Back in February, the Kosher Hedgehog exulted over the advent of professional baseball in Israel. [See Pro Baseball in Israel. Can the Messiah be Far Behind?, February 27, 2007.] Following in quick succession after the announcement of the formation of the league came the initial player draft (in which one of the teams symbolically drafted Sandy Koufax; regrettably, Koufax elected not to sign); and the onset of the first season of play by the six-team league.
Perhaps some readers thought the Kosher Hedgehog to have overreacted to what some people mistakenly describe as "only a game." If so, here is evidence of how wrong they would be. As we Americans basked in our All-Star game glow--can you believe it, an inside-the-park home run?--one of the most distinguished and beloved leaders of American Orthodox Judaism, Rabbi Emanuel Feldman, took up his pen and published a column in the Jerusalem Post, entitled, "Baseball Values." Rabbi Feldman was a Rabbi in Atlanta, Georgia for 40 years, where he was privileged to watch the play of Warren Spahn, Eddie Matthews, and, of course, Henry Aaron (pictured above with two other immortals of the game, Roberto Clemente and my own boyhood hero, Willie Mays). He now resides in Jerusalem (that is, Rabbi Feldman, not Willie Mays). Here are the melodious opening paragraphs of his column:
"The pulse of Israeli baseball addicts quickens as professional baseball comes to this land. For such a fan - as in "fanatic" - to live in Israel and watch baseball is to possess both this world and the world-to-come. Things cannot get any better than this. "For lo, the winter is passed, the rain is over and the voice of the baseball is heard in the Land" (see Song of Songs, 2:12).
Ah, the memories of the boys of summer: pennant races, inter-city rivalries, World Series, poems like "Casey at the Bat," songs like "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," the crack of the bat, the smack of the catcher's mitt, the duel between lone batter and crafty pitcher, the clay-colored base paths, the sparkling green outfield grass, double-plays, strikeouts, stolen bases, home-runs, the esoteric signals from the third-base coach, the roar of the crowd..."
When I read that opening paragraph, I realized that I have always associated the arrival of spring training with the description of the arrival of spring in the Song of Songs. I only needed Rabbi Feldman to reveal that to me.
Please read the whole column, and learn how Torah and baseball teach some of the same important lessons of life. True, we have to live with the Barry Bonds steroid scandal, but as the Torah also teaches, God has given man the inestimable gift of free moral choice.