Yanks' 5th-rounder learned resilience from Jewish parents

July 19th, 2022

NEW YORK -- Most scouting write-ups and news clippings of collegiate prospects in the MLB Draft follow a similar formula -- there are honors from high school days, a few notable stats, standout performances and maybe a few injuries along the way. Eric Reyzelman has those, but there’s more to his story.

Selected in the fifth round by the Yankees out of Louisiana State University, the 21-year-old Reyzelman has touched 100 mph with his fastball, but his journey toward professional ball has been one of resilience. Twice cut from his high school team, Reyzelman has said that his never-give-up spirit was learned at home.

As the 21-year-old told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency earlier this month, he is the son of two Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union; his mother, Victoria, came to the United States from Ukraine in 1989, and his father, Alex, emigrated from Moldova years earlier. His parents struggled to build lives in their new country, with Victoria and Alex learning English, then finding careers as a chiropractor and a podiatrist, respectively.

Reyzelman’s mother has an uncle who lives in Kyiv; as the Russia-Ukraine war rages on, the Reyzelmans have sent money abroad to their family, which runs a bakery to help community members.

“I learned from the best,” Reyzelman told MLB.com in a telephone interview. “My parents did not have an easy road, getting to where they did. They’re incredible examples. I try to model what I do, the decisions I make, after everything I've learned from them. My mom's story, my dad's story, it's something I think about every day. I don't want it to go to waste; I want to use the opportunity that they gave me and my brothers.”

After two years at the University of San Francisco, Reyzelman earned the attention of big league scouts this past year following a transfer to LSU, where he posted a 4.04 ERA with three saves in 29 appearances. Boasting a fastball, cutter, changeup and slider, Reyzelman held opponents to 32 hits and 18 walks over 42 1/3 innings, striking out 66 batters.

That success was a long time coming for Reyzelman, who twice paced the hallways of De La Salle High in Concord, Calif., not seeing his name on the baseball team roster after tryouts. Then there was Tommy John surgery in March 2020 and the subsequent recovery, transpiring amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was completely work ethic [in high school], the lack of it,” Reyzelman said. “I thought I could get by and was showed I couldn’t. It took those few years and even the first year at San Francisco for me to begin to enjoy the work and see the differences in results. Now working hard is something I look forward to as much as the results on the field. It’s what motivates me.”

Reyzelman said that he has decided to sign with the Yankees and is planning to travel to Tampa, Fla., later this week, where he’ll begin workouts awaiting assignment. As a fifth-round pick (160th overall), the recommended slot value for Reyzelman is $340,500.

Reyzelman has said that he hopes to play for Team Israel in next year’s World Baseball Classic. As a Jewish athlete aiming to play in New York City, Reyzelman would do well to chat with former Yankee Ron Blomberg, best known as the first designated hitter in Major League history.

In his 2012 book Designated Hebrew, Blomberg recounted his incredible reception in New York after being a first-round Draft pick in 1967, noting, “I was a hit at every delicatessen in the city. I’d go to the Stage Deli and they would refuse to give me a check. The deli even named a sandwich after me: it was a big one, naturally, with corned beef, pastrami and brisket.”

No matter his next uniform, Reyzelman said that he understands the responsibility of his heritage, recognizing that each pitch he throws will represent something more significant.

“It’s an absolute blessing,” Reyzelman said. “The Jewish fan base is strong [in New York]. I hope to be able to put on that uniform sometime soon and play for someone outside of me. The idea of everyone watching and hoping to see an example, that’s something that will be a motivator for as long as I continue to play baseball.”