Hard ChoicesPosted: May 11, 2009
Because of the many little league rain-outs last week, Ben’s team played on Sunday morning at 9:00 am. We had to tell the coach that Ben would not be there because of church. Ben was not pleased.
After pitching a fit (no pun intended), which I mercifully missed because I was doing the early service, Ben got it together to acolyte at the 10:00 o’clock service. I talked to him briefly in the sacristy about priorities and disappointments and how being a Christian means sometimes making difficult choices. He told me it wasn’t a difficult choice at all — he would have chosen to play baseball.
During the service itself, the second reading to be specific, the famous Dodger southpaw Sandy Koufax popped into my head. No, my mind doesn’t always wander during the lessons. But in that instant, I knew I could help Ben see that even the greatest athletes on the planet sometimes must choose between faith and baseball.
That’s because in 1965 Koufax stunned the nation by refusing to pitch in Game One of the World Series for the Los Angeles Dodgers. That opening game against the Minnesota Twins fell on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement and one of the holiest days of the year. Instead of pitching, Koufax attended synagogue in Minneapolis and fasted.
As the Dodgers’ ace, Koufax still pitched Games Two, Five, and Seven, throwing complete-game shutouts in Games Five and Seven and leading the Dodgers to the World Championship. And his decision — as well as his brilliance on the mound — remains a source of pride among American Jews.
I told the boys this story just before bed on Sunday night. I talked about Koufax’s brilliant and dominant pitching career (I left out the part about how he lost a bunch of money invested with Bernie Madoff). And how he took a righteous stand, showing that his religious beliefs were the most important thing in his life, even more important than the game of baseball. I asked Ben if he knew why I was sharing the story and he “got” it. Perhaps it won’t make the next time this happens any easier (thank you Briarcliff Little League). But in the long run I hope he’ll come to see that while he has a commitment to his team, by virtue of his baptism he has an even greater commitment to his God.