In the last minutes of Wednesday night, October 30, I sat in my house praying that Daniel Hudson would throw the right pitches and bring the World Series Championship to Washington DC. This has been an incredible run by the Nationals, the team that taught me about baseball, and a lot about community.
As I see sports, baseball is the most intricate mixture of individual and communal efforts in group sports. The pitcher stands alone at the mound, pitching to the individual batter, who is at home plate. At that moment, the attention is focused on the battle between two individuals, the batter and the pitcher.
One might be tempted to think that they alone matter. Yet, being a group sport, there is more to the picture. Baseball is a group effort, and the team must have a catcher to pick up the pitch, and a defense positioned to stop the batter from running bases.
The game of baseball can be seen as a metaphor for a congregation: the individual can only excel with the help of the community. People come to services to experience an individual connection to the Divine, a moment when each of us can feel a deep bond with something greater than ourselves. We have to be present at the moment of prayer, ensuring that beforehand we had advanced preparation by studying, practicing, and engaging in our Jewish learning.
Just like the members of a baseball team, we train and develop individually to be able to stand in a congregation, ready to feel the connection with the Divine. But we do not stand alone. In the same way that an athlete had coaches and trainers and dedicated many hours a week to perfect their trade, we had rabbis and teachers, books, and a rich Jewish tradition to guide us in our Jewish journey. Individuals come together forming a community, supporting each other as we go through the good and the difficult moments of life. We practice as individuals and we connect with God as individuals, infused by our collective history, in the context and with the support of a community.
In a Jewish community, sometimes we are the pitchers, sometimes we are the catchers, sometimes we are batters, sometimes we are pinch hitters, closers, managers, and coaches. Our individual roles are best realized in the setting of our community.
On Wednesday night, I was very proud of the Washington Nationals. Being a sports fan, I have learned that as one falls in love with a team, one has to take the good moments with the bad, the struggles with the victories. And no matter how many years you supported the team, you might never experience the elation of being part of the supporters of a team that became the champions. Yet you enjoy all the fun there is in the process, in the ups and downs of the whole season. In the beginning of this baseball season, no one thought that the Nationals were going to make the playoffs. In May, their record was abysmal. They had the third worst record of the MLB, in front of only the Orioles and the Marlins. Then, they changed. They rallied together, the team and the managers supporting each other, encouraging each other to give their best, celebrating every hit, and not dwelling on errors or on their past. They loved each other like brothers and were having fun. They kept their sights on the important issues, coalesced into a true team, into a group of individuals that understood they were better as a whole – and as a result, won the greatest prize.
What an amazing example for our Congregation! We have much to learn from baseball and from the Washington Nationals. From baseball, we learn that individual and communal needs are always connected and that we can grow as individuals, but can only realize our full potential in a community. From the Washington Nationals we learn that to be the finest, we have to love and support each other, to encourage each other to give our best, celebrate every accomplishment, and not dwell on mistakes. We can unite into a true team, every individual committing to making this community all that it can be. The Washington Nationals believed that they could make it, and they did. We celebrate our team, and learn the lessons that they taught us this season.