Jewish Baseball Players: Goldfarb, Cohen and Rotenberg: Father’s Day

By Bill Simons

The names Goldfarb, Cohen and Rotenberg more readily conjure up a yeshiva or a Jewish riff on the poetic, double-play refrain “Tinker to Evers to Chance” than an actual ballpark. However, on Father’s Day, Sunday, June 18, Jakob Goldfarb, Adam Cohen and Arnold Rotenberg played central roles in the doubleheader at “The Joe,” Joseph Bruno Stadium in Troy, NY. Named after a benevolent, yet sometimes ethically challenged, former New York Senate majority leader, “The Joe,” located on the Hudson Valley Community College campus, has abundant parking, inviting 325’ foul poles, stretching to 400’ in deep center. With a crowd capacity of about 4,500, there isn’t a bad seat in the house.

For those of us of a certain age, baseball, despite the defection of many of the young, is still America. Chicago Cubs slugger Ernie Banks once said, “Let’s play two,” and that’s exactly what the hometown Tri-City ValleyCats and visiting Florence, KY, Y’alls did on this picture-perfect June day. These teams, part of the independent Frontier League, play good ball, approaching that of Double-A in the minors. The Father’s Day crowd was friendly and family oriented. My friends and I, whose fathers have passed, brought dads along in our memory bank. Our gang drove an hour and some change from Oneonta to take in a new ballpark, and The Joe did not disappoint. 

Sports-minded Jews tend to keep track of their extended baseball family trees. As Tyler Kepner, former national baseball writer for the late, lamented New York Times sports page, wisely observed, there are many ways to connect to baseball. On Father’s Day at The Joe, catcher Jakob Goldfarb, broadcaster Adam Cohen and alpha fan Arnold Rotenberg reflected diverse Jewish connections to America’s past and perhaps future national pastime. 

I wore my official Team Israel baseball cap, emblazed with the six-pointed Star of David in front and the Israeli flag on the side, to The Joe. Upon entering the outdoor concourse at the ballpark, it was immediately evident that I was in friendly territory. I encountered a man with a yarmulke who had an animated group gathered around him, including a fan with the name Goldberg printed in large letters on the back of his baseball shirt. I introduced myself to the gentleman capped with the kippah. His name was Josh Cooper-Ginsburg. Before game two of the doubleheader, Cooper-Ginsburg and some of his landsmen were escorted onto the field where he sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” in a robust voice. 

Cooper-Ginsburg was part of a sizeable group from Congregation Gates of Heaven, a Reform Jewish temple in nearby Schenectady where he serves as director of administration and operations. The temple outing to the ball game was organized by Arnold Rotenberg, the director of congregational Jewish living at Gates of Heaven. A superfan who still expresses enormous pride in Sandy Koufax sitting out Yom Kippur during the 1965 World Series and then pitching shutouts in games five and seven, Rotenberg thought a trip to the ballpark would make for a good Father’s Day family outing. Evidenced by his enthusiastic temple contingent of nearly 50, he was right. 

The ValleyCats rewarded the home crowd with a Father’s Day’s doubleheader sweep of the Y’alls. Compensating for two errors, Jakob Goldfarb caught a couple of good games, threw a baserunner out, scored a run and drilled a base hit. His Jewish father and Christian mother shared both traditions with him. Identifying as a Jew, Goldfarb chose to be bar mitzvahed. He played for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic, asserting that playing for Team Israel meant representing a people. 

Five days after Father’s Day, Goldfarb enjoyed pregame birthday cake at a local diner with his visiting parents and sister. For an encore, that evening he launched two homers, driving in five runs, in the ValleyCats’ June 23 victory over the visiting Ottawa Titans. Adding to his birthday laurels, the 6’2”, 220-pound native of Scottsdale, AZ, made a spectacular running catch in the outfield that scotched a bases-loaded Titans’ rally. 

Goldfarb, who earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Oregon while majoring in philosophy, will complete his law school studies at the University of Washington this fall. Professors have allowed him to attend certain classes virtually, and the ValleyCats have granted him a private room on the road to facilitate studies. This coming December will be a big month; marriage will follow graduation. Goldfarb met his fiancée in law school. They plan to have children in five years. Come February, Goldfarb will take the bar exam. At 27, he is old for a baseball prospect. However, Goldfarb is resilient and determined as evidenced by comebacks from injuries. Moreover, he possesses both power and speed, and the versatile Goldfarb can play any outfield position and first base, as well as catch. He will take his baseball dream as far as he can. 

As he does for all home games, Cohen, the ValleyCats’ media relations coordinator and broadcaster, anchored coverage of the Father’s Day doubleheader and Goldfarb’s two home run birthday game. Cohen grew up a Yankees fan in the very Jewish Midge Maisel section of the Upper West Side of Manhattan, largely shielded from antisemitism. Raised in Reform Judaism with a rabbi for a stepmother, he currently defines his Judaism as cultural rather than theological. Despite having just turned 23, Cohen, a graduate of Allegheny College with a degree in communications, has an impressive background, including stints with the Israel Association of Baseball, Erie SeaWolves, Duluth Huskies and Meadville Tribune. Confident of sportscasting ascent in the years to come, Cohen’s gametime commentary radiates a mix of informed detail, anecdote, wit, contagious enthusiasm and telling observations. Adam conjures up a preliminary sketch of the young Mel Allen. 

Later in the season, the ValleyCats hosted a Jewish Heritage night. For Jewish players, personnel and fans from Troy to Tel Aviv, the baseball diamond has six points.

Bill Simons is a professor emeritus at SUNY Oneonta where he continues to teach courses in American history. He is also the co-director of The Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, and served as a speaker for the New York Council on the Humanities.