Baseballer Rebbe

Between Pesach and Shavuot, I counted the Omer via sports with two other rabbinic colleagues over on Omertime. They covered baseball and hockey, and I dived into baseball. For 49 days, I featured players according to jersey number, making the case for why each one best represented the sefirot associated with each day.

The timing was perfect: Baseball was suspended, I was living in the epicenter of a global pandemic, and my religious and spiritual practice had become utterly solitary.

For seven weeks, my daily Omertime post kept grounded me in time and in space as I began to question both from my one-bedroom apartment in Washington Heights. Days in front of the computer answering email and joining Zoom rooms had begun to be almost indistinguishable, and my apartment, with its limited view of mostly just other buildings, had become my whole world. The writing and counting connected me to the blog’s two co-authors, to a small but loyal fanbase (Hi, Justin! Hi, Jeff!), and to Jewish time and tradition.

The project also, perhaps obviously, connected me back to baseball. I hadn’t given up on the sport entirely, but the revelations in December 2019 about the Astros’ cheating (electronically stealing signs) during the 2017 season, when they won the World Series for the first time in franchise history, devastated me. What had been one of the greatest moments of my life had become a source of anger and bitterness. By mid-January, I had draped black cloth over my World Series poster hanging in my hall, hiding the faces of Carlos Correa, José Altuve, and Alex Bregman crowded around the team’s trophy. (Yes, it was a little dramatic.) I gathered all of my Astros paraphernalia and put it away in a closet. I decided that I was going sit out the 2020 season. I couldn’t see a way to forgiving my team for its betrayal without more time, and I couldn’t imagine just watching the game as usual. But I didn’t think then that I would be bringing everyone else along with me in not watching.

The total of my Astros paraphernalia includes: eight t-shirts; three hats; two magnets; two rally towels (from the 2019 ALDS and ALCS); two rings (2017 WS and 2004 ALCS); two jerseys, one signed by Altuve; one pair of earrings; a duplicate of the commemorative brick outside Minute Maid Park (“A Lifelong Fan’s Dream Come True!”); one headband; one 2017 WS commemorative lighter; and three beer glasses, a coffee mug, a signed Altuve bat, and a stuffed narwhal (yeah, I don’t know).

I’ve always joked that I have two religions, Judaism and baseball, and looking at them in conversation over those seven weeks made me consider more closely how I engage with each. I’ve long known that struggle is a fundamental part of my practice of Judaism, as befits the people called after the name given to our ancestor after wrestling with an angel. Simply put, Jewish tradition and community sometimes enrage and wound me. But I’ve made a commitment to both, and daily I do the work to live out that commitment. Baseball has always been a simpler pleasure — a source of pure joy, a place of effortless transcendence. During the Omertime project, I realized that if I took the metaphor seriously, then baseball was also owed my struggle.

In an incredible moment of synchronicity, after I clicked the “Publish” button for Day 49’s post on the Omertime blog before dawn on erev Shavuot, I left New York City for Durham (and a new job). It’s been easier to stay grounded here in North Carolina, and a daily post isn’t practicable anyway — but I decided I wanted to continue exploring the torah of baseball. And now baseball is back! Since the literal Torah is one of my favorite things about Judaism, I plan to write a weekly post connecting parshat hashavua with my favorite sport.

I’m envisioning this project broadly: I may write about my personal history with baseball, what is happening in the league now, a particular player, a particular game. If you have ideas or resources, send them my way. In the meantime, let’s . . . play ball!

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