Jews & Sports

from Big Mo's Sports Desk

Just Foul

Yehudis Cohen


Consider the foul ball.

Not the one hit back behind the catcher, high in the stands. And not one lined into the dugout or straight into the bleachers. Rather, let's look at the ball that sails toward the fence, looking like a home run all the way until, at the last moment, a gust of wind pushes it just to the outside of the line. Or one ripped down the base-path, a shot along first or third, hugging the chalk, a clear base hit - until, just before the bag, it curves, and curves ever so slightly, outside the bag.

Now consider what happens on the next pitch. Too often, we see the batter "caught looking" at a ball or swinging at air.

What happened? One swing and it's almost the play of the game. The next pitch and - whiff - or even worse - wave to the ball as it goes by.

Coaches will tell you that late swings lead to foul balls. So if the ball's just foul, it means the swing's just a little bit late. Then, instead of making a minor adjustment, for the next pitch, the hitter hasn't recovered his equilibrium; he's still in shock that the last hit - wasn't a hit. He's still in the past, reliving - mentally still trying to change - the hit that wasn't.

This happens to us all the time in "real life." We're negotiating a contract. Everyone agrees we've done a brilliant job, but for some reason, at the last minute, things didn't work out. The next time "up" we're not so sure of ourselves and bungle it.
And we can find numerous examples of exponential errors - how one slight mistake multiplies manifold times.

If we can train ourselves not to be shaken by failures but to brush ourselves off and get back up again, then we can recognize the source of the error, and correct it, instead of letting it reverberate itself.

What applies in our business and recreational lives, applies too in our interactions with others and in our lives as Jews.
Too often, when we're trying to get more into our Judaism, we "swing late" and end up "just foul." For instance, when we start keeping kosher, we might buy something we think is kosher, but, as it turns out, isn't. If we'd have taken the extra second - if we'd "waited on the ball" - we'd have noticed the problem (no kosher sign on the label).

Rather than get discouraged, focusing on our slip-up, we need to "correct our swing" - meaning look more carefully next time.
An infrequent synagogue visitor finally takes the plunge and attends a service. Does he get all flustered when he realizes that he's lost in the prayerbook, or does he attribute it all to the learning curve with the confidence that "next time up" he'll do better?

A more experienced prayer could be frustrated by seeing his attention wander rather than focus on the meaning of the prayers. Does he retreat into "how could that happen?", or does he refocus his attention on his Creator and at least find meaning in the rest of the service?

When learning Torah we can encounter a difficult concept and grow frustrated that we're didn't really get it. Next time, we can stand there and "take a called strike" - not go to the class, not put forth the effort, not ask questions. Or, we can "get our timing right" - we can be there to meet "ball" - that is, the idea.

When we hit the ball "just foul" we can look at it as the first step away from the base path and toward a sure strike out (even if delayed by another foul ball or two). Or we can recognize that Jewishly we have to keep growing, keep "perfecting our swing."
With practice, concentration and attention to details, we can turn a 'just foul" into a hit (more kosher food, more Shabbat, more charity) - and maybe even a Home Run (that would be Moshiach, of course).


[Reprinted with permission from L'Chaim Weekly #825, of which the author is also the editor-in-chief.]

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