Jeff Kaplan (

By Zev Ben Avigdor/Jewish Baseball News

New York Mets prospect Jeff Kaplan doesn’t have a blazing fastball or any other lights-out pitch. The 26-year-old San Diego native with the 2.98 career E.R.A. just seems to get people out with focus and control.

An 11th-round pick out of Cal State Fullerton in 2008, Kaplan was a starting pitcher before the Mets organization converted him. Now, he relishes the chance to pitch on any given day.

Prior to going on the disabled list last month with an arm injury, Kaplan tossed 21 and 2/3 innings this season and put together a combined 3-0 record and 3.32 ERA for the St. Lucie Mets (High-A) and Binghamton Mets (AA). His ERA in Binghamton has been a solid 2.31.

In a recent interview, Kaplan discussed his love of baseball, his pride in being Jewish, his eagerness to chat with fans, and his determination to play in the Majors. An edited transcript follows.


What do you like best about being Jewish?

I think the best thing is being a part of baseball. With the limited amount of Jewish people who play baseball, it’s a great feeling to be representing the Jewish community that way. I think that’s probably the best: baseball and being Jewish, when I can bring them together. Any time I get to meet people who are Jewish or experience something with the Jewish community through baseball is when I really feel the most [Jewish]. That is the most important, especially when I get to reach out to the Jewish community because of who I am. It’s a great feeling.

How does that happen?

Sometimes people will come up and talk to me in the stands, or doing interviews like this. It’s a great feeling. I appreciate the support that I get, and I love representing the Jewish community.

Would you be willing to talk to young Jewish fans, if it’s before the game?

Yeah, I’m not the best public speaker. I don’t like giving speeches.

Not to give a speech, but just to meet the kids?

Absolutely, absolutely. I would definitely do that: hang out. And if I can say a few words, then to say a few words. Yeah, I would definitely do that.

Favorite holiday?

I’d have to say Hanukah would have to be the one I enjoy the most. Especially because of the time of year: It’s when I get to be home with my family. That’s the best part about it, is that I’m home.

Favorite Jewish baseball player?

Well, I’d have to go with Sandy Koufax. My dad grew up in Los Angeles, and Sandy Koufax was the biggest thing to him — and still is. So I’ll answer that for my dad: Sandy Koufax is who I look up to because of him. The things he tells me are what I’ve learned about him.

What is the hardest part about being a Jewish baseball player?

I think any time you’re not the majority, and you’re in the minority, you feel a little more responsibility, a little more pressure to represent the community. You feel like you don’t want to let people down, so you have to try to perform not just for yourself and your family but for the people you represent. That’s the toughest part, but it’s also the most fun that I have.

I feel like in the Jewish community, for people who excel in something, we take a lot of pride in those people. It’s a big deal for us…especially in sports. There’s not that many Jewish athletes, so when we have those Jewish athletes, it’s spotlighted and it’s a big deal.

What would you like the readers of Jewish Baseball News to know about you?

That I am proud to be Jewish and I’m excited to represent everything about the Jewish community, and I’m doing my best to get to the big leagues, because I want to be there as a Jewish person and I’m trying to make them proud.

What about the World Baseball Classic?

I would love to play in it. If I get the invite, great; if I don’t, I’ll be rooting for them, but yeah, I would love to play for Team Israel.

What would you like the Jewish community of Binghamton to know about you? Have you had contact with them?

No, and if anybody can just find me and reach out to me and just talk to me at the game, I’m always open to talk to people if I’m available. If you see me around, just come and talk to me. I might seem like a stand-offish, quiet guy, but I’m not. I like to talk to people.

Are you shy?

I’m a little shy.

What’s the best time to come and say hello?

If you can find me before the game starts. Once the game starts, my hands are tied, I can’t really do much. But before the game, if you see me around, that’s the best time.

Brad Ausmus was quoted in the New York Times as saying he felt the most connected to his Jewish heritage when he was playing baseball. What do you think he meant?

Well, I think he felt that he represented us in a sport where people really connect with the players, and the Jewish community looks at them and says, “There’s one of our own playing baseball.” So he probably felt a lot of love from the Jewish community because of what he did. I felt that, especially when I was in Brooklyn. The Jewish community was really big. You could really feel how people felt about you as an athlete. I’m thinking that’s what he meant — his connection with the [Jewish] people was through baseball.

Why do we Jews love baseball so much?

I don’t know if it’s baseball. I think it’s just the fact that you’re proud and you want to see people who are like you succeed at something. That’s the thing that you love, is to see people who you relate to do well. I think that’s the key. That’s the big deal. And the number of Jewish people in sports is growing, but it’s not a lot, so anytime that [a Jewish person succeeds in sports], it becomes a big deal.

(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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