MLB's Jewish pitcher balances fastballs, faith and family
Jason Marquis: I love baseball and respect the faith, but my family comes before everything.
At age 12, Colorado Rockies pitcher Jason Marquis knew he wanted to be a baseball player, much to the chagrin of his Conservative Jewish parents. "It's not that they wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer," he remembers. "But they would always ask me, 'What are you going to do after 35? What if you get injured? You need to get yourself a profession.'"
"My parents were typical blue-collar people, and sports seemed like something for lazy people," Marquis, 30, says with a smile. "Dad had a business for check-cashing and mom worked in the New York Board of Education. They were people who got up at six every morning to pray, then go to work."
"My mother was stricter with our Jewish upbringing, given that her parents were Holocaust survivors," he adds.
Marquis is currently tied for second in the majors with 13 winning starts.
He was born in Manhasset, New York and raised on Staten Island. At 13, he played for the South Shore team, which finished third in the world and second in the United States, in the 1991 Little League World Series.
Upon throwing a no-hitter in the third-place game against Canada, Marquis knew his future lay on the mound: "Playing in front of that many people at that time in my life made me realize this is what I wanted to do with my life, and I was going to work my hardest to get it."
Marquis's bar mitzvah had a baseball theme, and his parents surprised him with a 15-by-15 foot replica scoreboard from the no-hitter game. The gift, he says, was "the most moving thing I've ever received, except for the days my two kids were born." Marquis and his wife Debbie have two young children, Reese Madison and Andrew.
"In return I promised I'd go to college, and not play on Jewish holidays," he recalls. Marquis has kept the second part of the promise, though higher education slipped through the cracks.
Surprisingly, it was his mother who supported his decision to skip college. Marquis was pitching in his high school's title game, and was already registered to attend college in Miami, when the phone rang at the home and Marquis' parents learned he'd been drafted by the Atlanta Braves.
"Mom was so excited she couldn't wait for me to get home and hear the news. She rushed to the field in the second inning and made a signal to me that Atlanta had picked me. My emotions went wild, I pitched a great game and we took the championship," Marquis says.
While paying his dues in the Braves' farm system, the devout pitcher was always able to avoid playing on Rosh Hashanah, Passover and of course, Yom Kippur. Things got trickier once he hit the big leagues.
"I asked the manager [one Yom Kippur] if I could come to the game as late as possible, and I went to temple to pray. Then I got to the game without eating or drinking. I actually won. The next day I was back in temple," he says.
Another time he asked a coach to push up his starting day, giving him three rather than the customary four days of rest between starts. "I didn't have a good game, but the important thing is that I kept the holiday," he says.
Marquis was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, and then the Chicago Cubs, where he once played on the evening following a high holiday. "I went to temple, prayed every day and then went to pitch. It was actually great preparation," he says.
In June, Marquis was granted the most significant honor of his career thus far when he was selected to pitch for the National League in the All-Star Game.
In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, Marquis admitted that both his profession and his spiritual life have recently been forced to take a back seat: "I still love baseball very much and really respect the faith, but my family comes before everything."