While I am a very partisan fan of my team (okay, it's the Boston Red Sox), I also am a lover of the sport as a whole. Last night, fans of the game were treated to one of the greatest contests in the history of the World Series. In Game Six, the St. Louis Cardinals were one strike away from losing the Series to the Texas Rangers in both the ninth and the tenth innings, yet managed to tie the game both times before winning it in the bottom of the eleventh inning and extending the Series to an improbable Game Seven tonight. In an era when so much reporting about baseball is focussed on the business side of the game, it was a moment to remind fans how much fun baseball can be—a joyful children's game played by grown-ups.
Baseball is a game of redemption. It is a game in which there is no clock to call a halt to the game, so no game is ever beyond the reach of being lost or won, even when it is highly improbable. The delicious thing is, the improbable does happen. Losers turn into winners in the most dramatic fashion. (I won't dwell on the plight of my own team, which had a full blast of "improbable" to take them out of the postseason this year. It does happen.)
Sportswriter Thomas Boswell wrote about "How Life Imitates the World Series" in his book by that name, and it's true. What is also true is that we can learn about Torah by paying attention to baseball. No other sport, Boswell taught us, rewards close attention the way that baseball does. The positioning of the infielders and outfielders, the chess match between pitcher and batter, the lead of the runner off of first base, and the poetically imprecise evaluation of players in different situations are all part of the delicate flavors and sweet aroma of baseball to its connoisseurs. Baseball shows us how Torah wants us to live life joyfully—by paying attention to details, reveling in them and finding magic within them.
Baseball is also a game that changes our perception of time. It is played slowly and leisurely in the summer, when time is only a rumor. Baseball is a universe in which the past and the present are commingled. Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Sandy Koufax, Yaz and Pedro all play forever on the same field and our memories of baseball past become interchangeable with our hopes and expectations of the future. As Rashi would put it, "Ein mukdam u'me'uchar babaseball," "There is no before and after in baseball"—all that is true and beautiful exists in one ecstatic moment.
A game such as I watched last night reminds me how much excitement there is to be found in the delicate details—and that is what Torah is all about. The rhythm of the daily prayers, the appreciation of the world with each blessing, the hectic anticipation of Shabbat's arrival, the sweet and sad fragrance of its departure, are all Torah's training ground for appreciating the details of life. Creation, revelation and redemption all exist in one moment in Torah—the moment in which we discover how all is one in holiness.
It was a great game. Almost as great as Game Six of the 1975 World Series. Bernie Carbo's home run, Dwight Evans' catch, and, of course, Fisk's ball just fair over the Monster—ahh!—all are beautiful details of God's creation.