January 27, 2020

Preston Grand Pre: Another Jewish Dodger on the horizon

The Los Angeles Dodgers have a proud history of prominent Jewish players, from Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax to All-Star outfielder Shawn Green. Now, the next Jewish Dodger possibly could be a promising newcomer in their minor league system.

Preston Grand Pre, a middle infielder who signed his first professional contract after three years at UC Berkeley, was the Dodgers’ 24th-round selection in June’s Major League Baseball draft.

“Being from Southern California and being drafted by a Southern California team is an absolute dream come true,” said Grand Pre, who grew up in Laguna Beach and now is playing in the Arizona Rookie League.

The Dodgers organization has a legacy of Jewish players throughout its history, including Koufax, Green, Norm and Larry Sherry, and Mike Lieberthal. Current outfielder Joc Pederson’s mother is Jewish.

Grand Pre, who is listed at 6 feet 4 and 175 pounds, could be next. So far, the right-handed hitter is batting .250 in his first 15 games, with seven runs batted in and three stolen bases.

Grand Pre, 22, grew up a fan of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and enrolled at Berkeley because of its stellar baseball program as well as its outstanding academics. Pursuing a double major in legal studies and sociology, he was four classes from completing his degree after three years before he signed with the Dodgers.

“Eventually, I will finish [the needed classes]. Right now, I am focused on baseball and need to pursue this,” he said.

At Cal, he most often played shortstop, second base and first base.

“He’s a great teammate. I enjoyed being around him and coaching him,” said Dave Esquer, Cal’s baseball coach until June, when he left to become the head coach at Stanford. “He takes direction well and is really competitive, which we as coaches really love. He likes to win and is really unselfish.”

Grand Pre said he always knew he wanted a career in baseball.

“You have this feeling of what you want to do and your dreams and aspirations, and reality sets in and it’s either you can do it or you cannot do it,” he said. “I don’t think it has hit me yet or it has set in yet. I have to take a moment and step back to realize I am actually a professional baseball player. Ever since I was in Little League, I had this drive and passion to be a professional baseball player. I just had a feeling that that was what I wanted to do. It was more of a dream and now it has actually come true.”

Before drafting him, the Dodgers had been tracking Grand Pre’s baseball career since his freshman year at Cal.

“Tom Kunis, the area scout, did a good job of staying with him even through a couple injuries this year,” said Billy Gasparino, the Dodgers’ director of amateur scouting. “So we had him on our chalkboard last year and just didn’t make it work, and this year when he fell to the round he did and it matched up … we jumped on it.”

Now as a professional, Grand Pre has put other parts of his life on hold, including his religious involvement. He attends temple occasionally with his grandparents and celebrates major holidays such as Chanukah, but his day-to-day life is consumed by baseball.

He said he plans to go on a Birthright trip to Israel after learning of his older sister’s experience on the trip this year. “I am 100 percent going on Birthright in the offseason just so I can get a sense of understanding about everything I didn’t have the opportunity to do because I was so busy with baseball,” he said.

Grand Pre’s surname is French and its origins, he said, can be traced back to Czechoslovakia, the home of his paternal grandparents.

As for his baseball inspiration, Grand Pre said he looks up to Derek Jeter, the former New York Yankee shortstop, whom he described as “the model for what a baseball player should be.”

“He always stayed out of trouble and was ‘the guy,’ ” Grand Pre said. “He was the best shortstop … [and] just a special individual that everyone could look up to as a role model.”

Primarily a shortstop, Grand Pre said his goal is to master all positions except pitcher and catcher to make himself more versatile and valuable as a player.

Esquer praised Grand Pre’s improved mental approach to the game while with the Golden Bears. “I think the biggest growth is he learned how to be less hard on himself,” Esquer said. “In the game of baseball, the more you play, you have to learn how to let things roll off and just try to go on to the next game. I think that maturity is going to serve him well in professional baseball.”

Grand Pre said his proudest moments have been Cal advancing to the 2015 NCAA regional tournament, getting drafted by the Dodgers and his first hit in professional baseball.

“Everything I have done so far has amounted to getting to this point,” he said. “Now I need to keep getting to the next point.”