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Hello Again, Baseball

As Major League Baseball’s opening day nears, prepare yourself by visiting a new online museum about Jews and America’s Pastime

Jonathan Zalman
March 30, 2016
Flickr / Boston Public Library
Jimmie Foxx and Hank Greenberg. Flickr / Boston Public Library
Flickr / Boston Public Library
Jimmie Foxx and Hank Greenberg. Flickr / Boston Public Library

Back need to come the days, as it plays out in Don Delillo’s “Pafko at the Wall,” when 14-year-old boys feel the game of baseball with such fervor that they skip school and head to the Polo Grounds, where they sneak into the ballgame by hopping ticket booths so that, eventually, they can witness the Shot Heard ‘Round the World. From Delillo:

He runs up a shadowed ramp and into a crossweave of girders and pillars and spilling light. He hears the crescendoing last chords of the national anthem and sees the great open horseshoe of the grandstand and that unfolding vision of the grass that always seems to mean he has stepped outside his life—the rubbed shine that sweeps and bends from the raked dirt of the infield to the high green fences. It is the excitement of a revealed thing. He runs at quarter speed, craning to see the row of seats, looking for an inconspicuous wedge behind a pillar. He cuts into an aisle in Section 35 and walks down into the heat and smell of the massed fans, he walks into the spoke that hands from the underside of the second deck, he hears the talk, he enters the deep buzz, he hears the warmup pitches crack into the catcher’s mitt, a series of reports that carry a comet’s tail of secondary sound.

Then we lose him in the crowd.

Of course, the Polo Grounds is no more (and neither are the New York Giants for that matter), but this opening image in Delillo’s novella, which would eventually lead his novel Underworld, will live on forever in my memory of beloved and evocative baseball “scenes.”

And I’m not saying kids should skip school to go see baseball games—although, heck, why not everyone once in a while? What I’m saying is that long gone are the days of baseball as America’s Pastime and I hope, given that Bud Selig (who’s Jewish, by the way) is no longer acting Commissioner, that Major League Baseball makes a resurgence in the bodies and minds of the people of the U S of A who currently give a larger share of their eyeballs to the NFL. Sigh.

Basically: I hope baseball makes a comeback. Sunday, opening day for the 2016 MLB season, is a good time to start. The new year—in case you missed it the Kansas City Royals (!) are World Champions—begins with a triple-header: St. Louis Cardinals at the Pittsburgh Pirates (1 p.m.), followed by the Toronto Blue Jays at the Tampa Bay Rays (formerly of the bedeviled sort) (4 p.m.), and the New York Mets in Kansas City for a rematch of last year’s World Series (8 p.m.).

Perhaps there’s more incentive now to get back—or fall deep into—baseball, at least for the Jews, many of whom have written into their identities the feats of Hall of Famers Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax. But the relationship between Jews and baseball runs deeper than Greenberg and Koufax, of course, and now there’s an online place for it, at least in part: The Jewish Baseball Museum.

The online museum was created by Jeff Aeder, a Chicago-based real estate investor and Cubs fan, reported JTA.

The Jewish Baseball Museum is a passion project for Aeder, 54, who says he has amassed one of the largest collections of Jewish baseball memorabilia in the country. His collection, which is showcased on the site, comprises some 2,000 objects—among them are a Ron Blomberg bat with a Star of David on the knob and a letter written by Greenberg to a friend during World War II—and approximately 2,500 pre-1990 baseball cards of Jewish players.

And the website is a really nice starting place for baseball history, let alone Jewish baseball history. Here are some highlights:

Jewish baseball trivia (Jewish baseball trivia! Jewish baseball trivia!)

— Biographies of notable Jewish players, such as Koufax, Al Rosen, and Sid Schacht, and many, many more.

— A timeline of Jewish baseball history, featuring moments from great players like Lip Pike.

— Baseball stories, such as “The Impact of Ken Holtzman’s First No-Hitter on a Young Jewish Boy”

“Of all the [Jewish] ballplayers who’ve played in the major leagues, everybody always says Koufax and Hank Greenberg,” Aeder told JTA. “But when you learn and read about people like Jimmie Reese [born James Herman Solomon], Al Rosen, Sy Rosenthal, Moe Berg, there are just so many people. And they have unbelievable stories.”

Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.