At the beginning of our observance of the Jewish Sabbath last Friday night, we said the customary opening prayers over the Shabbat candles, wine and bread. I then had the impulse to add one more prayer called the “Shehecheyanu,” which is a special thanks for surviving to that day. It is also tradition to say it when doing something for the first time that year. My wife asked me why I had taken this moment to say it. I said, “Risa, it’s opening day of the baseball season on Sunday. I get to celebrate it again.” And she knew I really meant it.
I know I’m hopelessly sentimental about this stuff, but baseball is a secular religious experience for me. It signals another chance to win, another hopeless challenge against impossible odds as a Chicago Cubs fan. But who knows? Last year the Pirates made the playoffs and Boston went from last in 2012 to winning the World Series behind a Japanese reliever who barely made the roster and David Ortiz who batted .600 in the playoffs after everybody thought he was washed up before the season. Miracles can happen. Kansas City could win it all this year, maybe the Twins. God knows.
Do I know my team, the Cubs, stink? Of course, but it’s April, I still have hope.
One of the things I love about baseball is the language and literature of the game. No other sport has anywhere near the library of books, essays, plays and movies as baseball. I grew up reading THE BABE RUTH STORY, then THE LOU GHERIG story. I was no bookworm as a kid, but those books captivated me. I graduated to Bernard Malamud’s The Natural later, but honestly the movie is better than the book. My favorite movie is Bull Durham, though I loved it more the sixth time I watched it than the first. My runner up flick is the less acclaimed but equally wonderful For the Love of the Game, also starring Kevin Costner. I also strongly recommend book (and film), Moneyball, by Michael Lewis, which is great, but not even his best baseball book. Lewis’ story about his high school baseball mentor, Coach: Lessons on the Game of Life, published in 2005, is his best piece of work.
It seems like something really cool comes out every year. Last year 42 came out, the story of the great Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. I rate Robinson one of the most important figures of post war America. The movie is no classic, but worth seeing.
The long article in Sunday’s New York Times on Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees’ huge signing of the off-season, is a worthy read for anybody who likes baseball or is intrigued by Japanese culture. Reporter Barry Bearak went to Itami, Japan, near Osaka, to really get into the life of Tanaka, who signed a $154 million contract after going 24-0 last season in the Japanese Major League. He was a catcher growing up who was considered a prodigy by 5th grade. In Japan, youngsters are recruited for baseball like LeBrons. The Japanese national high school baseball championship is the equivalent of our NCAA Basketball Tournament in prestige and national following. Tanaka could have gone to high school anywhere in the country, but chose to go to Hokkaido to learn the game–a place so cold he literally took grounders on ice and routinely hit in the snow.
Tanaka ultimately turned to pitching at the urging of his high school coach, but credits growing up as a catcher for some of his success. He decided to come to America for the huge money (three times more than he could get in Japan), the competitive challenge, and to follow his model, Yu Darvish, who signed three years ago with the Texas Rangers. Darvish is A favorite to win the Cy Young award this season.
Baseball is back. The planet has cycled. More is right with my world.
Question: Should college athletes be paid?