Labor Day Weekend means that the baseball season is really heated and already focused on who has a shot at the playoffs and who doesn't! The energy and excitement that comes with every hit, run and throw is even more meaningful then it has been the whole season! Great news: the Renegades are still in the playoff race!
Who am I talking about, you ask? The Hudson Valley Renegades (HVR) of the New York – Penn League, of course! Who else could I have been speaking about? They are currently in third place, only 2.5 games back with only 8 games remaining in the season! The Renegades are a minor league affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays and I took my family out to watch them play last week. At a packed Dutchess Stadium where packed means 4,500 seats, the HVR were taking on the Aberdeen Ironbirds, an affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, (FYI, I too have no clue where Aberdeen is located). This wasn’t my first minor league game, and it won’t be my last!
Growing up in the USA, you are taught to love the feel of going out to the ballpark. However, I like many, am disenfranchised with the Major League experience. Most times, I feel it is a Major League disappointment, but keeps the Major League price tag. But in the Minor Leagues, for a whopping $8 a ticket and $5 for parking, you can still take your family out to a fun filled game where you are in arm's reach of the field and every seat is within reach of catching a foul ball. The mascots visit every section in the ballpark and they have by far the wackiest activities between innings to keep everyone focused on the experience. The night we went to the park was designated as Chuck Norris night. There was a random game program sold that night to a member of the audience with the signature of the famous martial arts movie star. To make the evening that more exciting they had this “look-a-like“ playing the part as Chuck. By the way, did you realize that Chuck Norris is now 73 years old!!!
Once we look past all these other aspects of the “experience”, there is still the main event; a baseball game. That is truly the highlight for me. Watching these players put every bit of effort into the game that they grew up adoring, just for the opportunity to perhaps one day make it to the “Bigs,” that in itself is worth so much more than the price of admission! The determination that we see without all of the attitude that goes along with Major League sports is so refreshing and admirable.
However, there's always another type of player in the Minor Leagues. The one that worked and struggled to make it to the Major Leagues, but upon arriving, struggled. Disappointing his manager and teammates, the coaching staff had no other alternative but to demote him back to the minor leagues in order to reflect and refocus himself to get back on track. He had to take the time to find himself in order to fulfill his dream of being a major leaguer. That has to be heart breaking. He tasted what it meant to be at the top and was sent back down. That specific case parallels a thought from Rabbi Yechezkel Mekuzmier. There was a prince who had lost favor in the eyes of his father, the king. The king's anger reached such a point that he banished his son from the palace. His son, left with no choice, turned to the streets and began to live amongst the peasants. Out there on his own, he became a wood chopper. Only able to obtain an ax that was of low quality and dull. He decide to write a letter to his father, the king. In the letter he asks mercy of his father, the king, and pleads that he help him by sending him a new ax. When the letter from his banished son, the exiled prince, arrived the king opened the letter with excitment, assuming his son had reflected on his life and was going to turn himself around and request to be welcomed back into his father's good graces and home. However, when the king read the letter and saw that the request was for nothing more than a high quality ax, the king become even more infuriated with his son and ignored the son's request completely. After many months out of the palace, the son reflected further. He realized that he was the prince, the son of the king. He composed a second letter and asked his father for forgiveness and to be welcomed back home and to be near the king. The king readily did so.
Sound familiar? Many of us spend so much time on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur asking for the preverbal "ax" of wealth, a new job, a spouse, when what our Father truly wants is for us to ask to be close to Him. To have a real relationship with Him. For once we return to our Father's good graces, then He will shower us with all of His goodness in true abundance. All of the side requests is like this demoted player asking for a pair of major league quality flip flops to wear in the locker room instead of asking for more batting practice in order to improve and be invited back up to the major leagues.
So as we head into Labor Day weekend, the 7th inning stretch, after a month of preparation for the High Holidays, let's get focused of what's important, because our Father the King is root, root, root(ing) for the home team and He does care if we never get back!