been lucky enough to have a rich military background.

So you have all these fighting Jews in your family. No wonder you like Chanukah. It’s like your family’s personal story.

Yes. Pretty much.

I can see that family and history are important to you. What is another way that family has been important to you?

Starting in ’08, my brother Jacob, and my dad, Dan, and I—we got involved in the Portsmouth Little League Challenger Division team, which I think they started in ’06 or ’07. It was started by Bob Dyl—he has a son named Caleb, who is a a little challenged and a very good player in the league—and Chris Patsos, who helps run the Portsmouth Challenger Division with Bob Dyl and also helps run the Newport Gulls, which is a team in the New England Collegiate Baseball League.

We got involved in ’08—my father, my brother, and myself. And it was every Sunday, I’d say from the end of March until the end of June. Every Sunday from about 1:00 till about 3:30, 4:00. I think in ’08 we started off with one group and about 15 kids. My dad would pitch. My brother or I would catch for him. We’d help out with the kids’ swings, run the bases with them, that type of thing, every year—I was there for ’08, ’09, ’10. Every year, it has increased an average of, I would say, five or six kids, so every year it’s grown and grown and grown. And then in 2010 they made two groups, and I’d say, total, the ages range from about 6 to maybe 17 or 18 years old. I had to leave after 2010, when I got drafted. I missed 2011 and 2012, because I was in Florida, playing baseball, but I was lucky enough to fly home for their big Challenger Jamboree in Portsmouth. I was lucky enough that the schedule worked out that way.

You took the only free time you had between extended and short-season, the only free time you had for the entire summer, and you spent it with these kids.

I loved it. It was the least I could do. Absolutely the least I could do. I love the kids. The coaches are great, a great group of guys. They’re actually going down to Williamsport this summer. My Dad is going to bus down with them. They’re playing in the Challenger Little League World Series. I’m not too sure about the details, but I know they’re going down in August.

If readers want to help out, is there some way that they can contribute?

They might be looking for donations for their trip to Williamsport in August. I’m 100% sure there’s a place [to donate]; I know you can find it online. [Author’s note: I did. Click here for details.]

I’d like to be able to share that, if I can.

That would be great. Personally. Thank you. That would definitely be a huge help. Thank you.

What about Israel? What would it be like to play for Israel in the World Baseball Classic?

That’d be awesome. That’d be quite an experience. It’s definitely something I’m looking into, talking to a few people about it right now. But, yeah, very exciting. I’d be very proud to represent the country, my heritage, my culture, my background, my family. And to play baseball while doing it would be quite a thrill. It would be the perfect combination of both [Jewish heritage and baseball].

What is it about the combination of Jewish heritage and baseball?

I love the background and the history of the Jewish people—my family—and I’m playing baseball right now, my favorite sport. I love football; I played football in high school. I played hockey from the time I was seven. I started skating from the time I was five or six, played hockey from the time I was seven up until my freshman year. My high school never had a hockey team, but I always played around New England—Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, all over New England.

Hockey up there is like football is down in Florida and Texas: huge up there. I stopped playing my freshman year, because my freshman year was the very first time my high school started a hockey team. They joined with another local hockey team, but the practices were always at 10:00, 11:00 at night, and the closest rink was 40 minutes away. I was focused on getting ready for baseball. Those are a few reasons I didn’t play in high school. My brother played three years in high school, and he loved it. He was on a very good team and had a pretty good career.

Your brother Jacob was just drafted by the Tigers.

Yeah, they took him in the 35th round. He’s bigger than I am. He’s about 6’2”, 214, switch hits. He can run, too, which is a bonus. [Author’s note: Here is a link to a local news video about Jacob and the Little League Challenger Division.]

Is there anything else you’d like the readers of Jewish Baseball News to know about you that they don’t know?

I wear the number 18. I wear it on the Spinners right now. I wore it all growing up. I wore it in high school, because of what it means in Jewish [numerology]. My dad wore it growing up, too. It is kind of like the family number, if you will. [Author’s note: Jacob Kapstein wore number 18 in high school and wears 18 now with the GCL Tigers.] But if I couldn’t wear 18, I’d wear 40, for Pat Tillman. My biggest role model, the person I look up to the most is Pat Tillman. I know 40 is also significant in history and the Jewish religion—Noah’s ark, 40 days and nights; wandering in the desert, 40 years. You can go on and on with the number 40. So those two numbers really stand out to me.

Well, hopefully now we’ll get some JBN readers in Western Massachusetts to come and cheer for you. What’s it like when a Jewish fan comes up to you?

It’s nice. I’ve had a few who’ve come down to Florida for spring training and asked me to sign something. You get a little sense of a connection with them. It’s something that both of you can relate to. So it’s nice to hear that or to see someone that’s asking you for a ball to sign who says something like “Welcome to the Tribe,” or some little remark like that. It puts a little smile on your face and reminds you that people are paying attention and following you, and that there are people out there who are also Jewish and who really love baseball, the same as I do.

(Editor’s note: “Zev Ben Avigdor” is the pen name of a university scholar who writes for Jewish Baseball News. Click here to see more of his interviews.)

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