Monthly Archives: August 2012

Another Theological Lesson from the Sports Pages

Those of us who are Red Sox fans are used to talking about the Sox from a theological perspective. For 86 years, it  seemed like we were subject to the Calvinist views of “predestination”, never reaching the pinnacle for some odd reason or another. Then, all of that disappeared in 2004 when a world series championship made us all believe again in the possibilities for redemption. 2007’s World Series victory made that point even clearer. All good things come to those who wait and have faith.

The past few years have been difficult ones and many people have asked me whether seeing the Red Sox so disappointing, getting into big money bidding wars with the Yankees and other teams, losing their “old towne team” image, watching overpaid ballplayers falter in the clutch and failing to make the playoffs made the two world championships seem not to be worth it. My answer was always the same: They absolutely were worth it and if the Red Sox never won another playoff game, I would be satisfied.

That was honest. But, at the same time, it has been hard to watch them over the past couple of years and this year, I found myself shaking my head with disgust as clubhouse dissension, lack of hustle and everything else disgusted all of us Sox fans.
Then yesterday, the Red Sox shocked the baseball world by engineering the biggest “salary dump” in major league history trading three of their highest paid players largely for young prospects. Ben Cherrington the general manager said: “we needed to do more than a cosmetic change”. Suddenly, Red Sox fans are energized again. Maybe the team won’t win and no question they will miss these great players but the games will be fun, the team will be young and exciting and who knows, maybe they’ll win some more ball games.

Cherrington said something to the effect of the Red Sox needed to get back to who they really were. That is the perfect definition of teshuva, repentance, so important at this time of the year. My team has said; “the way we’re going isn’t the right way and dared to make a drastic change”. That is teshuva.

Now, the only question is: how will they use the money they have saved? Will they make better decisions or, like most of us do, after the holidays are over, fall back to the same old routine?

Will this change be permanent? We can only hope. For them…and for ourselves.

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One Small Step

When I began to write this blog, I did not anticipate frequent postings about the death of individuals I admired. But, in the past few months, I have written about the death of Andy Griffith, Ray Bradbury, the Red Sox’ Johnny Pesky and even the man who invented “Electric Football”. I suppose that when one reaches his or her 50s, it’s to be expected that one would learn of the loss  of childhood and adolescence heroes. But, there have just been too many lately.

What can I write about the death of Neil Armstrong? What can I say that hasn’t been said before or will be said in tributes in the days to come? What can I add?

Earlier this past week, I drove down I-75 to bring our son to school in Atlanta and when, on the way back driving alone, I passed by Wapakoneta, OH, I thought of the town’s hometown hero, the man whose intelligence, courage and strength led him to take those first steps on the moon after so many years of training and so many anxious minutes of life and death decisions as he took control of the LEM to guide it away from a rocky field. Now two days later, I look back on his life and recognize that Neil Armstrong was one of those rare heroes who deserved, but shied away from, public adulation. Humble to the very last day of his life, Neil Armstrong epitomized the pioneering spirit of the space program and the adventurous attitude that brings so much to our world while remaining in the shadows instead of seeking further spotlight.

I will never forget that day in 1969. Watching the grainy image of Armstrong walking down that ladder, not knowing what the lunar soil would feel like, going where no man had walked before, is indelibly burned in my memory as it is, I am sure, for all who saw it.

There is not much more to say. There is only admiration, appreciation and respect, for all he did and, even more importantly, for how he did it.

Rest in peace, Neil Armstrong. You touched us all.

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The Loss of a Legend

The city of Boston, New England, and the baseball world is mourning a legend today. Johnny Pesky, died at age 92 yesterday. He was the elder statesman of the Boston Red Sox, a player, coach, manager, announcer, fan and all around goodwill representative. I met him once when I was at spring training with Avi in 2008. He signed a baseball which sits on my desk in my office. He was a fine gentleman and a great ambassador to the game.

He was a very special man in Boston and judging by the 3 column obit in the New York Times and others in every major paper in the country, we’re not exaggerating when we realize what a loss this is. Even if you are not a baseball fan, it is worth learning something from his story. Pesky was a very solid baseball player but his biggest claim to fame perhaps was the so-called mistake he made in the 1946 World Series. I say so-called because there is some disagreement as to whether it really was as bad as all that or if the play has become exaggerated over time. The winning run of the series scored while Pesky “held the ball” for a second or less at shortstop instead of throwing it to the catcher. I’ve seen the video and it’s inconclusive. But it doesn’t matter, in baseball lore, he still “held the ball” and the Red Sox lost the series.

But, somehow, Johnny Pesky rose above that moment. He didn’t let it deter him and he didn’t let the occasional taunts of fans keep him from staying connected with his beloved Red Sox. He always denied making a mistake on the play and I believe him. But, the important thing is that  he kept putting on the uniform and remained part of this team. Even a rather unspectacular stretch as manager in the 60s didn’t keep him away.

And so he sat at spring training each year and gave advice to the players, talked to the fans, signed the autographs and with great modesty and class reminded everyone of what sports really is about and what baseball, at least to an extent, used to be. It’s not just nostalgia that made fans like me gravitate towards him. It was what he represented and how much he loved the game that mattered.

When the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, Johnny Pesky watched the last inning from the clubhouse. There is a great video of the preparations taking place in the locker room for the celebration during that 9th inning and through all of the hubbub of people moving in the champagne and the platforms and tv lights, Johnny Pesky sits on a folding chair in a topcoat. He watches intently with tears glistening his eyes as he watches the Curse of the Bambino which he knew so well broken. When the game is over, he jumps up, hugs the people around him and then waits for the players. And as each comes in to the clubhouse, they run past him and then stop in their tracks, realize who was standing there and go back and hug him.

Red Sox fans are known to be emotional. This year has been a disappointment. Better years are ahead, hopefully. But, they won’t seem quite the same without Johnny Pesky and all he meant to all of us.

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The Olympics, Mars and another disappointment

Those of you who follow this blog might have noticed that I haven’t added a post for a couple of weeks. There are two reasons for this. First, the High Holy Days are coming and I’m starting to work on sermons. The more important reason is that I love watching the Olympics and haven’t been able to concentrate on the blog while the games have been on.

I know a lot of people are cynical about the Olympics for many legitimate reasons.  But, I love them. The dedication of these athletes is incredible and while  part of me feels that it is unhealthy for anyone to be so dedicated to one discipline that it pushes everything else away, there is a bigger part of me which sits in awe watching the talents and the abilities of these people. The raw emotion, winning and losing, the pride in one’s country, the competition excites me. And, I also love to watch sports I might not otherwise see: archery and fencing have both fascinated me this time around. So, watching the games has taken away from my writing time.

I also have been paying very close attention to the landing of the Mars Rover Curiosity. I know we’ve seen pictures of Mars for the past 30 years but I still find the pictures amazing and the entire question of whether there is or was life on Mars is fascinating. What constitutes “life”? What would the discovery of such “life” mean to our self-image as human beings? These and so many other questions are of such deep importance to all of us and feeds into what should be a natural “curiosity” about or own lives. I am in awe of the individuals whose knowledge and daring have made this part of the space program and all of our efforts in space so remarkable.

But, in the title of this posting, I used the word “disappointment”. Last night was another in a long, long line of disappointments for me and I’m not talking about the Red Sox. Last night, for approximately the 30th year in a row, I failed to see the Perseid Meteor Shower. As I’ve pointed out before in this blog, I love to watch the heavens. But, this highlight of the astronomical year, which I have longed to see for so long, passed again with a cloudy sky in our part of Michigan.

Saturday was a cloudy, dreary day until late afternoon. Then, the sun came out, the clouds started to break up. I took our dog Sami for a walk at about 7 p.m. and there was more sun than clouds. Then, about 9:30, I saw the stars start to come out. We made plans to wake up at 1 a.m. and drive to the country to watch the sky show. About midnight, I woke up and went outside and- sure enough- the sky was completely cloudy. I woke up again with the alarm at 1 and there was no change. At 3:30, it seemed it was partly cloudy but the Northeast sky, where the meteors “originate” from was completely overcast and I gave up. When I woke up at 5:30, the stars were out in force but it was too late to drive anywhere.

The meteors are still visible tonight but we expect an overcast sky. Another year of disappointment.

This has been the story for me for so many years: clouds, rain, forgetting to mark the date on the calendar, too much light and not enough time to get far enough away, you name it, I’ve missed it.

So, yes, I’ve been disappointed. But, considering the blessings I have in my life and considering the miraculous things I’ve seen both as part of the human spirit and through scientific and technological advancement, I can be patient for another year.

God willing, it will be clear and I’ll be there to watch.

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