Players gonna play

This Jewish comedian hopes to set a new baseball record

Eitan Levine will tour the US to earn the Guinness title for most ceremonial first pitches thrown, and will raise money for a good cause along the way

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Eitan Levine threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Hartford Yard Goats game, April 10, 2024, in Hartford, Connecticut. (Courtesy via JTA)
Eitan Levine threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Hartford Yard Goats game, April 10, 2024, in Hartford, Connecticut. (Courtesy via JTA)

New York Jewish Week — On April 10, Eitan Levine approached the pitcher’s mound in Connecticut as the Hartford Yard Goats prepared to play the Bowie Baysox.

Four days later, on April 14, he will ascend the mound nearly 1,000 miles to the south on the home field of the Jacksonville JumboShrimp. Three days after that he’ll do the same at First Horizon Park, home of the Nashville Sounds.

And from May 8 to 12 he will step on the rubber at four different stadiums in the greater Chicago area. None of them belong to the city’s American League team, the White Sox, though he will get on the mound for the Cubs — the South Bend Cubs, that is, a minor-league affiliate for the franchise that plays in Wrigley Field.

Levine, a New York City-based comedian, is embarking on this odyssey across dozens of minor league ballparks (and, to be fair, a good number of big-league stadiums) in pursuit of an obscure record: the most ceremonial opening pitches thrown by one person in one baseball season.

“I was just doomscrolling one night, and thought of it and checked to see if there was a record,” Levine, 34, told the New York Jewish Week.

He figured a small-town mayor somewhere must have set a lifetime record for first pitches, but found nothing. So he contacted the Guinness Book of Records, whose representatives told him it had set a benchmark of 40 pitches to qualify for the record — which is so far unclaimed. The Guinness Book of Records confirmed to the New York Jewish Week that it was monitoring an attempt at the record.

Levine hopes to throw 50 first pitches this season.

“A million cold emails and cold calls later I’m sitting outside of Dunkin’ Donuts Park,” the Yard Goats’ stadium, he said.

In addition to setting the record, Levine hopes to raise $100,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a nonprofit that grants “wishes” — dream gifts or experiences — to children with severe illnesses. Wishes cost an average of $10,000 each, and he’ll ask fans to donate at each park he visits, as well as on social media, where he has 27,000 Instagram followers and more than 118,000 on TikTok.

For Levine, the connection is personal. He was 10 years old when he was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a type of cancer that forms tumors in bones and soft tissue. He underwent two years of chemotherapy, followed by 15 years of procedures to reconstruct his leg, and is now cancer-free.

One bright spot in the ordeal was his experience with Make-A-Wish, which helped kick off his career in comedy. Levine was granted a wish, and opted to perform a stand-up show, opening for Jim Gaffigan at Carolines on Broadway Comedy Club in Manhattan when he was 15. His cancer has also made it into his comedy more recently.

“My mom was also very, very Jewish,” he said of his childhood. “And she was so Jewish she used to brag to people about how rare the cancer was. Like, ‘You know my son? He got into the medical program at Cornell!’”

Levine landed on the first pitch idea after he appeared on social media last season wearing the jersey of the Portland Pickles, a collegiate summer baseball team in Oregon. The team’s owner set up his first ceremonial first pitch.

Previous Guinness records involving baseball pitches range from the well-known (baseball’s oldest player, pitcher Satchel Paige, who was close to 60 when he stopped playing), to novelty numbers like the most baseball pitches thrown in 8 hours (2,806, by Patrick O’Bryan of Louisville, Kentucky, in 2022).

The only record claimed for ceremonial pitches appears to have been set by the 189 people who simultaneously threw out the first pitch at a game in Japan in 2023.

Levine has confirmed dates for games with 46 teams — 12 in the major leagues, the rest with minor league teams ranging from the Alaska Sun to the Norwich, Connecticut Sea Unicorns to the Akron, Ohio RubberDucks. He will also throw out the first pitch for one of the most famous minor league teams, the Durham Bulls, made famous by the classic baseball movie “Bull Durham.”

Comedian Eitan Levine. (Courtesy via JTA)

The major league teams include the New York Mets, the Minnesota Twins, the Oakland A’s, the Milwaukee Brewers and the Cleveland Guardians.

At least four of the pitches will take place during the teams’ Jewish heritage nights. Levine said his Jewish background helped inspire the project, citing his father’s philanthropic effort to bring a mikvah, or ritual bath, to their hometown of Springfield, New Jersey.

“A lot of stuff I’ve done has had a volunteerism element that is definitely from the Jewish heritage side of myself,” he said.

Levine organized the trips into “legs” in which he will throw out several pitches at games in a metro area, such as Cleveland, and also do comedy shows in the same region. Some of the performances will include a live game show he hosts, “That’s so Jewish,” and will take place at local Hillels and Chabad houses.

In New York, he’ll also throw the first pitch for the Rockland County Boulders during their Jewish heritage night. The Boulders became the first professional team to sign an Israeli-born position player when they enlisted Assaf Lowengart earlier this year.

That will be his 27th stop, on July 7. For now, he’s basking in the glory of taking the baseball field, and starting his long journey. In an Instagram post featuring a blurry photo of Levine with his arms raised in triumph on the Yard Goats’ field, he wrote, “JUST KNOW THEY MADE ME THROW FROM THE GRASS!!!!!! I WOULDA DONE THE MOUND. I’m still America’s most manly man.”

Below that, he wrote, “Strike 1. Only 49 more!!”

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