Former Cardinal Harrison Bader talks baseball over matzah ball soup and pastrami at NYC Deli


New York Yankees outfielder Harrison Bader, left, and celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson at Liebman’s Deli in the Bronx. (E.H. Wallop/YES Network)

Jacob Gurvis, JTA

(New York Jewish Week) — What better way to recover from an injury than some Jewish penicillin? And that is just what former St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Harrison Bader got recently in New York.

Now a New York Yankee, Jewish outfielder Bader, who is missing the beginning of the 2023 MLB season due to an oblique muscle injury, starred in a recent episode of “Home Plate: New York,” a program hosted by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson. In each installment of the show, which is available on the YES Network mobile app, Samuelsson and a New York sports star visit an iconic New York eatery to discuss food, heritage and, of course, sports.

In the show’s most recent episode, Bader and Samuelsson visit Liebman’s Deli —  a kosher spot that’s the last Jewish deli in the Bronx — which is just a short drive from where Bader grew up in Bronxville. Bader attended the Horace Mann School in the heavily Jewish neighborhood of Riverdale.

Bader and Samuelsson dined on Jewish deli classics while they talked baseball. (E.H. Wallop/YES Network)

“For Passover I wanted to give a shoutout to Liebman’s Kosher Delicatessen, an absolute classic Jewish deli here in the Bronx,” Samuelsson wrote on Facebook.

Harrison Bader at the Deli

While at Liebman’s, Bader and Samuelsson met owner Yuval Dekel, who has led the popular Bronx deli for 20 years, after taking over for his father, who himself ran the restaurant for 20 years.

Dekel walked them through the deli’s process for preparing its beloved pastrami — even letting Bader apply the spice rub to pre-brined brisket. Bader, who called himself “a mustard guy,” said he grew up eating a lot of pastrami.

Once the briskets were ready to go into the oven, Bader and Samuelsson enjoyed some matzah ball soup, before sitting down to a full meal of pastrami sandwiches, stuffed cabbage, pickles and other classic Jewish delicacies.

Bader, 28, played the first five and a half seasons of his career in St. Louis before being traded to the Yankees last season. Bader’s father, who is Jewish, told the Forward that his son is considering formally converting to Judaism (Bader would not be considered Jewish under matrilineal descent, which says only a child born to a Jewish mother or a person who formally converts to Judaism is Jewish.)

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Bader had initially planned to play for Team Israel in the 2023 World Baseball Classic that was held in March, but ultimately dropped out due to his injuries. He said he would “absolutely consider” playing for the team in the future. (Bader’s fellow Jewish teammate Scott Effross, whom the Yankees acquired one day before Bader, also missed the WBC because of an injury.)

During his meal with Samuelsson, Bader talked about growing up in New York and playing baseball — and he credited his parents with helping to launch his career. “Obviously my father was my first coach,” Bader said. “Without my dad pitching to me every day, since I was 5 years old, I would be nowhere.”

Bader said his father likes to visit every stadium he plays in, and often travels to see Bader’s games when he plays at a new stadium for the first time.

He said his mother’s cooking has played a key role in his success, too.

After joining the Yankees last year, Bader lived at home with his parents during the playoffs, during which Bader enjoyed a breakout performance. “I was just in my little bubble — mother’s cooking me breakfast, grabbing coffee with my dad in the morning, then we’re going to play some ball at Yankee Stadium,” Bader recalled. “It’s so cool. It was so fun for all of us.”

Perhaps his postseason success was no coincidence? “Something in my mom’s eggs, I don’t know,” he said.