I've followed baseball since elementary school when I first listened to Vin Scully, the voice of the Dodgers, on the radio. Scully made me a fan, made me love the players, the game and oft-silly statistics that were my first exposure to practical math. Vin Scully made me love Vin Scully. I had never seen a baseball game, never seen a newspaper sports page, never seen a player in uniform. I imagined I saw the action on the field as the calls were announced. Vin Scully, with his love of the game, his excitement, his clarity, his always-ready statistics, transported me from an imagined baseball game to a fully realized other world. Listening to games was like reading books.
The games taught me something about being Jewish. We had no Jewish education in my family, beyond the admonition to Never Tell Anyone You Are Jewish. My parents were afraid of what would happen once people found out we were Jews. Most of their families were murdered in Germany, Latvia, Poland, and Russia for being Jewish, so their fears were well-grounded. For me, telling Pamela Walkins in fourth grade that I was Jewish resulted in a smaller slight: her mom banned me from coming to their house and told Pamela not to play with me. Though I had nightmares of being taken away in the middle of the night, my actual lived experience was shame.
I never heard of the High Holy Days or Yom Kippur until 1965, when Sandy Koufax,#32, refused to pitch in Game One of the World Series. Here was a top athlete and Los Angeles hero unafraid to proclaim his religion in public. This act marked a moment of pride for Jews everywhere. For the first time in my life, I found a reason to cheer being Jewish.
Segue to today when I live in Portland, Oregon, and know a lot more about Judaism. I am not observant and don't attend a synagogue, but my understanding of religion informs my life. I'm still nervous telling people I am Jewish, because I've met enough Oregonians who treat me differently once they know. I have no baseball team to root for, except my forever love a thousand miles away, AKA, the LA Dodgers. The LADs are in the 2018 World Series.
What basically happens in a baseball game is this: One player stands on a place designated as Home and attempts to hit a ball pitched by the opposite team. If he hits the ball, that player can run around a diamond and return to to the very place where he began his journey. At each of the diamond's four corners, the player must confront opposition from a player on the other team. Many players are foiled from returning to the home, but those who persevere are rewarded with points. Conjur The Odyssey and imagine that tale with catcher's mitts, strikeouts, and commentators instead of ships, Sirens, and poets.
Baseball is a fellowship that remembers every victory and grudge. Statistics are the food of data entry, endlessly regurgitated as part of the commentary and recaps. How many times a player's been on base with two out and runners in scoring position. The average speed of a fastball pitched to the first hitter in an inning. The percentage of stolen bases by an infielder in a post-season game. After a seven hour and twenty-minute game, Game Three became a new statistic. Just about every Sunday newspaper headline in the nation proclaims Game Three as the longest game in Major League Baseball World Series history. We learned that alcohol ceases to be served at Chavez Ravine after the 7th innings because that is the minhag–custom– at Dodger Stadium that helps drivers get home safely. We know there were a lot of dry mouths by the increasingly sober 1:20 AM end of the game. The innings piled up and the cameras panned to more and more pairs of hands clasped in prayer as many in the crowd whispered, Oh, God! Please make it end so I can rest!
It was an extremely civil game, with athletes stopping to check on athletes from the opposing team after sliding into them, managers questioning calls with nary a camera-captured curse, and Boston fans looked unafraid to wave their Red Socks scarfs in a field of Dodger Blues. Game Three batted about to the bottom of the 18th inning, when the athlete who deserves to be elected the next president of the United States: Max Muncy, #13, hit a home run. 18 innings equal Chai, the Hebrew word for Life. 18 is a traditionally lucky number for the Jews. (I know little about numerology except that in the Jewish spiritual system of belief called Gematria, letters in the word chai are chet and yud and their numerological values are the 8th and 10th letters of the Hebrew aleph bet, and equal 18.)
Later that Saturday morning, eleven people were murdered at a Pittsburgh synagogue, when they proclaimed their Jewishness in public by praying Every Jew I know feels the same fear I grew up feeling. We are always in danger because of who we are, not what we do. There are people who want to kill us for being born into a religion that is different from theirs. Do we choose fear? Do we choose hope? Do we choose complacency? Judaism teaches that the choice is ours.
I see a divided country filled with people who would not willingly sit in a stadium seat if it meant sitting next to someone who rooted for another team. It's personal. But in Game Three, I saw people come together because the sport is bigger than the team. Baseball made it all clear in my head. I need to find more ways not to be afraid. When there are players on the corners trying to tag us out, we still keep running toward home.
So, forgive me for seeing this late-night win as a good omen and a sports metaphor for the midterm elections. We need to come together to share our common goals, even though, when it comes right down to it, everyone wants her team to win. No matter who takes the game (and eventually the Series), half of us want things to go our way and half of us will be disappointed. Sure, we can congratulate those who played well but it still stings. Can we live with the sting, forget our grudges and just go on to Game Four? I'm unsure this can happen but my fingers are crossed and my hands clasped in the two-equals-one position of supplicants that we can re-unite and go home. My ballot is mailed and my donations sent to the candidates I back. I pray to God, Please make it end so I can rest!