Only visibly Orthodox Jew in baseball commissioner’s office arrived via Israel
Zack Raab. Credit: Courtesy

“It’s a combination of my passions—for Israel, Jewish baseball and baseball in general,” Zack Raab, senior coordinator of Minor League Baseball club services, told JNS.

By Mike Wagenheim
June 25, 2024

It seemed like a Jewish version of “Where’s Waldo?”

Zack Raab, former merchandise marketing manager for Team Israel, was presenting a tour around the five-floor offices of the commissioner of Major League Baseball in the former Time & Life Building in Midtown Manhattan.

It’s sensory overload for a baseball fan.

The walls are etched with quotes that define the game. “You could be a kid for as long as you want when you play baseball” was painted in one hallway—the words of Cal Ripkin Jr., baseball’s Iron Man.

“I tell people I get to work in an office that’s decorated like how I would decorate my bedroom,” said Raab. “Baseball from head to toe, conference rooms named after Hall of Famers, baseball quotes on every floor and every wall.”

Mammoth glass cases are embedded in the walls, filled with old baseball cards. You can almost smell the stick of bubble gum that would be included in those card packs.

There’s paraphernalia—balls, bats, gloves, jerseys—from legends and legendary moments, around every turn.

Raab allowed a peek into Major League Baseball’s replay review center, where crews of umpires and assistants watch every game each night, waiting to jump in with help should umpires on the field need it. A baseball fan could look inside, even as it stands empty, and imagine a manager ready to explode on an umpire in Milwaukee or Minneapolis because of a decision that’s made in that room in a New York skyscraper.

Even the cafeteria is loaded up with ballpark-style favorites.

But Raab has his eyes open for something truly special. If you’re not focused, you may miss it among the hyperstimulation of the place. For Raab, it jumps out.

Among the seemingly thousands of pieces of team gear and memorabilia donning the walls, offices and personal cubicles of the 1,250 employees in the office, Raab can’t help but grin ear to ear every time he comes across a Team Israel product, whether it’s laying on a lawyer’s desk or hanging above a graphic designer’s screen.

“It gives me a smile every time I see a Team Israel hat sitting on someone’s desk in my office,” said Raab, senior coordinator of Minor League Baseball club services. “I would put my hat on my desk in my office too, but I wear it a lot.”

And for good reason.

At the World Baseball Classic in 2023. Credit: Courtesy.

‘It’s a combination of my passions’

The 32-year-old native of Boca Raton, Fla., and lifelong baseball fan was just out of high school in 2012 when a young Team Israel program competed in Jupiter, Fla., in a qualifier for the World Baseball Classic, which has become baseball’s premier international competition.

“I went to those games and was immediately hooked. They didn’t actually qualify for the World Baseball Classic, but I knew all the players’ names, and I sat right above the dugout,” Raab told JNS.

He was back again above the dugout for Team Israel’s qualifier in Brooklyn in 2016 in the company of family and friends “having the time of my life,” he said.

That time around, they made it to the big tournament in 2017 in Seoul. And Raab, the super-fan, took off with them.

“I went alone to Seoul, and my friends thought I was crazy. I said, ‘Just watch.’ And then Israel swept all three games,” said Raab. “I didn’t declare it, but I became sort of that crazy Team Israel fan, that at any time there was a high-level game, I was there.”

He went on to Tokyo to cheer on the team in the next round before the darlings of that World Baseball Classic bowed out. He hasn’t missed a game since.

“It’s a combination of my passions—for Israel, Jewish baseball and baseball in general,” he said.

A lofty job. Credit: Courtesy.

When it was coming time for Team Israel to compete in the Olympics in 2021, Raab put another component of his background into play. He had been living in Israel at that point, having worked for a couple of e-commerce startups.

“There was just a need for Israel baseball merchandise, there was a need for Jewish baseball fans to wear something with pride and to show their love for Israel baseball, and so I pulled a few strings, made a few things happen and created a line of merchandise,” he told JNS.

That included everything from player T-shirts to branded kippahs, hats and hoodies. He even helped produce what was almost certainly the first baseball bobblehead with the athlete’s name in Hebrew—one of popular pitcher Shlomo Lipetz.

“It was just an absolute passion project for six months before the Olympics,” Raab said.

He managed to parlay that into a job in the beating heart of Major League Baseball after hitting a few professional speed bumps in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Raab had moved to Israel after high school intending to study there for a year. He stayed for almost eight years after that, earning two degrees from Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan.

He was holding down a steady job at an e-commerce startup in the coastal city of Herzliya when in early 2019, he “dropped everything and said I’m going to move back to America to pursue a career in baseball. Nothing more, nothing less.”

At the Ezra Schwartz Ballpark in Israel. Credit: Courtesy.

Minor League Baseball completely shut down in 2020 due to the pandemic. Aside from that, Raab ruled out taking a role with any of the individual teams.

“I realized from a personal perspective that keeping Shabbat—and not being able to work Friday nights and Saturdays—would make it very hard for me to work at a club level because those are the two busiest most important games of the week,” he said.

His faith didn’t waver, and he now finds himself roaming the baseball-decked halls of the commissioner’s office.

‘Having that dream’

Raab now works on the Minor League Baseball business operations team, dedicated to the 120 minor league clubs around the country. He helps them with “all things under the sun business-related”—from marketing and ticketing to sponsorship and his familiar grounds of merchandising.

He was hired in August 2021 for a newly created role following a complete revamp of the relationship between Major League Baseball and its minor league clubs. Raab was promoted at the start of 2023.

Minor League Baseball team in Buffalo, N.Y. Credit: Courtesy.

While he does spend time in the office making calls, he gets to travel to the teams under his area of responsibility, mainly in the eastern part of the country.

“We visit them at their ballpark, see their communities, see what they do on the ground there. We’re a resource for them and Major League Baseball, here to build relationships with them, help them, and be a place where they can give feedback and facilitate idea sharing,” Raab told JNS.

It also allows him to see minor-league players trying to make their way up the ladder and realize their big-league dreams.

“That is probably why deep down I love my job with Minor League Baseball because everyone from players to staff are really doing what I’ve done over the past couple years, which is just having that dream, having that passion, and working their way up to try to achieve bigger goals and make a bigger impact,” said Raab.

He says the learning curve has been steep but especially rewarding with a baseball-focused education in everything from intellectual property to on-field entertainment.

“I’ve gained a wider appreciation for just the greater scope of what it takes to put on a baseball game and to run a website, to run the merchandise offering for your club, run social media—a better scope of how everything works to make a baseball team operate and to show a good time to your fans when they come out,” said Raab.

Raab shows his true colors. Credit: Courtesy.

‘Why would I change who I am?’

The “Where’s Waldo?” analogy goes for Raab himself.

He says other Orthodox Jews are working in the commissioner’s office. But no matter how high and low one searches, Raab is the only one wearing a kippah.

“I know there are other Orthodox Jews, and I know there are so many other proud Jews in the office,” Raab told JNS. But as for wearing his kippah, “it’s a sense of pride for me. I wear it not for any specific reason, other than I’ve worn it my whole life.” 

His job in the commissioner’s office was his first job in America, and he was asked by some if he would keep wearing a kippah—something he never needed to contemplate in Israel.

“Of course, I am. Because that’s me. Why would I change who I am?” Raab said.

At a baseball-related meeting in Las Vegas in 2023. Credit: Courtesy.

He said he’s received nothing but support from his co-workers, and outside of the lack of kosher food available among the office’s concessions selections, his observance doesn’t affect his job one way or another.

But his Team Israel fandom does, slightly. Raab told his manager that he needed to be in Miami for Team Israel’s 2023 World Baseball Classic appearance.

“He wasn’t even surprised, and he understood,” Raab said of his boss, who allowed Raab to work remotely.

And Raab told JNS that he intends to continue his attendance streak, “God willing,” whenever Team Israel competes on a big stage again.

Throwing out the first pitch. Credit: Courtesy.

In the meantime, he says he wants to use his position to help others who may be looking for the same inroads he searched for three years ago.

“I know it is a bit unique based on how many people reach out to me and say, we didn’t know an Orthodox Jew works at Major League Baseball, and when I was a kid, I didn’t have anyone to look up to like this,” Raab said.

He noted that he gets messages on LinkedIn and social media from followers impressed by his journey, some of them looking to make the same one. “I just try every day, every week, every month to pay it forward to one person or another, to try to make an impact,” he said. “This is more than a dream come true. It’s a dream I never even knew could come true.”

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