Catchers and pitchers reported this week to spring training camps in baseball's annual ritual of renewal. Nothing can be wrong in the world when the smell of hot dogs and cut grass fills the nostrils and the sound of leather balls popping on leather gloves fills the ears. If baseball were a Jewish rite, spring training would be "Modeh Ani," a blessing of gratitude for returning from the long slumber.
But there is also something Jewish about celebrations in the midst of hardship. In a few weeks, we will celebrate Purim, the holiday of festive rejoicing that emerges from a tale of ethnic cleansing. A few weeks beyond that, we will begin a new holiday cycle with Pesach and celebrate freedom while we eat the bread of affliction. There is something about the Jewish character that is always seeking redemption in the midst of misery, and, perhaps, we also look to spot the suffering hidden within joy.
For me, spring training is a hint of moshiach-zeit, the coming of the messianic age. The agonies of last year's failures fade into the background. (I am a Boston Red Sox fan). The promises of a new season fill the heart. As of yet, the dire predictions are only predictions. The players who report late because of injuries and the players who fumble through press conferences are just sideshows on the way to the great revelation which is Opening Day.
This is a useful form of cognitive dissonance. We need to forget the past in order to enter the future. We need the hope of a clean slate. If last month's Tu BiShvat was the Rosh Hashanah of the trees, the opening of training camps is the Yom Kippur of the mitts, bats and spikes. It heals us, cleanses us, and prepares us for a world that is not yet.
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