I have a confession to make. I grew up a Mets fan, and while I don’t currently watch much baseball, if you asked me what my favorite team is, I would still say the Mets. Although I often say, “I grew up in Flushing and I’m used to disappointment.” Over the years, I often passed Shea Stadium either on the highway or subway. During lean times, I would notice few fans in the stands. In winning years, even the outfield seats by Mr. Met were filled. In 1986 when they won the championship, I attended many games. That was when I became a fan of listening to sports on the radio. Bob Murphy would call the games as I spent a lazy day in Prospect Park. The high of the series carried over to the next years. I will always remember the standing ovations that we gave Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter at their last game on a chilly night in September ’89.
And in the winter, the other team would play. The New York Jets. I didn’t really understand football too much, but I did understand that it was a big deal when my grandmother wangled my big brothers and me seats to see Joe Namath and the Jets play.
As I took the Number 7 train out to my parents’ house the other day for a pre-Mother’s-Day lunch, I look up at the Willets Point stop and thought of Shea. Finally, after nearly 5 years, I will be attending my first game at CitiField on Memorial Day weekend, with my old light-blue Mets cap on my head.
It was my during that trip to Flushing that I was listening to podcasts, as usual, and I heard a NPR Story of The Day interview with Mariano Rivera. Even a Mets fan like me knows that Manny Rivera was the incredible closer for the Yankees who just retired last season. In all the years Rivera was in NY, his picture was never splattered across the tabloids for anything but his amazing arm.
In the interview with NPR’s Scott Simon about Rivera’s new book, I learned that Rivera is a religious Christian. He lives in the Bronx now and is active in his church. The interview wound its way to religion and baseball. “My faith in the Lord is everything,” Rivera said. “I’m not going to second guess my faith.” He explained that this was how he was able to walk away from losing game game 7 of the World Series. Because he “gave all that he had.”
Simon asked about the habit that many players have of pointing to the heavens when they make a good play. “I don’t know who they are acknowledging…I never have done it…If you point to the sky when you did something good, then when you did something bad or you strike out, you are cursing … What are you doing? You are only taking the good times, but the bad times you won’t….That’s where you have to shine. In the middle of the adversity you still have to point to the sky and say, you know what Lord, thank you for the moment, because you permitted it.”
The thing about listening to podcasts is that you might be on the train or walking down the street and sometimes you hear something stunning. I have even been brought to tears by the stories coming through my headphones, a weird occurrence when on the subway. But now, while just going through some ordinary activity, I heard something extraordinary. While Rivera’s viewpoint of God is different from mine, we agree on one thing. We can’t just look to God in thanks or in pain, but we need to remember God in just the regular times. Some Jews have this habit of saying “Baruch HaShem – Blessed is the Name” in response to “how are things?” or even when the bus arrives when you need it to. But what do you say when it’s a cold night and the bus is really late? Do you blame God or take a taxi? Or say “Baruch HaShem?”
Today I was talking about God with fifth graders. One student asked why there are no miracles any more. He said, “There are lots of miracles in the Bible.” Why aren’t there miracles now? First I told him that I wondered whether there really are that many miracles in the Bible considering the span of time that the text covers. Also, I reminded him that there was a miracle every day that we all experienced. The earth turned on its axis and the sun came out every day. So I asked the questions, “Is it possible that God and science can work together?” One student said, “Maybe science is God’s assistant.”
So now I am a Mariano Rivera fan. Just don’t ask me to wear a Yankees cap.