Wednesday, May 20, 2015


Arsonists attempted to burn down our synagogue but failed to understand the power of miracles.  The attempt was claimed to be the biggest anti-semitic attack in 25 years.  Our synagogue was one of three attacked. The communal response was, however, immediate and miraculous!  Over 300 clergymen gathered in support of the Jewish community; a gathering least expected! Contributions poured in from all over the country.  The community was able to rebuild, foiling the arsonists plan and dismissing the opinion that this country harbors anti-semitic sentiment.

One of the organizations that helped us was the Oakland A's Major League ball club.  They pronounced a "Jewish Community Night" and invited the three synagogue communities to come to a game at severely discounted prices to raise money for the rebuilding of the synagogues.  The three rabbis of the shuls were invited to an opening game ceremony to throw out the first pitch.  I had the opportunity to be out at the mound, and be introduced to some of the players.  Although I did not throw out the first pitch, our Hazan sang the Star Spangle Banner!  After the first ceremonial pitch, the other two rabbis made themselves available to the press, I made my way to the A's dugout where I spied former all-star pitcher, Vida Blue doing an ESPN radio interview.

[Blue was a left-handed fastball pitcher when I was in High School. I recognized him immediately, since I also had the pleasure of meeting him at his home in Oakland with my High School typing teacher who was from the same home town. My teacher asked me one day if I wanted to meet Vida Blue and I could not refuse!]

After the interview, I introduced myself as one of the rabbis whose synagogue was arsoned, reminded him of our meeting many years ago with my typing teacher, and asked Mr. Blue if I could leave him with thought!  He said, "sure Rabbi!, I'am pleased to make your acquaintance again!"

I said the following, "One need not be religious to appreciate that Baseball is the only sport that teaches miracles happen!  Because it does not matter how far behind a team might be trailing, one may always come back and win!  Without a clock, there is no time limit in Baseball! Like life it self, a game runs its course.  Yet, when one least expects it, however, the fate of the game can change at any moment just like a Miracle happens with the blink of an eye! We don't rely on Miracles to happen everyday- a life runs its' course, but a true ballplayer understands and believes that they happen!  Miracles happen in baseball!"

Vida Blue gave me a great big smile, saying "Rabbi! Thank You! I am going to use that in my next speech! (but I'm not goin' to quote you!)"- he said with big jovial laugh and a two handed handshake! I responded, "you don't have to quote me! What I said is self-evident!"

I turned from the former fireballer, and saw the manager, Art Howe and I immediately approached him, introducing myself and recounted the same thought about baseball.  I evoked a giant smile and also a two handed handshake from him.

I returned to the stands and enjoyed a classic "come from behind, 'miracle' A's victory!"  As I exited the stadium, I commented to my wife that "I bet the manager and Vida Blue remember that diminutive rabbi based on what actually happened tonight!..."

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Tryout

I tried out for the Fresno Giants, a single A professional ballclub with affiliation with the San Francisco Giants on a dare during my day off at Summer Camp when I was 22.  My wife, seven months pregnant found the phone number and called the office to arrange a tryout, not believing anything would come of it.  The manager of the club picked up and said, "sure come on over before the game tonight and I will give your husband a tryout!  We are always looking for new talent."  She put down the phone and exclaimed, "I can't believe it! The manager is expecting us before the game tonight!"

My wife and I got into the car and made our way from camp in the mountains to the Fresno Giants stadium about an hour away.  The thought dawned on me that I did not have any cleats for the tryout! Was I going to tryout for a professional ball club in Converse All-Star sneakers?!  We stopped at a Big 5 Sporting Goods store along the way and bought a pair professional baseball cleats to show my earnest in this propitious endeavor.

I was welcomed by the manager and told immediately to warm up with one of the pitchers who also came early.  The manager asked me some pertinent questions like "where did you play ball?" and I honestly answered "I hadn't played since high school" that evoked a surprised response. The manager's silence seemed to express "Why am I wasting my time on this guy?" He actually spoke and kindly repeated what he said on the phone "Well, we are always looking for new talent; let's see what you've got!'

Now, I knew immediately that perhaps I was out of my league because the difference of my throws in warm-ups compared to the fellow I was playing catch with were feeble. With each throw, I wound up with much strength and the ball popped lightly into his glove.  His simple flick of his wrist, however, pounded a loud smash into my glove that recoiled my arm backwards! I am thinking "not much to see here in warm-ups"

The manager asked me what position do I want to play and I honestly answered that I used to play Center Field, however, since my arm is really not as strong as it used to be I prefer to play Left field.
He said ok and asked me to take the position.  I hustled out to medium depth and he immediately cracked a fly ball over my head that bounced against the wall.  I tore off for the ricochet and cleanly fielded it and with a traditional hop-skip-and throw made a perfect throw to second base, a straight line cast, however, it died and bounced twice to the fellow fielding second.  The next hit was a liner to my left and then to my right; I caught both on the run and repeated perfect throws on a line to second base but they bounced twice to the bag.  The manager directed me to throw to third on the next fly ball that was hit down the line where I made a running catch and threw hard to third base, this one too was a perfect throw but bounced also to the bag twice!  At this point the manager saw as much as he needed to because he stopped the outfield play  (my thought was that he was cancelling the try-out,) however, he said, "now, go grab a bat and let's see how you hit!"

I could not find a bat that was light enough for me.  I was given a basic caveman's club! It was a small handled huge barrel 36in Louisville Slugger.  In high school I used a thick handled 34 in Jackie Robinson signature Louisville Slugger.  The bat was too big for me, however I choked up on it and took my place at the plate.  The manager asked the fellow that warmed me up to take the outfield in Right since I was left handed. Pat was his name who went out to shag my hits; he was completely uninterested and was not ready for what happened next.

The manager delivered the pitches and each one I hit solidly.  I sprayed the ball all over the right side from Center field to Right field making Pat run silly back and forth retrieving my hits.  At this point a few more Fresno Giants started onto the field and just stood watching me line the ball to Right field. I over heard one fellow mention to another, "Sheet Joe, that little guy hits far!"  I had just cracked one over Pat's head to the warning track in the power alley.  Although I had the wrong bat, I knew that I wasn't embarrassing myself.

Eventually, the manager stopped the tryout and I hustled to the pitcher's mound where he was standing and I asked humbly," What did you think?"  He replied quite frankly that I open my hips on my swing too early but that I had a pretty good eye.  He continued to explain that if I was really interested in playing professional baseball then I would have to report to the AA club at Shreveport, LA next spring because I really was too old for the Fresno club which was A league.  He recommended that I would need to strengthen my arm in the off season to continue a baseball career, but he wished me good luck in a very positive manner and thanked me for coming out!  He was very gracious to me and my wife by giving us free passes to that night's ball game.  I still have the stubbs (and the cleats).

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


My greatest fan is my mother.  She, by nature, is the consummate advocate with a robust intense sense of right and wrong.  Cross her, she becomes one's fierce adversary.  Generous and kindhearted to a fault, she stands by her family, children and friends tenaciously.

There was one time that my mother's advocacy got me benched!  I was in high school roaming the outfield in Center one day, having pretty good fortune at the plate with two singles.  Toward the end of the 6th inning my coach pulled me aside and told me straight up that I would be sitting out the next game!  What he said did not register immediately because I was having such a good day! I made no mistakes, my contribution was solid, a punishment of sitting out a game seemed so unwarranted!  As the meaning of his words sank in,
I blurted, "but why Coach?! What did I do?!"
He replied, "Oh it's not you! Its your mother!"
I continued to probe, "My mother? What does she have to do with it?"
The coach explained, "She called me a '%$#@@%!!&' from the stands."
I defended my mother, "Coach, that's impossible! My mother never says that! She does not use such language! It can't be true!"
The coach remained adamant, "Sorry, you're going to sit out next game because I know what I heard!"
I pleaded, "Coach Please! Perhaps Coach was mistaken! Please let me start tomorrow!"
"Nope!," he said, "go talk to your mother tonight if you want to continue to play...Ask her what she said about me. I do not have to tolerate insults.  You want to play, you'll talk to your mother."

Wow! I was devastated! Taking away something I love to do (play baseball) hurt badly.  I couldn't believe my small minded thin skinned coach.  What did my mother have to do with my valuable contribution to the team? A parent from the stands yelling some epithet made him angry?  Could this be pay back for missing a game because of Passover?  He did not punish me for that when I missed.   I had to talk to my mother, if I wanted to continue playing ball.  I looked over to the stands behind home plate where my mother was beaming with pride, gregariously chattering that her son and his team were doing so well that day.

Although we won that day, I knew the evening would not end in joyous celebration.  When I returned from the game, my mother was already at home preparing dinner. As I walked into the house, she greeted me with a big congratulations on a great game! (My mother is a great baseball fan, growing up in Brooklyn with 'dem Bums' the Dodgers!)  She knew the details of the game with all its subtleties.  My mother, however, was never subtle, so I had to begin my interrogation immediately, "Ma, did you call the coach, a "%$#@@%!!&" from the stands today?"
"What!" she exclaimed, "You know I never use such language!, What are you talking about? Why are you asking me such a question?!"
"Well," I began slowly, "My coach claimed to have heard you from the stands scream that word directed at him."
"I did not use such a word!"my mother declared.
I continued, "Did you say anything? Did you call him anything at all?"
"I called him a "%$#', but not a '%$#@@%!!&'" my mother admitted.
I started to whine, "Aah ma, why did you have to say anything, don't you understand that now I am benched for the next game!"
"What!! He can't do that! Not to my son!" she proclaimed.  "I will have him fired!" [This was no idle threat because my mother did lead a successful campaign that resulted in my 6th grade math teacher being fired for incompetency!]
"Please, Ma, your not going to do anything, don't you understand he has the power to do whatever he wants with the team.  It's his team!"
"Look, Ma, if you want me to continue to play, you can't come to my games anymore.  I don't trust the coach to do the right thing.  It's true I should not be benched but he was very insulted by whatever you said."
"I did not use such fowl language, you know that!"
"Please, don't come to the games."
"The last thing I want is for you is not to play...That %$#!... I won't show up again, for you, NOT for him!"

Sure enough, I sat out that next game and my mother did not show up. The following game was away, at Mountain View, a game that I was used as a pitcher.  With my first strikeout, I heard my mother from the stands scream something like "Great Job!"  I spied the home plate stands and there she was, sitting in disguise, in sunglasses and a London Fog trench coat on a sunny warm California blue sky day!

I questioned my mother that night why she showed up at the game, but she denied that she was there. I contemplated an argument, "What? you think I can't recognized my own mother?", but I dropped the subject because I realized how important being my advocate and fan was to her.  She continued to come to every game and cheer for me and my team.  And I am happy she did and indeed, the coach never benched me again.