Cardinals’ Jewish left-hander Kaminsky hopes for a playoff role

The Cardinals’ Jewish pitcher Rob Kaminsky grew up in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. 

By Eric Berger, Associate Editor

Move over, Jason Marquis. Fourteen years after Marquis last played for the Cardinals, the team again has a Jewish pitcher: Rob Kaminsky. 

The team promoted the left-hander from its alternate training site Aug. 15, and he made his major league debut a day later against the Chicago White Sox.

Kaminsky, 25, was perfect through two relief appearances, not allowing a hit, walk or run over two innings. In spite of that success, Kaminsky was removed from the roster Aug. 18 and optioned back to the alternate training site at Hammons Field in Springfield, Mo. The team is recovering from a coronavirus outbreak and continues to juggle its roster as players get healthy.

It’s actually Kaminsky’s second stint in the Cardinals organization. The team drafted him out of high school with the 28th pick in the 2013 draft but then traded him to the Cleveland Indians in 2015. He again signed with the Birds as a minor league free agent in December.  

When not on the field or bullpen, Kaminsky is quarantined in his hotel room because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. He spoke by phone with the Jewish Light about his connection to Judaism, what it was like to make his debut before an empty stadium and recent allegations of anti-Semitism in professional baseball. 

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His responses have been edited for space. 

Tell me a little about where you’re from and your Jewish upbringing.

I grew up in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., and live in Englewood now. I moved a nice, five-minute drive from the parents, so that’s nice. I went to Solomon Schechter [Day School of Bergen County] pre-K through eighth grade and had a great, great time there. For high school, I actually went to a private Catholic school, all boys, so I have seen both sides of everything, and you learn a lot of the same stuff: just treat people right, respect others. 

It’s been an interesting journey for me. I had a bar mitzvah when I was 13. I think we were labeled more Conservative than anything, but now I would say we’re a little more Reform. We still do weekly Shabbats at my mom’s. It’s more just a big family dinner, and we had a revolving door at the house, so all my buddies would come over. And we do all the traditional stuff. We light the candles still on Fridays.

It’s been tough with COVID. Before I got out here, we were still trying to do our dinners, and my mom started getting tables outside in her backyard and cooking for everybody. It was nice to get everyone together — still socially distanced, obviously. 

Why baseball?

I grew up playing basketball and baseball. I was decent at basketball, but in high school, baseball kind of took over, and I just loved the game. It was a pretty easy decision to make because I had a passion for it and still do. 

I think most professional athletes probably think a lot about their debut before it happens. If you did, what did you imagine?

Yeah, you think about that from the second you put on spikes, so to live it was pretty cool. You obviously anticipate it being in front of 40,000 people, and they either love you or hate you, but a debut is a debut, and it’s good to get that first one out of the way. I was lucky to go out there the next night as well and pitch at Wrigley [Field in Chicago], so that was awesome. 

Was it in any way anti-climactic or disappointing to do it in front of an empty stadium?

No, I don’t think there was anything disappointing about it. I think it was unique and that it will be an interesting story to tell later on in life, but the weirdest thing was talking to all the guys in the bullpen, and they said, ‘Who cares about the fans? It just sucks you can’t go out with your family afterward.’ But they were all watching on TV, so we’ll have a big dinner whenever I go home.

When the Cardinals had those weeks of games postponed because of the spread of the coronavirus within the team, and it was unclear what the season held, were you nervous? What was going through your head?

First and foremost, you wanted to make sure everyone was healthy. Only a few guys were symptomatic, and they are getting better, I believe. 

I think as a whole, the baseball industry still has a lot of questions, but they are doing the best they can, and guys are taking it seriously. So hopefully we can get through this season and into the playoffs and make a run.

Former major league player Cody Decker recently said that anti-Semitism was “rampant” in professional baseball. I don’t know if you heard those comments, but I just wanted to hear if that has been your experience. 

I didn’t see those comments, and I don’t know him personally. But no, I have been lucky, I guess, to be with two really good organizations that draft good people. I mean, I am sure it’s out there. In the country, it’s definitely out there. We see that more now these last couple years than in the past, but I also have grown up in a county that is extremely diverse, so everyone is respectful.

I have been lucky to not have faced that, but it doesn’t shock me that someone has. 

And it’s great to see guys speaking up for Black Lives Matter and equality. It’s good that baseball is turning the page on the old-school mentality and willing to speak up on important issues that shouldn’t be partisan, but this day and age, everything is,even equal rights, it seems. Hopefully, people continue to use their voice and help out the marginalized and minorities. 

Do you feel any kinship or connection to past or current Jewish baseball players?

Growing up, obviously [Dodgers pitcher Sandy] Koufax, my grandfather was always telling me stories, and my dad as well. So Koufax was obviously the most notable one, especially being a [fellow] lefty pitcher. I would love to meet him some day. 

But I don’t pick favorite athletes on religion or race or anything, to be honest, so I just kind of enjoy watching who I enjoy watching and rooting for good people first and foremost.

Last, most important, question: What do you think the Cardinals’ chances are of winning the World Series?

Oh, I think that’s the goal of every team. But I think we’re in a unique spot. I think guys are going to take advantage of the opportunity, and we’re getting guys back healthy. If there is one clubhouse that could get through these new, impossible times, I think it’s this one. They have a lot of good leadership, a lot of good people, so no one is making any excuses and everyone is just working their tail off. 

Like I said, winning matters, and up there, that is going to be the goal, and hopefully, I can be a part of it and get us into the playoffs and be a part of that.