Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Season Ends; A New Year Begins

As part of my speech at my daughter’s bat mitzvah twenty years ago, I noted that being Jewish and being a White Sox fan both involve large amounts of tradition and faith.  For example,  “As Jews we say, ‘Next year in Jerusalem,’ while as White Sox fans we simply say, ‘Wait ‘til next year.’” In 2011 and as 5771 becomes 5772, the end of the regular baseball season and the beginning of the Jewish New Year coincide almost exactly, making the perfect time to think a bit about both.

Sox fans started the season with high expectations based on solid starting pitching, a new left-handed power hitter and a pretty solid line-up both on the field and in the bullpen. I won’t rehash the disastrous start to the season, only to note through early June, I’d seen 7 wins and only 2 losses, which at one time consisted of half of the team’s home-park victories. During the week of May 16-22, I attended three games in five days, all with my cousin Jim and all Sox wins. The season was looking up, after seeing Mark Buehrle break the MLB record for most interleague wins with a 9-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers and former Sox hurler Jon Garland. By June 9, the Sox were now only 3 games under .500 and 5½ games out of first place. Then tragedy struck the next day.

Alex Rios crosses home plate vs. the Dodgers,
May 21, 2011

Jim, one of the world’s foremost pediatric oncologists, would miss the next homestand in early June for his annual rafting trip with former Camp Ojibwa young men in the Grand Canyon. Before departing, he told me after 15 years it would be his last, owing to various complications. While watching the Sox about to blow another game in the late innings, I received a call from my cousin Cathy. “Are you sitting down?” she asked. “Jimmy’s gone.” I knew what she meant. My first thought was an accident but it turned out to be most likely a heart attack.

Dr. Jim Nachman

Rather than refer directly to my blog item about Jim – “Requiem for Doc Nach” – I’m including a link below from a blog post by the mother of a former patient. Please read it; he was an incredible man, pure and simple. I proceeded to see the Sox lose 10 of the next 12 games, with final win coming on the second-to-last game of the season. Some were major blowouts, leading to early exits from the ballpark.

Thus the season turned out to be a huge disappointment. Ozzie is gone, Buehrle’s probably gone and 2005 is a distant memory. I guess it’s fitting, since it pales in perspective to Jim being gone. The photograph below was taken at my second game back after Jim’s death, the first in his seats. After posting the photo on the Internet, stating I still couldn’t grasp Jim was gone, a friend gave some good advice: think in terms of “he won’t be here today.” I’ve thought that way in my five subsequent games in Section 126, Row 9; it helps but it still hurts.

Section 126, Row 9 Seats 1-4

Cathy is going to keep Jim’s Sox tickets for next season because the experience, she says, “is my life.” I know of what she speaks. Dad took me to my first Sox game either 53 or 54 years ago. Although we weren’t season-ticket holders, we attended a number of games every year, including the last one together behind the Yankees dugout on a sold-out Bat Day (see my November 2010 blog entry “The Major Gives Us a Day to Remember”). I had tears in my eyes after the final out at Comiskey Park in 1990, as I saw my life flash before me. That same year I attended the last Opening Day at the old ballpark with Jim (the only time in a suit and tie) and enjoyed many other games with him, including Game 1 of the 2005 World Series, the 2008 tiebreaker and Buehrle’s perfect game. I missed Jim’s presence when Buehrle basically said his farewells after last night’s game. Opening Day 2012, my third “new year,” just won’t be the same either.

View from Section 126, Sept. 13, 2011

This Rosh Hashanah thus becomes a time of more reflection. My uncle Alan passed away in July, after leading an almost entirely healthy 82 years, in California. I have two friends – Mitch and John – who are battling serious health issues. This provides perspective on what’s truly important in life. Given my various strokes of luck and good fortune, I am still very thankful at this holiday season. L'shana tova tikateivu v'teihateimu – sh'nat osher, bri'ut, v'shalom. I wish all my family and friends a happy, healthy and peaceful year. And a division title at the least would be nice too.

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