Come late February and early March, baseball fans have an extra spring in their step, and feel a quickening of the pulse. After a winter of trades, predictions and free agent signings, the players have returned and Spring Training has begun. Baseball is back, and therein lie some object lessons for Israel, Jews, and Judaism.
Readers may ask: What possible connection could there be between baseball — a slow, stately, (my wife would say ‘boring’) game that dates to back to the 19th century — and the many issues that confront Israelis on a daily basis, such as stabbings, shootings, wars, highway safety, prayer at the Western Wall, corrupt politicians, and Israel’s place among the nations?
Baseball is slow, and games can last three or four hours. When a manager wants to insert a new pitcher, he strolls to the mound, talks to the current pitcher, takes the ball from his hand, and only then will signal for a replacement, who usually walks to the pitcher’s mound very slowly. Life in Israel, by contrast is fast and frenetic. Israel is the ‘start-up’ nation where quick decisions are the norm, where life turns on a dime, and where no one wants to wait in line — anywhere.
Yet, despite these apparent dissimilarities, it seems to me that there are three important lessons that we can learn from baseball:
Patience is a virtue — Here in Israel and in the Jewish world at large, we are often looking for quick solutions. Some people want peace ‘now‘. Others want Mashiach ‘now‘, and, ‘don’t want to wait’. Baseball strategy teaches us otherwise. A quick home run is great, but sometimes, one has to patiently ‘move the runner along’ from first base, to second, to third base, and finally to home plate to score a run. And sometimes, it rains. The players have to leave the field, the ground crew hauls out the tarp, and the game can be delayed for quite a while.
There are many difficult issues, both domestic and external, that confront Israel today. It is tempting to suggest that we can employ a ‘quick fix’, and all of our problems will magically disappear. ‘Annex the territories now‘, says the right wing. ‘End the occupation now‘, counters the left. Regardless of one’s political bent, this issue, and most others, will not be solved with a hasty move. Learn from baseball — plan ahead, move the runners along, slowly and patiently, in order to achieve the objective.
Don’t be afraid of failure — The very best hitters in baseball fail more than 60 percent of the time. Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays — and every other hitter who ever lived — all experienced a greater rate of failure than success in their most productive seasons. In our lives, both as individuals, and as a people, we shouldn’t be afraid to try out new solutions and new directions, even if the results may not always work. In the past hundred years, Judaism has tried a number of solutions. Some have failed, but some, like Birthright, the Daf Yomi, and, for that matter, the reemergence of the State of Israel, have succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.
The game is not over until the last man is out — Basketball, hockey, soccer and football all have a game clock, which ticks down until the very end. When the time is up, the game is over. Unlike these other sports, baseball has no clock. The game does not end until the home team has had its last turn at bat. In theory, a baseball game can continue for eternity.
There have been times in Jewish history when the clock has seemed to be close to running down. But in Judaism, as in baseball, we do not give up so easily. As recently as 70 years ago, we experienced a tragedy of enormous proportions, which threatened the entire Jewish people. Through all of this, we have survived, and did not give up hope. As the Talmud says, ‘Even if a sharp sword rests upon upon a man’s neck, one should not desist from prayer.’
Sometimes, things don’t work out, and sometimes the game is lost. But despite that, one must remain optimistic. Even if one is a fan of the Chicago Cubs.
So, the next time you read the Spring Training news from Florida and Arizona, don’t dismiss it. One can learn from almost anything in life, even from baseball.