Ron Blomberg hasn’t played baseball in almost 40 years but still is recognized by fans on the streets of New York, where he played for the Yankees from 1969 to 1976.
The native Atlantan and member of the national Jewish Sports Hall of Fame is most famous for becoming the first designated hitter in major-league history while playing for the Yankees in 1973, but Blomberg was one of the best high school athletes Atlanta has ever seen. He remains the only athlete to be named All-America in football, basketball and baseball while at Druid Hills High School in the 1960s.
When multiple knee injuries ended his baseball career, Blomberg returned to Atlanta and played softball in the Jewish Community Center’s modified fastpitch league, where there are stories of him hitting 450-foot home runs over the train tracks in center field at the old JCC on Peachtree Street.
Blomberg is scheduled to speak at the 14th annual JNF Atlanta Jack Hirsch Memorial Breakfast on Yom HaAtzmaut, Tuesday, May 2, at the Westin Atlanta Perimeter North in Sandy Springs.
AJT: You grew up in Atlanta, but you seem to still be very connected to New York. Why is that?
Blomberg: When I played up there, I became a role model. There aren’t too many Jewish professional athletes, and because I’m a very proud Jew and I always have been, to be able to be the first Jewish Yankee, I think they brought me into their family. To be a role model in this day and age is very important, and I think it’s important for the Jews to have a role model. When you wear the Yankee pinstripes with 1 million Jews in New York, they take you on like family.
Blomberg: Israel needs baseball. I think Israel’s performance in the WBC will be great publicity for the game in Israel. Each year it’s going to get better and better. Of course, soccer and basketball are the two biggest sports there, but baseball is moving up. The World Baseball Classic got so much publicity in New York. All of my friends there were going to sports bars to watch Team Israel together.
AJT: There are legends about you playing JCC softball here in Atlanta after your baseball career ended. Did you really play?
Blomberg: When I came home to Atlanta, I couldn’t play baseball anymore, and I didn’t have anything else to do. Some of my friends were in that league, and they asked me to play. So I agreed to play, but I didn’t want people to know who I was because once they find out, they expect you to hit a home run every time. If you don’t do that, you’re not good. So it’s a no-win situation. I played at the JCC and also in the city league on Gene Benator’s team. Whenever I got up to bat, they used to put everyone in the outfield at the old JCC on Peachtree. It was a bunch of older guys that I went to high school and Hebrew school with, but, let me tell you something, it was fun.
AJT: You speak to Jewish groups all the time. What are you planning to say to the people at the JNF breakfast May 2?
Blomberg: I have no idea what I talk about until I get up onstage. I’ve been booed in front of 50,000 people; being booed in front of a few more doesn’t faze me. I just enjoy talking to people and relating to people. If you relate to people, you don’t need a script. People want to know that you’re a real person.
What: Jack Hirsch Memorial Breakfast
When: 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, May 2
Where: Westin Atlanta Perimeter North, 7 Concourse Parkway, Sandy Springs
Cost: Free; RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or 404-236-8990, ext. 851