Having just finished Yom Kippur in Israel, I read a thoughtful internet news column by a Rabbi Rami Shapira, who appealed to South Florida’s Jewish community to respect Yom Kippur more than the baseball playoffs that took place on the same day between the Florida Marlins and the Atlanta Braves.
As an observant Jew, I would agree that Rabbi Shapira’s point is well taken, except that the Rabbi goes on to make an inappropriate comment, which is that, after all, “baseball is not a religion”.
I beg to differ.
On the eve after Yom Kippur, the time has come for some true confessions.
Yes, I have sinned with my mitt and scorecard in place.
You see, I grew up in Philadelphia, a place where the Phillies never won. Prayers never helped. And then 1964 came, the year after my Bar Mitzvah, when my chabad teacher had told me that it was now up to me to keep Mitzvot or not. I was of age.
The Phillies looked like they were going to win.
I put in a special prayer for the Phillies on the first day of Rosh HaShanah, reciting the lineup and even the bullpen when the ark was open for special prayers.
But I decided that the second day of Rosh HaShanah would require a personal pilgrimage to Connie Mack Stadium.
So after I heard the Shofar at Overbrook Park Congregation I quietly moved to the back of the schule, feigning a tummy ache to my little brother and sister.
I had five crisp one dollar bills that wouldn’t jingle, which I had saved from my summer paper route for the Inquirer and I looked this way and that, feeling like Moses who had just killed the Egyptian and made a dash from the bathroom near the old men who were talking in the back, and calmly walked two blocks to the bus that took me to 69th street and then the subway.
Wearing my bar mitzvah suit, I was on my way to Connie Mack, in line for great unreserved seats behind home plate.
I had thought of everything: My Phillies Hat was in my Talis bag.
I kept the machzor with me and had it set next to my score card. The Phillies were playing the hapless Mets. 12 games left in the left in the season. six and a half games ahead. In the Fifth inning, mincha time, Frank Thomas, The Phillies much-needed right handed power whom they had recently acquired, was on first. Thomas routinely sprinted to second base on an infield ground ball.
Suddenly, Frank Thomas slides head first into second base, breaking his finger. That never happens.
I heard Richie Ashburn, say on the radio that the Thomas would be out for the season. Ashburn, the Phillies star turned play by play announcer who died last month, has been a Whiz Kid in the last Phillies victory and he represented the past and the future for the Phillies. Richie died last month, and that reminded me of 1964.
The Phillies lost. I made it back for Maariv to Overbrook Park. Or that is at least what I told my mother.
Little did I know that this would be the beginning of the Phillies ten game loss, and I felt that I had junxed them, since it began on the second day of Rosh HaShanah. Everything that could go wrong in those ten days went wrong for the Phillies. By Yom Kippur, there was no joy in Philly mudville. I remember my despondency that Sukkot, when the World Series Yankees of on Mantle, Maris, Berra and Ford were not facing our holy Phillies. So I phoned a call in show on WCAU, then the CBS affiliate in Philly, to ask the last Richie Ashburn what had gone wrong. Ashburn gave me an answer that I felt like a reproach for going to the ball game on second day Rosh HaShanah. Richie said that a great lesson is never to be overconfident and not to do things that you shouldn’t do. He was referring to Phillie manager Gene Mauch overplaying his star pitchers, Jim Bunning and Chris Short.
I thought he was referring to my Overbrook Park Congregation escape to Connie Mack stadium.
Baseball as a religion? It has all the trappings.