The following post is part two of a three-part series called “In the Big Inning: Reflections on Baseball, God and Camp.” Dreamed up one early Saturday morning on the camp baseball diamond, Rabbi Craig Marantz (Congregation Kol Haverim, Glastonbury, CT), Greg Kellner (Senior Assistant Director, URJ Crane Lake Camp), and Ben Meyers (Crane Lake Camp Counselor and Baseball Coach) offer their thoughts on America’s favorite pastime and their Jewish journies. The second part is written by Greg Kellner. Stay tuned for part 3 as the World Series approaches.
After the July Eisner vs. Crane Lake staff softball game, I was talking with Rabbi Craig about why he loves the game so much and he explained to me, just like he wrote in Part I, that Jewish learning doesn’t just have to take place on the Limud Lawn, but has built so many relationships and taught and learned so much on the baseball diamond. I half jokingly said to him, “you should write a blog called Camp: For God and Baseball” to which Craig took that challenge!
After Craig and I mulled over the idea and in the end actually made some sense, I began to think about my own relationship with baseball and why I was always compelled as a camp staff member, whether it was at Crane Lake or Eisner, to get up early on a Saturday morning to play some ball.
In 1994, when my parents first dropped me off at Eisner Camp, my first time as a camper, it was baseball that first made me feel at home. A boy from the cabin next door, whom I had met a few weeks prior at the new camper orientation, the only familiar face I knew, said “Do you want to have a catch?” And in minutes all of my ‘homesickness’ disappeared.
I can’t say that I have ever been good at baseball or watch it religiously (pun intended), but I can say that baseball has always played a part in the person I am. I was a “Jr. Met” as a kid, until my brother convinced the whole family at some point to become Yankees fans. The Sandlot and A League of Their Own are two of my favorite films, I think because they are not just about baseball, but they are about friendship and love, two values that are staples of our camp community.
I was given the opportunity to sing the Star Spangled Banner at a Braves vs. Mets game in 2001. When standing in front of 50,000 people, the feeling of community engulfs you… the excitement, the cheers, the the pride are like nothing else you’ve ever felt before. That “10th fan” that Craig mentioned is palpable, and it certainly feels like more than a minyan when you are looking up at the stadium, the players are lined up next to you and the speakers are blaring your own voice from behind.
The most memorable moment for me though goes back to “having a catch.” Every spring, on one of the first few nice days, I make it a point to throw my glove in the car when heading out to Long Island to visit my parents, because dad and I have to have a catch. It’s become a tradition, something we’d always do when I was younger, then because it was time for little league, but now just because it is something that my dad and I can just do together. We don’t do it for long, but those 20 minutes are dad and Greg time… and no one but the passing cars in the street will interrupt us. This time isn’t so much about baseball, but again about love and friendship. I look forward to those 20 minutes all year, just the two of us playing ball in the street, listening to dad tell me about his time as a kid playing ball in Rego Park and how proud he is that he still uses his 1960’s model Gus Bell glove.
Baseball is our “National Pastime,” but it is so much more than something that passes time. Baseball builds community, love and friendship and that’s why you’ll always find me out early those two Saturday mornings each summer when Eisner and Crane Lake take the field.
Read Part I, by Rabbi Craig Marantz: http://blogs.rj.org/cranelake/?p=2417