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January 5, 2012 12:02 pm

Baseball, Passover, and The Beauty Of Spring

avatar by Tony Rebuck

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Blue Jays Spring Training. Picture: Wknight94.

On the airport bus to Tel Aviv to catch my flight to Toronto, I asked what the name of the city meant?  Mound of Spring I was told. Inevitably my mind drifted to who would be on the mound for the Blue Jays after Spring Training.

When thousands of sports fans were wondering if Manchester City would beat Manchester United in England, or if Sachin Tendulkar would get his hundredth century at the Melbourne Cricket Ground or if Usain Bolt would win another three golds in London, it was baseball’s spring training that drew my mind.

Are sports fans who get intoxicated with spring training absolutely crazy, or is there something special about that annual ritual?

Observant baseball fans have been traveling to the “spring training festival” for close to 100 years. The services are held in deliciously warm cities such as Tampa, West Palm Beach and Phoenix and the congregations are impregnated with accents from the great white frozen north. The Festival starts in early February and continues for six weeks. It concludes with the high holiday known as Opening Day. Throughout the festival, special symbolic foods are consumed, usually laden with mustard and relish, accompanied by the world’s most widely consumed alcoholic beverage – beer.

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For Jewish baseball fans, it is a particularly busy time as they prepare for the other spring festival, Passover. Aside from a total prohibition on hot dogs and beer during Passover, the festivals are eerily similar.

While the traditions of both festivals are exciting and faithfully followed in detail each year, neither is the actual climax of the season. For baseball fans, spring training is the curtain raiser to the big show, known as the regular season and ultimately the World Series. For the other group, Passover is an event on the way, to 49 days later, to the Torah’s being given to the Israelite nation assembled at Mount Sinai.

The Rabbis give exciting talks in the Synagogue at Passover (usually – unless your Rabbi puts you to sleep). Our Rabbi Joe climbs the mound – he calls it a bimah – and addresses the heavy hitters in front of him, all of whom will be wearing skullcaps and prayer shawls.  His topic of course is the Exodus from Egypt and he is likely to start with a blazing fastball.

“If the ten plagues that descended on Egypt were in the order of severity, why do blood, lice and pestilence come before darkness?”  His next pitch I predict will be a wicked curve ball.  “If Pharaoh was a hard-hearted ruler, and G-d wanted him to Let His People Go, why did he harden Pharaoh’s heart even further?”

The other big spring show this year will also take place on a day that has become sacrosanct – Monday, April 9th. Down by the lake shore, Ricky Romero will ascend the bimah – he calls it a mound – and will face several highly committed gentlemen, all of whom for some reason, will be in a Boston Red Sox uniform.

He will address them in a solemn ritual that has remained virtually unchanged for approximately 135 years. He will challenge their belief in themselves, their level of commitment for the arduous weeks that lie ahead and their ability to concentrate on rules and observances of their affiliation. He knows that among their friends and families in their hometown they are accepted and even loved, but they will experience intolerance and even hatred when they venture into other territories.

I plan to attend both springtime festivals this year: the one that celebrates our release from bondage and the one that will bind us to heartache if we don’t make the playoffs.

Go Jays and Yasher Koach.

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  • The baseball – Passover connection is very strong. There is a new Haggadah out written by Rabbi Sharon Forman called “The Baseball Haggadah: A Festival of Freedom and Springtime in 15 Innings.” To find out more visit the website at http://TheBaseballHaggadah.com

  • gabe

    Thanks for this article, Tony, enjoyed. FYI, check out a new piece on the Tigers’ Hank Greenberg and anti-semitism: http://goo.gl/7YIZX

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