The Buddhism of Baseball

I have since learned that being a Mariners fan is not in conflict with being a Mets fan. (With the exception of the ’95 season, the Ms so rarely threaten other teams, you can follow them, too. They are kind of the Buddhism of baseball.) At the time of our first date, however, I had attended but a single pro game. Football. The autumn night smelled of hotdogs and beer and the rowdy crowd leapt to their feet with great huzzah and a number of high-fives, as if they personally had accomplished something. Perhaps someone named the Steelers won. On our first date, that being a Mets fan meant you could not under any circumstances like the Yankees was more than I could comprehend. That Cliff didn’t flip when I suggested we split the check, however, is more likely the reason I agreed to go with him to a home game.

I enjoyed the nachos with the plastic cheese and the breaks for commercials, where an assortment of well-trimmed video clips made baseball look exciting, nay, action-packed. Griffey whapping one out of the park. This was before he was traded to the Reds. A pre-Madonna-schtupping A-Rod was at short, leaping, sliding, tagging out. The raw power of strong men moving gracefully. After Cliff and I progressed to co-habitation, we’d be talking about whatever couples talk about—me on the futon couch, Cliff in the middle of the floor. He’d be air-pitching. I took to calling it. “Ball two.”

“That was a strike!”

“I calls ‘em as I sees ‘em.”

Occasionally, he’d throw a Nerf ball. Once, it bounced off my head. I jumped him. “Rush the mound!” Righteous hump of my young life.

We have since had a son.

A sporty son.

I am as confused as if I had birthed a Republican. As an infant, we took our boy to Water Babies. The teacher tossed a beach ball into the circle for the babies to grab or kick or focus on long enough to stop howling at the cold and the water and the splashing and the noise. My child wanted the ball. He lunged so hard, he almost slipped out of my arms. By twenty months, he could kick a soccer ball while running. He could hit the wiffle ball we called a baseball—though when he pitched and I hit, he still ran the bases. Toward his first birthday, people started to comment that he had “an arm.” I replied, “Isn’t that weird? Where does he get it?” Cliff would mildly comment that a parent other than me had been throwing with him since he could hold a ball. But when he dove for that beach ball—dove again and again, heedless of sharing with the other babies or his own safety—dove with the single-minded need to get what he wanted, the thing he loved, I saw myself.

This is where our tale takes a serious turn. I know that in progressive circles, talking about God raises neck hair. Please keep in mind that my Judaism is infused with Eastern elements. I am sufficiently down.

Like most small children, beyond my parents, I had few external points of reference. Unfortunately, mine were remarkably bad parents. This was back in the day. We didn’t have terms like dysfunction. We had bad parents. We didn’t call it child abuse. We called it—who knows what we called it. No one talked about it.

As I was too small to flee, I went deep inside; so deep, I didn’t know I had gone there; deep inside, where I met a light. The light said, “You can get out. You have to.”

You might think that an occurrence such as meeting God would carry with it more specificity. I am sorry to say, that’s all I got. Now, when I think about that light, our meeting, I feel myself to be four or five years old and body-less, floating, which means I was being abused, being abused so badly that my choices were die or find a reason to live. Find the source of life.

Returning to the agreed-upon reality: as soon as I was financially able, I was gone. After a few years of defragging, I sought God in Eastern faiths and diets, in politics and no faith, sex, no sex, jobs, countries, and cultures. It was moderately successful, as existences go, lacking love, lacking direction, lacking much in the way of true friendship even, for I didn’t know how to love or be loved.

I kept diving. I wanted the ball.

By the time I dove smack back into Judaism, I understood that I could find God through a variety of paths—or no path, just God. Whereas once upon a time, you wouldn’t have caught me dead at services, about this time seventeen years ago, it was also and again the Days of Awe. I took my child to services.

He wore kurta pajami, a to-the-knees Punjabi-style shirt and pants set schlepped all the way from India by my friend Risa. The linen was the color of a clean beach. He looked adorable, if not like an escapee from a midget production of Godspell. Holding my first child at our first High Holy Days together with havana shireem, songs of praise, sifting through the amber autumn morning, baby weight warm and powdery against my chest and belly. It was motherhood. It was the icicle breaking—a crash, matriculation. Same life, new life. The jump to catch the one that should have been knocked out of the park; what they should have given me, what I found instead. It was love. It was God.

I have faith. I am an abuse survivor and a parent. There aren’t the statistics to support me having a child, not without faith.

You have faith. Let’s talk about Mariners’ center fielder, Ichiro Suzuki. He steps to the plate with the tight focus of haiku, swings the bat in a circle then up, adjusts his jersey and draws the bat to his shoulder, and you believe in him. You don’t write him off because last week, he didn’t bat in the winning run. You know: a single anywhere in the park he wants to put it. Those clips again: on the Mariners’ homepage, under the ’05 highlights, there is an Ichiro clip I let my son watch over and over. The ball is flying toward the wall slightly faster than Ichiro appears to be running, headed over the fence. Number 51 turns his back on the ball, which you are not supposed to do, flings himself at the wall, scampers up, balances on its narrow top, and makes the catch.

Ichiro is not God. Ichiro is a majestic power outside ourselves that we are a part of yet remain in awe of. He is one reason I say men love and want and need baseball for the same reason I love, want, and need God.

In Judaism’s central prayer, the Sh’ma, God declares, “Listen, Israel. God is God, God is One.”

Sh’ma Yisrael

Adonai Eloheinu

Adonai Echad

Traditionally, Jews die with Sh’ma on their lips. I hope to. Traditionally, we say Sh’ma as we fall asleep, should we die before we wake. I’ve said a bedtime Sh’ma with my son for his whole life. Around sixteen months of age, he started saying Sh’maas I carried him to his crib or as he felt himself falling asleep in the car. He said it to the bunnies when we read Goodnight, Moon. He said it as a substitute for the Hebrew in the blessings he did not yet know.

In learning to love, how much I am loved is far less important than how much I get to love. Shortly after watching the climb-the-wall highlight, instead of Sh’ma Yisrael, our boy said, “Sh’ma, Ichiro.”