The night before Kol Nidre, a childhood friend and I made a baseball fan’s equivalent of aliyah—a trip to Fenway Park which, along with Wrigley Field, comprise the Jerusalem and Tzfat of major league ballparks. Even the most devout Yankee fan will concede that Fenway is a mythical center of religious life, a towering relic of history and mystical anguish, of prayer and belated redemption, of ancient ritual and sacrifice (bunts).
It was a spiritual mission; we’d come to see the Houston Astros, emissaries from our part of the Diaspora, play the mighty Red Sox. And it was a perfect night, the late-September air was tonic with the smell of Narragansett Lager and the promise of autumn. And the ‘Stros also crushed the mighty Red Sox. We watched with wonder as Alex Bregman, Houston’s stud third baseman once touted in these pages as a possible heir to Greenberg, knocked a two-run homer over the Green Monster.
The next night, as I recited the Kol Nidre, Bregman not only played, but drilled another two-run homer and drove in all three runs. The final score: Bregman 3, Red Sox 2.
Normally, this is where a jinx would begin. But the Houston Astros have nothing to jinx. The Astros are the last, best embodiment of the concept of the olam haba, of striving for good for no other reason than the hope of redemption in the world to come.
The world to come may or may not have been on mind as I stood silent at Yankee Stadium during Game Four of the American League Championship Series, watching the Astros blow a comfortable lead in the bottom of the eighth and lose to the home team in what felt less like a ballgame and more like a demonstration of divine judgment. “Forget it,” the voice from above seemed to say, “you’re an Astros fan. Joy will not be yours in this lifetime.”
Until, of course, it was: The Astros beat the Yankees in the two final games of the series, sealed by a miraculous Bregman throw in the decisive seventh game. And yesterday, the team began their second-ever appearance in the Fall Classic, still having never won a World Series game in 55 years of existence.
Despite another Bregman home run off the invincible Clayton Kershaw, we lost Game One to the Dodgers. We may even be swept again, just as we were once before. But I don’t care. A lifetime of rooting for the Astros made me a fan; this year made me a believer, showing me that baseball’s greatest depths and brightest highs—the places that make the game so interesting—both lie beyond our comprehension.
To truly root for a team like the Astros is a lot like celebrating Passover, an ongoing ritual of great sorrow clearing the path to a moment of heavenly revelation and then to decades of erring in the wilderness, hoping for the best. To truly root for a team like the Astros is to know that baseball, like life, is about the major fall and the minor lift. To truly root for a team like the Astros is to accept that some traditions have a grip that not even pine-tar can match. Watching them this year taught me that. And faced with this wisdom, I’ve nothing to say but recite the ancient blessing my ancestors before me chanted with shaky lips: Go Astros.