Columns - 2012

    The Penance Race

    by Doug Brook
    Southern Jewish Life columnist

    As September passes by and the High Holy Days hang overhead like slow-moving clouds foreshadowing even slower services, Jews everywhere have but one thing on their minds.

    To help Jews remember this month-long sprint to penance, the Big G created baseball's race to the pennants. So, to help you prepare for Rosh Hashanah, here is a recap of this season's Jewish Heritage games from the farthest reaches of the earth (aka California).

    The Oakland Athletics hosted the Jews and the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 19th. What's more Jewish than a group that left Brooklyn for Hollywood, and whose starting pitcher was named Harang?

    Harang lived up to his name with a long-winded forty-pitch first inning, which felt like forty years in the desert, and ended barely in time for the Shema of the morning prayers.

    With the A's leading 3-0, the Jews munched their pastrami half-sandwiches and two mini-knishes, and wore their Hebrew A's scarves -- a yellow/green mini-tallis that only a Jewish UAB fan could love.

    The middle innings were much like the recently completed middle book of the Torah, Leviticus: long to sit through, and nothing much happened. The sixth inning was highlighted by a kids' shofar blowing contest, whose debatable conclusion further demonstrated the need to expand instant replay in Major League games.

    More recently, the San Francisco Giants hosted more Jews and the Washington Nationals, on August 14th.

    For years, Chabad has hosted a parking lot tailgate with free hotdogs and He'Brew. This year, the party moved near the Marina Gate, right by the water. And, as one Phillies fan loudly questioned, they started charging for the cuisine.

    Men were asked if they'd wrapped tefilin that day, or wanted to. Most declined, with one synagogue instructor answering, "I wrapped at the office." A woman in the food line asked where the handwashing station was, and a Mets fan pointed at the surrounding McCovey Cove and said, "everywhere."

    Despite this year's handout being a Giants kippah with a prominent "Made in China" label inside, hopes were high that the Jews would represent well in this game. While there are no Jewish Giants, there were a slew of apparent Nationals tribesmen.

    The national anthem was performed by the Peninsula Girls Chorus, but it got some Jewish flair from two men in the event section singing in three non-keys, making it sound much like Saturday morning services.

    To further the Jewish trend, the first pitch was bounced before the plate by Professor Raul Bocanegra. The Play Ball Kid was Vincent Marcus Castro, who quickly turned from the microphone and tried to hide, possibly realizing that he's also not Jewish.

    The Jewish hope for the game thus rested on the Nationals players, and initially with the former Wahoo Ryan Zimmerman batting third, ready to put the RBI in "rabbi." However, while Zim perpetrated a double mitzvah for the Giants by grounding into a double play, he's actually not Jewish.

    On to the bottom of the first, where the Nats' other Z-man, Jordan Zimmermann took the mound. But, again, no more a member of the Jewish tribe than he is of the Cleveland Indians.

    The second inning brought Nats' first base coach Trent Jewett to the field again, but no more Jewish than before. The next day's pitcher, Stephen Strasburg? Nope. So, like in many a Little League game, the Jews went 0 for 4. (The last Nationals player who was Jewish? Jason Marquis.)

    For the Giants, All-Star MVP Melky Cabrera, locally dubbed "the melkman," delivered his baseball-leading 159th hit, and the oxymoronically named Angel Pagan had two more. He and fellow former Met Marco Scutaro led the hit parade, as well as Brandon Belt whose three RBIs offset his twice getting thrown out when trying to take an extra base.

    Madison Bumgarner, taking Rabbi Tarfon one further, decided to not stray from his task but to also complete it, throwing all nine innings for the Giants' 6-1 win. Indeed, the Giants got their only victory over the Nationals all season on Jewish Heritage Night.

    However, the next morning turned the Giants' race for a pennant to penance, as Melky Cabrera was suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs -- the worst instance in baseball history of mixing Melkhik and Fleishik.

    Doug Brook is a writer in Silicon Valley who wonders how much more penance he must do for the Mets to win more pennants. For more information, past columns, other writings, and more, visit For exclusive online content, like us at

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.