The New Jersey Jackals will be the latest team to feature a “Jewish Heritage Game” when they take on the Rockland Boulders on Wednesday, June 22, at 7 p.m. The contest will be held at their field in Little Falls on the campus of Montclair State University.
Unlike most of the other teams that have hosted similar events — which often feature kosher concessions, sports trivia, and Jewish music — the Jackals, who play in the independent Can-Am League, actually have a Jewish player on the roster. Two in fact. And they know each other very well.
Richard Stock, 25, is a catcher, originally signed by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2005 and later a member of the Cleveland Indians organization. His brother, Robert, 26, originally a catcher, was converted (you should pardon the expression) into a pitcher after being drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2009.
This season, they’ll do something they haven’t done since their Little League years in southern California: play together on the same team.
Richard came to the Jackals in a trade from the Sioux Falls Canaries in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball. Robert signed with the Jackals — independently. “It wasn’t a package deal,” said Richard.
So far, it’s been “a ton of fun,” said Richard, who, as of this writing, was hitting .325 with five doubles, a triple, a home run, and six runs batted in as his team enjoyed a nine-game winning streak.
Robert’s early experience was a bit different because of his position situation. “I would have wanted to be a catcher,” he said. “Once they decide they want you to change roles, the best thing is to embrace it right away because you’re only hurting yourself when you fight it.” He’s taken to it well: He has appeared in 10 games as a reliever, allowing nine hits and 10 walks while striking out an impressive 17 batters in 13.1 innings pitched.
The brothers’ education in Jewish baseball came from their grandfather, a big fan of Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax. Thankfully, the Stock brothers have never had to deal with the anti-Semitism faced by some of their baseball brethren. These days, clubhouses are filled with players from all over the world, so it’s not unusual to still have teammates who have never met a Jew before. But, Robert said, the attitude in the clubhouse has been along the lines of “Oh, you’re Jewish? That’s cool. Let’s play baseball.” In other words, “No big deal.”
“No one really knows until you tell them,” he said. That’s a welcome improvement from Greenberg’s time, when some Jewish ballplayers felt the need to change their names to avoid the shande of having to abandon a family’s dream of a better life for their kids through education, as well as the animosity of bigoted fans and opponents.
“I think historically, we were Weinstocks,” Robert said. “Our ancestors, during World War II, coming over from Poland, chopped off the ‘Wein.’”
When the topic changed to the upcoming triennial World Baseball Classic qualifiers, the brothers perked up at the possibility of playing for the Israeli National Team. Some prominent names were on the roster in 2013, including Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Joc Pederson and current Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus. Richard leaned closer to the tape recorder and said, “We haven’t gotten that call. We got to get it out there: We’re Jewish and we want to play! Someone make it happen!”
Richard and Robert join the ranks of Jewish baseball brothers that include Norm and Larry Sherry, Ike and Harry Danning, and Andy and Syd Cohen. Like the Stocks, the Sherrys were a pitching and catching combo who played on the same team, in their case the Dodgers, from 1959 to 1962.
The Jackals’ Jewish heritage event is the brainchild of Ira Jaskoll, an adjunct professor and director of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Yeshiva and Seminary Program. A hardcore baseball fan, Jaskoll is trying to coordinate more of these games for other minor and indy league teams in the New Jersey-New York area.
His idea is to get Jewish day schools, shuls, and other organizations that might not otherwise be engaged in the national pastime to come out to the park. “True American baseball is minor league baseball,” he said. “The [fans] have a great time. I think once the Jewish community comes, they’ll love it and keep coming back.”
To order tickets for the June 22 game, visit tinyurl.com/JackalsJHN or call 973-746-7434.