It’s common for a Steeler, Pirate or Penguin to provide some words of wisdom for Pittsburgh youth wherever they happen to be. How often, though, do young yinzers get to hear directly from a New York Yankee?

That’s the opportunity a group of Jewish teens and preteens had Monday night when Yankees pitcher Scott Effross took part in a long-form discussion about baseball, mental health and more at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh in Squirrel Hill.

The room was packed with members of the Pittsburgh Jewish community — mainly kids and their adult supervisors — as Effross, sporting a Star of David necklace that his wife gave him, got candid about his Jewish faith and career in Major League Baseball that has so far included stints with the Chicago Cubs and Yankees, who traded for him last season.

“I always said that I’m very fortunate to be part of two very, very special organizations,” Effross, who wasn’t available for one-on-one interviews, told the crowd. “I think going from Wrigley to the Bronx is a complete culture shock.”

New York Yankees pitcher Scott Effross talks baseball at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

You’re probably wondering why a Yankees pitcher was addressing Jewish teens in Pittsburgh. Effross’ wife, Brittany Effross, attended Duquesne University, and a lot of his family still resides in his hometown of Twinsburg, Ohio. The two settled here, fell in love with the city and continue to use Pittsburgh as their home base during the MLB offseason.

Effross was raised Jewish and has lived out the values he was taught as a kid by volunteering at the JCC. Josh Cohen, the JCC’s director of Jewish teen life, said that Effross was in Squirrel Hill just a few weeks ago serving lunches and working with some of the older members his department serves.

“Scott is really strong and steadfast in who he is and his Jewish identity,” Cohen told the Union Progress. “He does have a love for the Pittsburgh area. … For him to be able to be here in the community is great.”

Effross’ talk on Monday night was moderated by Rabbi Ron Symons, the JCC’s senior director of Jewish life. He prodded Effross into talking about his faith, which the Indiana University alumnus said for him meant “having structure, a foundation to fall back on.”

Much of their conversation was, naturally, spent talking about baseball. Effross was drafted by the Cubs in 2015 and spent much of his career in the minor leagues before being called up to MLB in 2021. He’s currently recovering from Tommy John surgery, which means he’ll likely miss the 2023 season and the opportunity he recently received to represent Team Israel in the 2023 World Baseball Classic.

As someone who experienced a long road to the majors, Effross has developed quite a few techniques to make sure he’s always “not too high and not too low” in terms of his mental health. He led the audience in a guided breathing exercise at one point to simulate how he centers himself, which especially comes in handy right before he takes the mound.

“It’s really like a marathon,” he said. “You have to pace yourself. It’s as quick or as long as the game dictates.”

One young member of the audience at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill wore support for both the Yankees and Steelers during a visit by New York Yankees pitcher Scott Effross on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

After Rabbi Symons finished peppering Effross with his questions, he opened the discussion up to queries that were submitted in advance by young JCC members. We learned that his favorite player growing up was Kenny Lofton, his most fun Yankees teammate is Anthony Rizzo, he’s most proud of striking out Bryce Harper in 2021 and more fun facts of that nature.

At one point, Rabbi Symons interjected with a question of his own for Effross: Does he think the Pirates’ recent reunion with franchise great Andrew McCutchen will bring about more wins this season?

“I hope so,” he said. “He’s a great ball player. He’s a great guy that squares me up really well.”

Rabbi Symons also asked Effross if he thinks the Pirates have a shot at beating the Yankees this year, to which he diplomatically replied, “You never know.”

On a more serious note, he implored the kids in attendance to never “let anybody tell you you can’t do anything” and to “keep your head down and keep working hard” in order to achieve their dreams.

“I hope my words resonated with some people in the crowd,” Effross said as the Q&A concluded. “Thanks for welcoming me into the community.”

The evening ended with the Jewish youth in the room lining up to get autographs from and their photos taken with Effross. The excitement level on display was exactly why Cohen wanted to hold an event like this at the JCC.

“Even to just to see their faces light up when they get to meet him is just a great experience for us,” he said. “It’s the reason we get up in the morning and do what we do.”

Joshua covers pop culture, media and more at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Contact him at

Joshua Axelrod

Joshua covers pop culture, media and more at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Contact him at