Two, actually, as in Richard and Robert.
The Stock brothers Richard, right, and Robert are teammates for the first time since Little League.
Richard, 25, is a catcher, originally signed by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2005 and later by the Cleveland Indians after he graduated from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln in 2009.
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. Robert attended USC.
This year they’ll do something that haven’t done in ages: play together on the same team. In this case it’s the New Jersey Jackals in the independent Can-Am League. (Independent league clubs have no affiliation with teams in Major League Baseball.)
I had a chance to visit the with Stock brothers on what the late Mets announcer Bob Murphy would no doubt have called “a beautiful day for baseball” at Jackals Stadium on the campus of Montclair State University, right next door to the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center. I spoke with Richard first while they rounded up Robert prior to their 11 a.m. game against the visiting Quebec Capitales which would be attended by a large number of students from local schools.
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. “[Robert] knew he wanted to play independent ball this year.” So far, it’s been “a ton of fun,” said Richard, who, as of this writing, was hitting .333 with three doubles, a triple, a home run, and six runs batted in.
This is the first time they’re playing together since their Little League years in Southern California. Richard said they enjoyed the local environs (the ballplayers live in dorms on the MSU campus), which is a short commute away from the excitement of Manhattan.
The boys’ education in Jewish baseball came from their grandfather who is a big fan of Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax. Thankfully, the Stock brothers have never had to deal the anti-Semitism faced by some of their baseball brethren. These days, the 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.
It sounded a bit surprising to hear Richard classify the quality of indy ball as higher than the low minor leagues until you stop to think, the players here are older and further along than those who are beginning at the bottom as teenagers. “Low A is still developing, so this is a big step up,” he said.
At the relatively advanced age of 25, many players who are going to make it at the highest levels are already there, so why would a couple of guys in their mid-twenties still be doing this? “The hope is to have a job tomorrow… mostly to try and win baseball games,” he said, taking a live-in-the-moment philosophy. “I just want to play some good baseball.”
At this point, Robert joined us, complimenting me on my Dodgers cap, which I wear only on sunny days like this one. His early experience was a bit different than his brother’s because of his position situation. “I would have wanted to be a catcher,” he said, but it’s not politic to fight against the organization when they want to make you change. “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.” Robert has appeared in eight games for the first-place Jackals, compiling a record of 0-1 over 11.1 innings in which he’s given up nine hits, walked nine, and fanned 16, a strikeout-to-innings rate of 1.44.
When the topic changed to the upcoming World Baseball Classic qualifiers, the brothers perked up noticeably. We discussed some prominent names who were on the Israeli National Team in 2013, including the Dodgers’ Joc Pederson, former Tigers and Astros pitcher Josh Zeid, and current Detroit manager Brad Ausmus. Richard leaned closer to the 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!”
I asked if they had any thoughts about what it means to be a Jewish athlete and their answers were kind of reassuring. Robert said the attitudes of his teammates have been along the lines of “Oh, you’re Jewish? That’s cool. Let’s play baseball,” as in “No big deal.”
“No one really knows until you tell them,” he said. That’s a welcome improvement from Greenberg’s time, when several Jewish ballplayers changed their name to a) avoid the shande of abandoning a family’s dream of a better life for their kids which only came through education, and b) avoid the animosity of bigoted fans, opponents, and even teammates.
“I think historically, we were Weinstocks,” Robert said. “Our ancestors, during World War II coming over from Poland, chopped off the “Wein’.”
The Stock siblings 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 together on the same team, in their case, the LA Dodgers from 1959-1962.
The main reason I was here today was to learn more about the Jackals’ Jewish Heritage Night game, which will be held on Wednesday, June 22, at 7:05 p.m. against the Rockland Boulders. (Richard remembered the Lake County Captains, one of his previous teams, held a JHN that featured a “Rabbi Home Run Derby,” where local clergy tried their hands at batting practice).
The Jackals’ event is the brainchild of Ira Jaskoll, an adjunct professor and director of the Fairleigh Dickinson University Yeshiva Program. A hardcore baseball fan, Jaskoll was also the impetus for a special component of the New York Yankees fantasy camp in 2009 that catered to observant Jews. (You can read about my experiences there here.) He’s trying to coordinate several of JHNs for other minor and indy league teams in the NY-NJ area.
Ira Jaskoll, right, visits the training room at Yankee Fantasy Camp in 2009.
Jaskoll’s idea is to get Jewish day schools, shuls, and other organizations to come out to the park. He teaches courses in sports management at FDU so in return for his assistance in setting up these games, the teams provide guests speakers for his classes.
“I want everyone to come. Baseball is for everyone,” he said. “I used to go to Yankee games during Pesach; people would be eating matzo….
“True American baseball is minor league baseball,” he added, using Jackals Stadium as a prime example of the intimacy of the surroundings, the proximity to the field, and the accessibility of the players. “The [fans] have a great time.” Programs like Jewish Heritage Night brings out a community that might not otherwise be engaged. “I think once the Jewish community comes, they’ll love it and keep coming back.”