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Divine Baseball Blooper

Divine Baseball Blooper

With his team's miraculous World Series performance on the field, one young man marvels at his own miraculous feat.


This month the New York Yankees squeaked into the World Series on the heels of one of the most exciting Game Seven comebacks in baseball history – against the "cursed" Boston Red Sox, famed for its unparalleled ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. This brought me back to a day in 1986, the day of the "Bill Buckner" game. (If you don't know what that is, stay tuned...)

However, my memory did not go back to the game per se, but rather to an even more remarkable – yet unknown – event that took place on a small suburban street... an event that went unnoticed by everyone in the world except one young man.

Dabbling to Commitment

For a few years, this young man had been learning about Judaism, gingerly sticking his toe in the great ocean of Torah and mitzvot. He had made some big breakthroughs, and now, was day-by-day growing more comfortable with the ideas and life path Judaism mapped out. Nevertheless, there remained one barrier looming between himself and full commitment: Shabbat.

Observing the Day of Rest was particularly hard for him at first, because it asked him to refrain from one certain activity that he was loathe to give up. You see, this young man was a Mets fan. A fanatic, actually.

The challenge was that in order to be true to his Jewish commitment, he had to avoid TV and radio for 25 straight hours. "One day without the Mets isn't so hard," he told himself. Easier said than done.

Still, he made the commitment, "Even if the Mets make it to the World Series and the seventh game is played on Shabbat."

God's Sense of Humor

Well, it wasn't the seventh game, but with the Mets down three games to two, it might well have been. And technically speaking it wasn't the Sabbath – rather it was Sukkot, one of the festive days. Nevertheless, from the standpoint of his commitment, it was the same. He had to partake in other activities that day and put the Mets out of his mind. They'd just have to go on without him.

Fate has a funny way of rewarding commitment, and as it turned out for approximately three hours that night the stomachs of Mets fans citywide churned with agitation as their beloved team fell behind, and stood on the brink of elimination. In fact, with only one out left, it looked like their season was going to come to a bitter, disappointing end – and in Shea Stadium, their home park, no less!

It was a slow ground ball that any Little Leaguer could handle.

The cameras were focused on the exuberant, expectant faces of the Boston Red Sox players who stood at the foot of the dugout, waiting to run out onto the field in a wild victory celebration. And then something happened – what would later be called the Miracle of '86. A few lucky hits and all of a sudden the Mets had a chance. They even managed to get the winning run into scoring position. All they needed was one more bit of magic.

Then... after approximately 180 grueling, sweating minutes, Mookie Wilson came to the plate for the Mets. He fouled off nerve-racking pitch after nerve-racking pitch. Finally, he hit a slow ground ball to first base. It looked like a sure out; a play any Little Leaguer could make. Then, suddenly, the ball took a funny bounce – one might even call it a divinely inspired bounce – and skipped right through the legs of Bill Buckner, the Boston first baseman.

The home crowd, which had been tense – and even spookily quiet till that point – burst into wild disbelief with a ground-quaking roar of jubilation. The Met runner in scoring position was crossing home plate with the winning run.

Back in Suburbia

Meanwhile, back in placid suburbia, our young hero knew nothing of the game. All he knew was that if his Mets lost they would be eliminated. Yet, with a pure heart, he joined a neighboring family for the festive meal, and he concentrated on the spirituality of the day rather than the goings-on at Shea.

He was, you could say, offering his fanhood on the altar of religious commitment.

Well, the purity of his sacrifice must have been noted in Heaven, because a very strange thing happened. That very night, as he was walking home, as Mets fans the world over had agonized through 180 minutes of the worst despair, and as that ground ball was rolling toward Mr. Buckner, a car came speeding down a street, its radio blasting. The radio was tuned to the Mets game, and as the ball was about to do its dance through Buckner's legs, the car sped by our young man who had just left his neighbor's house.

"And there's a ground ball to first base," the announcer described in a drab, disappointed voice. Then suddenly a thunderous roar drowned out the announcer. Beneath the din of cheering Mets fans, the announcer could be heard screaming at the top of his lungs, "Here comes the runner from third. The Mets win! The Mets win!"

With that, the car sped away, leaving in its wake some swirling fallen leaves, the rapidly fading echoes of a radio broadcast, and one stunned, smiling young man.

Purity of Heart

Notice how the pure of heart are rewarded. Our hero not only heard the most crucial part of the game – a chunk of excitement that any fan anywhere could hope for, but he avoided those 180 minutes of agony. Had he watched the game like any other self-respecting Mets fan, he would have been a nervous wreck, tossed about on a sea of tormented emotions. Instead, he was privy to the five seconds of pure joy amidst hours of desperation.

Strange things happen that demonstratethe  forces beyond our control, shaping our lives.

Two days later, as our friend sat in front of the TV and watched his beloved Mets claim victory in Game Seven of the World Series, he felt doubly satisfied – at his team's miraculous performance on the field, but even more at his own miraculous performance off it.

The bounce of a ball. Some will call it coincidence. Some divine. But no one will deny some very strange things do happen from time to time, which demonstrate how small we humans are, and how there so often seems forces beyond our control, speaking to us and shaping our lives.

So as the Yankees made their own remarkable comeback in Game Seven of the 2003 playoffs against the Red Sox, I wondered if there was – no, where there was – another young person, somewhere on the face of the planet undergoing that most rarified yet ancient of transformations to spiritual belief and exultation.

Written with my father, Chaim Benyamin ben Esther in mind. May he merit a refuah shlaimah.

October 25, 2003

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Visitor Comments: 5

(5) Rabbi Yoni Schick, November 2, 2003 12:00 AM

Go Red Sox!

I've always said that the Sox lost in '86 because some Jewish fan davened a little bit harder than a Red Sox fan...or maybe it's just the curse...

Great article, but more sensitivity should be shown to Sox fans.

I've attached an article that I wrote after the Sox' most recent defeat:

Well, it happened again…

The long suffering fans of Red Sox nation (myself included) have watched the (lower case) gods of baseball deliver a cruel verdict, as those “damn Yankees” have triumphed again….but have they?

Raichel Horowitz, the beloved Bostoner Rebbetzin, of blessed memory, had a clever saying that the city of Boston (and the rest of us) should heed well. She used to say “You take the credit, I’ll take the cash”. Her point being, that in this lifetime, she’ll forgo the credit (i.e. honor, reward, etc.) for the “cash” bounty that awaited her in the world to come.

I believe that it’s not a coincidence that the Sox lost Game 7 to the Yanks on Hoshana Rabbah* eve. The Kabbalists refer to this day as the final sealing – a day that brings closure to the High Holiday season of introspection and judgment. Today more than ever is the time to recognize that all the fleeting moments of baseball fame - or any fame - are only temporal. They will pale in comparison to the unimaginable delights that await those who see beyond the everyday…those who live for the eternal.

Chag Sameach,

Rabbi Yoni Schick

* the final day of the Sukkot festival

(4) Anonymous, October 31, 2003 12:00 AM

FROM THE AUTHOR: No Coincidences

Just a couple of quick comments on the insightful comments offered below:

1) As Judaism teaches, the human mind (even Moses’) cannot fully fathom God’s ways of distributing reward and punishment.

2) Nevertheless, at the same time, Judaism doesn’t believe in “coincidence.” A coincidence has been called, “A letter from God sent anonymously.” The attraction of the story in the article is that it’s a particularly poignant letter.

3) Sometimes one person’s suffering is another person’s rejoicing. For instance, the same Red Sea that split to save the Israelites drowned the Egyptians. Not all the Egyptian soldiers were necessarily Nazi-like evildoers. Some, the Midrash said, died instantly, experiencing no suffering, because they had merits to their credit. Nevertheless, the Children of Israel had every right (and obligation) to rejoice and see the act as a direct intervention of God. (The truth is the Egyptians too had the obligation to see it as an intervention of God. Sometimes we are taught the lesson through victory, sometimes through defeat. The important thing is to learn the lesson, which at the minimum is: there are no coincidences; there is a God. Each victory and defeat, pleasure and pain – no matter how large or small – is an individually crafted tikkun or lesson – each is an individually prescribed medicinal agent authored and authorized by God.)

4) No one avoids suffering, not even Torah observers. And no suffering is pointless (even if we don’t necessarily see the benefit). If one has to suffer there’s a lot worse suffering in this world than the suffering of a fan whose team loses (the passion of long-suffering Red Sox and other fans notwithstanding).

5) Torah observant Red Sox fans were indeed rewarded that day to a degree because the game took place on Sukkot. If they were observing the Yom Tov properly they were spared the pain of experiencing the defeat in the way it happened as it unfolded.

6) Of course, by the same token, it can be said that Torah observant Met fans did not merit the exceptional pleasure of experiencing the victory as it happened – that is, except for the young man in the article. Nevertheless, that’s the point: his exceptional sacrifice earned him his exceptional individually prescribed reward.

7) The principle of hashgacha pratis, “Individual/particular Divine Providence,” would suggest that every other individual who had a stake in the game – no matter which side – too was treated in such an individual way. Each degree of pain or pleasure that one bouncing ball produced was carefully calculated by God down to the individual level. The young man’s experience was merely a single example of the prat that teaches the klal, the “particular” that teaches the “general rule.” The coincidence merely made it more obvious that God intervenes and is involved with each of us even in small ways (again, the passion of sports fans, myself included, notwithstanding). Just as God was with the young Met fan who made this great emotional sacrifice, so too was He with each individual in Shea Stadium and everywhere else, whether he, she, they or we realized it or not. So too is He with us in all places and at all times… even now.

8) May all of us (Red Sox fans included [except when they play the Yankees J]) merit learning our lessons via the exhilaration of victory rather than the agony of defeat.

(3) Louis Profeta MD, October 30, 2003 12:00 AM

Red Sox

David....can you honestly picture G-d being a Red Sox fan???

Go Yanks!

(2) Anonymous, October 29, 2003 12:00 AM

I remember the game

I remember the game, I remember the moment. I was never happier watching baseball, and witnessing that miracle. I was a die-hard Mets fan as well (changed to Marlins 10 years ago...).

While I am happy that this happened, I was not shomer shabat or really anything more than Yom Kippur observer, yet this miracle made me happy as well. The fact that this happened to this young man is nothing more than coincidence, and like David Levitt writes, an equal amount of Red Sox fans had the opposite painful reality that their team lost a sure winner.

(1) David Levitt, October 26, 2003 12:00 AM

Response to this article

I found this article very disturbing in that it makes G-d appear to favor and reward a particular person for their adherence to Torah while obviously NOT rewarding or favoring many, many other individuals who also observe Torah and follow the Red Sox with the same devotion. Why didn't the long suffering Torah observant fans of the Red Sox get rewarded/recognized?

The ball that went through Mr. Buckner's legs spelled pain for many, many Torah observant Jews....G-d was singling out this Met's fan for his commitment?

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