On Diamonds in the Rough and Seeking Home
I attended a Seder last night. It wasn’t my first, but it was the first time the host had guests do some homework to prepare; she asked us to give thought to a series of questions on the evening’s theme of immigration and freedom. She also said our responses could be funny, to keep the mood of a heavy holiday light. Here are those questions and my answers. Happy Pesach!
What do you consider your “promised land,” or heaven on earth?
There’s a line in the late eighties movie Bull Durham in which a passionate character refers to baseball parks as cathedrals. I still remember my first trip to Fenway as an eight-year-old. In the middle of a gritty Boston city block, a sooty brick facade rose out of the cracked sidewalk and stretched into the dusky summer sky. My father had had trouble finding a parking place in this unfamiliar, overwhelming urban landscape, so we were entering late.
The ticket-taker in his official green jacket and grimy ball cap barked at us—the suburban rubes in for the day from the nearly non-existent Western end of the state. Another similarly attired man with a no-nonsense New England demeanor ushered us to our seats where a boisterous fan promptly upended his Budweiser on my head. My flustered mother turned me this way and that to make sure I was all right, then wrapped me in her sweatshirt and angled me toward the action. Only then did I catch sight of the field...and what a sight it was.
For in the middle of this filthy place, full of mean people rushing to and fro, and drunks dumping booze on children, two teams of men—half in sparkling home whites with bright red socks covering their muscular calves up to their knees, half wearing the green, gold, and grey of the visitors from some far-off place called “Oakland”—veritably danced, playing a gorgeous, intricate game that bore only a passing resemblance to what my brother and I did on dirt lots back home.
And all of this took place on a large brilliant green diamond—a jewel so green and faceted, I was sure it should have been called an emerald, after my May birthstone. I accepted baseball as my savior that very night. Cathedral, indeed; it felt like “heaven on earth.”
In Hebrew, the word for Egypt is “Mitzraim,” which literally means “narrow place.” What is one way that you wish for our society to be more open?
I’m not good with narrow places. Something about my psyche and personality demands a wide-open expanse. It should come as no surprise then that, when I took up a mitt of my own to play softball, I gravitated toward a specialized position called The Rover. I was tasked with roaming that dangerous in-between space where balls might sail over infielders’ heads but not quite reach outfielders’ outstretched gloves. Some cretins insisted on calling the position “shortfielder,” but I refused. “Rover” simply spoke volumes to me about having the freedom to make any play I could, both on and off the diamond.
Is there someone—or multiple people—in your family’s history who made their own journey to freedom?
Freedom is a central theme of Passover. When in your life have you felt most free?
Decades later, this exhilarating sense of freedom would come back to me like a line drive as I lay on my back in the damp grass at AT&T Park. The powers that be had allowed fans to flood the field during a celebration of the San Francisco Giants’ improbable 2012 World Series win. I stared up into an equally improbable February Bay Area blue sky and shielded my eyes from the sun, reflecting on how far I’d come. I was living 3000 miles away from where I’d been born, raised, and educated. I knew where Oakland was now. I’d survived difficult jobs, a mental illness diagnosis, national crises...and indoctrination into the purity and charm of National League baseball.
If you could write an 11th commandment, what would it be?
My 11th commandment? I am shocked, yet thrilled to say it would have to be, “Thou shalt not avail oneself of the Designated Hitter.”
The Haggadah says that in every generation of Jewish history enemies have tried to eliminate us. What are the biggest threats you see to civilization today?
I see it as one of the biggest threats to civilization today that many people want to make things “easier” in the name of making them “better.” What those folks forget is that “easy” doesn’t always equate with “simple,” and simplicity is the true virtue here. Baseball is a simple game: You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball (that’s from Bull Durham, too).
The word “seder” means “order.” How do you maintain order in your life? Or not? Do you think you have to?
We’re all human, and we’re all playing at this game of life. There are rules we hold to be self-evident to keep the game in order—to make sure we all get our fair turn at bat and have the same chance to catch that sacrifice fly. It seems as if most people in America today want to crush a Grand Slam; everyone’s swinging for the fences—especially fences and walls that would keep some of the most talented foreign baseball players out of our parks all together. This utterly flouts the idea of an even playing field. So I, for one, will continue to roam, laying down the lowly bunts that move runners along the base paths, ever seeking home.