When Ryan Sherriff took to the mound for the Tampa Bay Rays in the top of the eighth inning of Game 5, he joined an exclusive club of Jewish pitchers in the World Series.
By JERUSALEM POST SPORTS STAFF OCTOBER 26, 2020 14:04
When Ryan Sherriff took to the mound for the Tampa Bay Rays in the top of the eighth inning of Game 5 to face the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday night, little did he know what type of exclusive group he was about to join. Sherriff added his name to a club that Sandy Koufax belongs to, a Jewish pitcher featuring in the World Series. And one whose maternal grandparents, Helen and Seymour Wildfeuer, were Holocaust survivors to boot.
The left-hander couldn’t have pitched any better in sending Max Muncy, Will Smith and Cody Bellinger down in order.
Despite the Rays losing 4-2 and giving the Dodgers a 3-2 series lead, Sherriff did his job with a 3-up-and-3-down inning. Interestingly enough, had the 30-year-old hurler faced two more batters, another member of the tribe in Joc Pederson would have gone face-to-face with Sheriff in what would have been a rare Jewish Fall Classic moment.
Sherriff was added to the Rays roster just in time for the World Series and in fact was a surprise addition to the ball club. The Culver City native appeared in only 10 games throughout the shortened 2020 season pitching a total of 9.2 innings, while giving up 6 hits, walking and striking out two batters and allowing no runs for a perfect 0.00 ERA.
In August 2017, Sherriff made his MLB debut with the St. Louis Cardinals and pitched sparingly in the big leagues having undergone Tommy John surgery in 2018, so being called up in time for a chance to play on the grand stage was definitely not something the 30-year old ever imagined would occur.
Originally selected by the Cardinals in the 28th round of the 2011 entry draft toiled in the minor leagues before finally getting his shot in the majors. However, Sherriff almost never made it to the point where he is now.
His father, Larry, one of Sheriff’s biggest supporters as he made his way through Glendale Community College died in January 2012 due to blood cancer at the age of 57 and the lefty wanted to throw in the towel and call it a career right there and then. But his mother, Renee, was able to convince Sherriff that playing baseball was what his father had wanted him to do and he headed to training camp in Palm Beach.
As a starting pitcher in Class-A, Sherriff learned the art of the trade from pitching coach Dennis Martinez, one of the best in the business, who twirled a no-hitter for the Montreal Expos against his current World Series opponent the Dodgers while also chalking up over 200 MLB victories for five clubs.
However, Sherriff’s biggest influence perhaps came from his maternal grandparents, who were both Holocaust survivors from Poland. As a little boy, he noticed numbers tattooed on his grandmother’s left arm and learned that Helen had been held by the Nazis at Auschwitz, while Seymour had been in Bergen-Belsen.
“She’d just be like, ‘This is what they are. They gave us numbers and stuff like that,’” Sherriff told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2017. “As I got older it finally clicked.”
Following the war, Helen had cared for Seymour as a nurse and they married while still in Europe. From there the couple headed to the United States and eventually moved to Denver, Colorado, where Seymour opened a meat packing company.
When the Israel National Baseball Team came calling for the 2017 World Baseball Classic qualifiers, Sherriff knew that everything he had strived for came full circle knowing how proud and satisfied his late grandparents would have been knowing he had donned the blue-and-white jersey.
“Being able to pitch for Team Israel made me feel very appreciative for everything that they had gone through,” Sherriff told the Post-Dispatch. “Just to represent the Jewish heritage for them was just a great honor for me. She [Helen] would have been stoked. She would have been really happy if she was still alive today.”
At the time Sherriff described the WBC qualifiers as being the best experience of his life, but perhaps winning the World Series this week will be able to top that.