October 22, 2019

Why Is This Sport Different?

After cleansing my home of every crumb in preparation for the matzo-only occasion, and running more errands than Noah Syndergaard throws strikes, I have been taking a two-week hiatus to honor the one-week holiday. Passover and baseball keep me engaged. Syndergaard — aka “Thor” — hurled his opening pitch after nightfall in Jerusalem, and I began rooting for the Mets immediately after searching for remnants of leavened bread.

Passover has forever been my favorite holiday and baseball my favorite pastime. That they both occur in the spring is no coincidence. Redemption happens when the grass turns green. In Flushing, N.Y., emancipated Jews flock to Citi Field loaded with rations. Jelly sandwiches on matzo make for a tangy game-day snack. Beer too is forbidden on the chametz-free holiday and washing down matzo with Coke is a singular satisfaction. You might notice macaroons. Don’t tell my wife or my mother, commercial ones are better than home-baked.

Watching Saturday afternoon games at night here is also a particular pleasure, one that allows vicarious Sabbath desecration. A forbidden fruit, like an open base with a righty on the mound, is enticing. The seven-hour time difference, of course, means that night games are played here at indefensible hours. When Matt Harvey threw past his bedtime, and Lucas Duda threw to the Van Wyck Expressway instead of to home plate, my children went to school overtired and I went to the office distraught.

Baseball is imbued with the virtue of readiness, the modesty of reacting to something thrown at you really fast. The Exodus happened abruptly, in the middle of the night. Freedom can ring fast, when you least expect it, like what results from a cowhide-covered cork sphere impacting violently with ash. Springtime conditions are ripe for rejuvenation. I can know when to awaken from inactivity just as flowers realize when to bloom. Passover celebrates deliverance when life again bursts from benevolent soil. Our national pastime is similarly promising and played unhurriedly.

Passover relies on elegant symbolism to communicate its significance. The seder is allusive, and ongoing analysis slowly reveals its plot. Baseball is similarly alluring. A pageantry of subtleties unfolds on the diamond at a distinctive pace. With extra innings a game can go on forever, like the discourse of scholars lasts until morning light. A successful seder, like a ballgame, can be languid and lazy.

The seder is allusive, and ongoing analysis reveals slowly its plot. Baseball is similarly alluring.

As a child, Passover was unrivaled because of its simplicity. From slavery to freedom is a story to retell again and again. My parents created an experience that was enchanting and flavorful. Traditional texts and recipes were delectable and consequential. Customs were worth more than the sum of their parts. From dense matzo balls made strictly from hand-baked matzo, to less dense gefilte fish made with inexcusable quantities of pepper, our menu was adorned with flourishes. As the sun came up, my father’s imperfect commentary and singing left us wanting for more.

At the head of my table, the tensions of tradition have become more apparent, its enigmas more arousing than its emotion. How our nation persists is an absorbing mystery. How I pick myself up when I fall is more important than the circumstances of a historical event. A holiday of questions, Passover is satisfying because of its riddles and not despite them. Tasked with the role of storyteller, I summon my parents’ earnestness and devotion. My children deserve an age-appropriate adventure and I oblige them in the manner I was nurtured with at home.

Baseball’s nuances have become attractive with age. I appreciate opposite-field doubles today as much as home runs. The only sport in which the defense holds the ball is anxiously dramatic. Baseball’s oddities and idioms translate more easily than the brash messages of basketball, football or hockey. Soccer is exquisite but the offense controls the ball. My life is monotonous more than it is ever bold. I sometimes take small leads to get ahead and hope not to get embarrassingly picked off.

This holiday season, with children beside me, analogous lessons of Passover, springtime and baseball coincide like a ball and bat, and I have been upholding tradition like my fathers before me.

Mendel Horowitz is a rabbi and family therapist in Jerusalem, where he maintains a private practice working with adults and children.