The WORD – 10/17/13. I haven’t lived in the Metropolitan Detroit area since I graduated high school in 1987 and I left the state of Michigan in 1991. And yet, here I am 22 years later totally enthralled by the Detroit Tigers’ playoff success.
There is not a single player left from when I lived in Detroit. They play in a different stadium. The manager, general manager and owner are all different (though the third-base coach, Tom Brookens, played third base on the 1984 championship team!). And yet I cannot help but root for them. I was an emotional wreck last night even with my team leading by six runs late in the game.
How did this happen?
I think that there are several factors that contribute to my continued passion for the Tigers. First of all, it’s a connection to my childhood. I remember listening to games, watching games and going to games with my father. I remember trading baseball cards with my friends and reading the box scores in the morning paper. In short, I was indoctrinated at a very early age and it ‘s a connection I share with people from that part of my life.
Second, even though the names and faces have changed, certain trappings have stayed the same. The home uniforms and the caps with the old English “D” have remained largely unchanged since 1934. In an unusual twist, the Tigers’ current first baseman – Prince Fielder – is the son of Cecil Fielder – the Tigers’ first baseman in the early 90’s. So, despite all the change, something feels very familiar.
Lastly, it’s a wonderful distraction from the stresses of life. Whether it be personal concerns or the political morass of our country, it’s wonderful to have a mindless distraction like baseball to let it all disappear for a couple of hours.
The truth is that Judaism could learn a thing or two from the Detroit Tigers.
It’s clear that we need to make some changes – maybe even a lot of changes! – in the wake of the Pew Poll that was released earlier this month. However, if we make so many changes that we are no longer recognizable to the people who grew up loving Judaism, then we risk making the problem worse and not better.
Further, Judaism – like baseball – is all about relationships. As much as I might like the game, I enjoy exchanging comments with Boston Red Sox fans in the congregation and posting on the Facebook pages of old friends even better. We must find ways to encourage the building of relationships centered on Jewish values, traditions and activities.
Finally, Judaism can bring some peace and relaxation to our lives in stressful times. Through prayer, study and the observance of Shabbat, we can set aside the outside world for short periods of time and enjoy time with our families and friends.
Over 100 years ago, Solomon Schechter started the golden age of the Conservative Movement by saying that he wanted to produce a generation of American rabbis who could speak about baseball. Today, though, baseball is not as popular as football or as ‘hip’ as basketball. I wonder what Schechter would want American rabbis to talk about today.
Baseball may not be as dominant a social phenomenon as it once was, but it still has an awful lot of ardent fans across all demographics. Perhaps, today we can begin a renewal of American Judaism by turning back to baseball and reminding ourselves of why it is still so important to so many people today.