By Larry Gordon

In yeshiva, being a sports fan, and especially a baseball fan, was an acceptable pastime. For some reason, though, the line was drawn at collecting baseball cards, which seemed like a natural outgrowth of what it meant to be a young baseball fan.

But that really did not stop most of us. Even though we were only 12 or maybe 13 years old, we developed an underground system that had us surreptitiously bringing our cards to yeshiva, trading them or just showing off the cards we were lucky enough to have randomly received in those closed packages.

I think it was in sixth grade that the problem with baseball cards became clearer: every pack of cards came with a slim slab of sweet-smelling bubble gum that was apparently not kosher. So maybe Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were not the issue; after all, at that point we did not consider them to be role models in any way other than their on-the-field performances.

But there was no getting around the questionable kashrus status of that stick of gum. It exuded a fine aroma, but most of us still would not dream of chewing on that gum unless we knew that it had some kind of acceptable kashrus certification. That may have presented us with the very first proverbial slippery slope, which translates into someone, somewhere deciding to chew that gum.

I had a considerable collection of baseball cards, and, on occasion, I see a news item about a card being worth a half a million dollars or so and I recognize the card and the player’s pose and remember that I once had that card in my possession. The value of those old cards (if I can call them that) was enhanced by the fact that they were rare precisely because when our parents discovered them at home after we were married or had left our childhood homes, they placed the cards in a garbage bag and put the bag outside with the rest of the trash.

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

Then there is the fact that our High Holy Days always seem to occur around the time of year that the baseball playoffs or the World Series begins. Of course, that is not the case this year, because erev Rosh Hashanah was on Labor Day and there are still a dozen or so games to go in the regular season.

But at the same time, the football season is beginning, and at the start of that season there are always high hopes for the Jets and Giants (unless you are reading this outside of New York). Both teams lost last Sunday, so you will probably be hearing the refrain “Here we go again,” though they still have plenty of time to turn things around.

I’m not saying that there is any parallel between the two, but while we are davening for a good, healthy, and sweet New Year, somewhere in the recesses of our minds we are also hoping that the Mets can string together ten wins in a row (unlikely) and sneak into the post season, and that the Yankees get back to winning and hopefully earn a post-season playoff spot.

At the same time we are also hoping that the football Giants won’t start the season at 0–8 (like last year), and that the new quarterback for the Jets can inject some life into the team.

Hopefully, you will understand the imagery of how being a real sports fan at this juncture of the year can actually help us with our prayers over yom tov. First and foremost, we were always taught in the early years that sports is a good and healthy diversion from the intense yeshiva schedule. Because what our rebbeim in high school did not want to hear was that we went to a Rolling Stones or a Credence Clearwater revival concert. That was one of the places where the line was drawn even back then. In situations like that, we might have heard some advice like, “Can’t you just go to a Mets or Yankee game?”

Thankfully, I can report that I have evolved over the years into just a casual sports observer, but when these teams are winning I still find myself paying an inordinate amount of attention to what is going on.

I have heard about people who spent Shabbos at the Sheraton Meadowlands hotel in New Jersey so that once Shabbos was over they could be close to the stadium and attend a late-season football game that was already underway when Shabbos ended. That means packing up your Giants hat and jersey and other fan paraphernalia along with a hot plate, gefilte fish, kugel, cholent, and other Shabbos snacks. Of course, that is not exactly good chinuch for kids and is somewhat illustrative of being a sports fan on a level that crosses some lines, I think.

One of my children left me a subscription to NFL Red Zone. If you don’t know what that is, you are probably a more relaxed person than most. When I want to see what’s going on in football on a Sunday, I flick on a Jets or Giants game, and what the other teams in the league are doing at that point is not important. But if you really want to know how the other teams are doing in their games, that info is usually paraded electronically across the bottom of the screen.

To the best of my understanding, what Red Zone does is switch from game to game to game every few seconds to show you which teams are within 20 yards of their respective goal lines, so you can see as many teams as possible about to score or almost score.

Last Sunday, my Red Zone kid was in our house, and I was watching him watch two games on a split screen simultaneously, as both games were operating within that 20-yard area which is known as the “red zone.” On one screen were the Kansas City Chiefs and the Cleveland Browns, featuring two of the game’s most talented quarterbacks, Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield.

On the other screen were the Jets and the Carolina Panthers. The Jets were debuting their rookie 22-year-old quarterback, Zach Wilson, while Carolina was featuring Sam Darnold, the Jets’ former quarterback, about whom they once had high hopes. Darnold just could not get it done over the three years with the Jets. His tenure was dominated by sloppy play and lots of interceptions, especially in the Red Zone.

Last Sunday, Sam Darnold was superlative, moving the Panthers up and down the field at will, while Wilson spent most of the afternoon on his back, having been sacked six times.

So there I was, watching both games, as one team in each game was in the Red Zone. Mahomes was marching his team down the field for a come-from-behind victory, while Wilson finally got up off the turf and was moving the Jets on the way to a quality loss.

Still, my preference is one wholesome game at a time. I know that one of the reasons for watching Red Zone is because you have a fantasy football team and have an interest in the individual performances of the players on your team, irrespective of what their teams do.

This is where I part with football or being a sports connoisseur. One thing for sure is that you cannot learn much about davening on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur from observing sports in this fashion. It does not achieve anything to be davening Shacharis and Mussaf at the same time. I guess this is where the similarities end, so chag Sukkos samei’ach and “Let’s go, Mets.”

Read more of Larry Gordon’s articles at 5TJT.com. Follow 5 Towns Jewish Times on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates and live videos. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome at 5TJT.com and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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