August 18, 2019

The Torah of Baseball

Years ago, my wife and I came to a life changing decision.  You see, I was raised with a painful condition, known as being a Cubs fan.  Living here in Los Angeles, we decided to raise our children as Dodgers fans in an effort to try to prevent the annual nausea and disappointment that came for us with the baseball season.  The Dodgers are an amazing franchise and there would be a good chance that our children could actually experience their team winning a World Series during their lifetime.  The Cubs have not won the World Series since 1908.

Our plan seemed to be working out fine until Theo Epstein, the Cubs President of Baseball Operations, decided to come to Chicago several years ago and build a winner out of the lovable losers.  As I’m sure you are aware the Cubs and Dodgers are playing each other in the National League Championship Series and my wife is rooting for the Cubs while my children are rooting for the Dodgers.  And I am caught between the team of my childhood and the team of my fatherhood.

I was able to keep this chaos in check, explaining to my family that I was just rooting for good baseball.  Deep down, I was rooting for the Cubs.  I was rooting for a logo in spite of the fact that the team of my youth, Sandberg and Grace and Dunston, having been replaced by Bryant and Rizzo and Baez.  I was deeply hoping that this new collection of players wearing the same jersey of the team of my youth could somehow redeem the years of disappointment.

Game 1 was tied at 3-3 in the 8th Inning, when the Cubs hit a grand slam.  I leapt out of my seat.  Could the Cubs actually win this whole thing?  And then I looked over at my son, and he had his head in his hands.  In a single moment, the Dodgers had just lost the game.

I knew in that moment, more than a baseball fan, I was a father.  After years of training in baseball disappointment, I was able to sit next to him, hug him and earnestly say, “Just wait till next game.  The Dodgers still have six more chances to win the series.”

Perhaps this is what Moses meant this week when he says, “Ask your father and he will tell you…” (Deut. 32:7)  As sports fans we are always caught between the present and our youth.  We use sports as a way to connect between generations.  I remember talking with my Dad about baseball as a child.  I remember him saying, “You don’t know how good baseball could be.  You never saw Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays.”  Now I often find myself thinking about the great athletes of my youth – of Ryne Sandberg and Michael Jordan and Walter Payton. 

As Jews, we are all trapped between the religious nuance of the house of our youth and the house of our adulthood.  No spouse observes Judaism exactly as our parents.  We always learn to compromise on different traditions.  In a larger sense, we live between the Judaism of today and the Judaism of the Torah.  We hear the words of Moses and draw inspiration knowing that the miracles of those times bind our national family together as a people today.

Torah lifts me above time and space to a place where I can converse with Ezra, Rabbi Akiva and my grandparents.  Baseball also lifts me above time and space to a place where me and my father and my son can discuss life.  There is no better explanation of baseball as Torah than from the film “Field of Dreams” (1989), “They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past… And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they've dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.”

As people, we look for ways to mark time, connecting the past to the future – connecting Moses to our Sukkah we’ve built outside of our house, connecting Sandy Koufax to Clayton Kershaw.  We sit at the threshold of Sukkot and wait for visitors from the past to enter our Sukkah.  I look forward to welcoming Abraham, Isaac and Jacob into our Sukkah.  And if Shoeless Joe Jackson walks in, he’s also welcome.