Holocaust survivors' grandson pitches for Tampa Bay in World Series
TAMPA BAY RAYS relief pitcher Ryan Sherriff pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2020 World Series in Arlington, Texas. The Dodgers hold a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series heading into tonight’s Game 6.
(photo credit: TIM HEITMAN/USA TODAY SPORTS VIA REUTERS)
When Ryan Sherriff took the mound for the Tampa Bay Rays over the weekend, he joined an exclusive club of Jewish pitchers in the World Series.
When Ryan Sherriff took the mound for the Tampa Bay Rays in the top of the seventh inning on Friday night to face the Los Angeles Dodgers and pitched a scoreless inning, 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 Hall of Fame pitcher featured in the World Series. And one whose maternal grandparents, Helen and Seymour Wildfeuer, were Holocaust survivors to boot. In Sunday’s Game 5, Sherriff once again came on in relief and pitched a perfect eighth inning by retiring Max Muncy, Will Smith and Cody Bellinger down in order. Despite the Rays losing the game 4-2 and giving the Dodgers a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series, 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, Joc Pederson, would have gone face-to-face with Sheriff in what would have been a rare Jewish Fall Classic moment. Perhaps we will still see the encounter in Tuesday night’s Game 6 or in Game 7 should the Rays extend the World Series to a winner-take-all contest. 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, California, native appeared in only 10 games throughout the shortened 2020 MLB season, pitching a total of 9 2/3 innings, 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 (elbow) surgery in 2018. Being called up in time for a chance to play on the grand stage was definitely not something he ever imagined would occur. Originally selected by the Cardinals in the 28th round of the 2011 entry draft, Sherriff 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. The lefty wanted to throw in the towel and call it a career right then and there. 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 more than 200 MLB wins 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, 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 had come full circle: 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.