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.