When Joshua Shapiro, a 2015 Bexley High School graduate, began playing baseball under the tutelage of local baseball coach Ron Golden at age 8, no one likely predicted it would lead to the big leagues.
After playing baseball at Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va, for four years, where he was a starting pitcher, the left-hander now stands atop a different mound: the rookie-level farm team of Major League Baseball’s Milwaukee Brewers.
The Brewers selected Shapiro in the 34th round of the MLB Draft, demonstrating his years of dedication to the sport were worth the sacrifice.
Less than a week after the draft, the 22-year-old boarded a plane bound for Phoenix to claim his spot on the roster of the Arizona League Brewers, the minor league team. Upon arrival, he and the other members of his team underwent a series of medical exams to ensure their health and physical condition. Upon passing those tests, Shapiro signed a major league contract with the Brewers and was paid a $3,000 signing bonus.
Despite the fact that he is paid very little, Shapiro said the opportunity to play in the big leagues “is a dream come true.” He lives with three other teammates in a three-bedroom apartment provided by the team, although each player pays $90 a month for rent. In fact, the entire team lives in the same apartment complex. They are all bused to and from their nearby practice facility and home field.
When the Arizona League Brewers play an away game, they are bused there. Fortunately, no team is located farther than a 90-minute commute each way. In fact, most opponents are no more than a 20-minute ride away, so travel time is minimal, Shapiro said.
He likened playing on the Brewers’ rookie team to participating in a summer camp where the main activity is baseball. According to Shapiro, the team practices up to six times a week, but usually for no longer than an hour. That’s a far cry from how life was when Shapiro played for Marshall, where he said practices weren’t very organized.
“Here, everything is slotted,” he said. “You are to be professional and be where you are supposed to be.”
Shapiro, along with his parents, Mick and Brenda, and sisters, Gabby and Emma, have been members of Congregation Agudas Achim in Bexley his entire life. He became a bar mitzvah there in 2010.
Judaism has consistently played a role in Shapiro’s life and was a topic Mick Shapiro and his son discussed often. According to Mick Shapiro, the two often reminisced about Jewish major league baseball players.
“We talked about Jewish baseball players like Kevin Youkilis, Ryan Braun and, of course, Sandy Koufax,” Mick Shapiro said. “And I used to tell him, hopefully you will be on that short list.”
Shapiro and his parents also discussed whether he would play baseball on Jewish holidays. While there may be situations where he has no other option, Joshua has committed to remain true to his Jewish roots as much as practicable.
Mick Shapiro recalled how when Joshua was 14 and played baseball for Team USA, a tournament in North Carolina fell on Rosh Hashanah. Mick Shapiro called Agudas Achim and spoke to Rabbi Mitch Levine for assistance. Levine hails from the same area as the tournament, so Mick Shapiro thought he might be able to assist.
Rabbi Levine “helped set us up with tickets at the shul he grew up in,” Mick Shapiro said. “My mom (Sheila) cooked us a nice meal, which we ate at the hotel” after the day’s games were finished.
Shapiro also does his best to adhere to Passover’s rules against the consumption of wheat-related products, even when on the road for games or tournaments. During Passover, he pays special attention not to eat any prohibited foods.
“At team meals, he knew what he could and couldn’t eat,” Mick Shapiro said.
And when Shapiro was in college, Brenda Shapiro would bring him a freshly baked challah each time she visited to watch him play. His parents may visit Phoenix soon, in which case they will bring the bread. Shapiro is all for it, as he said her challah is excellent.
When Shapiro made his pro debut on the pitching mound recently, Mick Shapiro and beaming grandmother Sheila were in attendance.
“I whipped out my cell phone,” Mick Shapiro said. “I recorded him running to the mound. It was so emotional. It was a dream of his since Day One.”
Tami Kamin Meyer writes for the Columbus Jewish News from Bexley.