Play ball!


by Emily Jacobs
Staff Writer

The smell of the hot dogs and the freshly cut grass, the crack of the bat hitting the ball, the roar of the crowd and the crunch of the peanuts all mean one thing: baseball season is here.

Our local Washington Nationals, who went 98 and 64 last season and ended up in the National League East’s first place spot, played their first regular season game against the Miami Marlins this past Monday, winning 2-0. Despite the unfortunate scheduling of the team’s first game during the second-days of Passover (leaving those who celebrate guessing about the score until Tuesday’s newspaper delivery), the Washington Nationals’ Jewish fan base seems to be excited about the start of the season and the return of America’s favorite pasttime.

WJW spoke with three baseball junkies and die-hard Nats fans to learn about their love for the spring sport and their hopes for the D.C. team.

Andrew Gershman, sports writer and author of Modern Day Maccabees

Speaking to this WJW reporter from his seat at the Washington National’s home exhibition game against the Yankees on March 29, Andrew Gershman’s excitement for the 2013 baseball season was clear.

Gershman, who cheered on the Nats at 15 regular season games and three playoff games last year is one of those hardcore fans that has been playing baseball since childhood and has even coached his own children, who were at Friday’s game with him, in the sport.

“It’s just always been a part of my life,” he said. “My favorite part of the game is that it’s a very technical sport, it doesn’t have a clock and it’s at its own pace. I think the rhythm of the game is something you have to be brought up with.”

Relating the nine inning sport to Judaism, Gershman explained that Judaism and baseball have always been related as they are both full of technicalities and rituals.

“The season begins with Pesach and ends right around Yom Kippur,” he joked. “I think it fits right into Judaism in that we love to learn and pick things apart by the details, just like you do in baseball. It fits right into our wheelhouse.”

Gershman did express his disappointment in having to miss the first game due to Passover, but said there are “plenty of opportunities for Jews to come out to games so hopefully no one is disparaged by this.”

With last year’s first place NL East record and playoff experience, Gershman explained that a trip to the World Series for this young team is not out of the question.

“It would be a perfect ending,” he said. “What happens here as far as baseball has been amazing. Even now, looking at the flow of people coming in [to the exhibition game] is incredible. Last year’s exhibition game was empty and you can tell that there is an energy here and that the team has brought a great sense of pride for the city of Washington.”

Greg Rosenbaum, president of Palisades Associates, Inc.

Greg Rosenbaum’s love of baseball began in 1973 when he began to cover the sport as an undergraduate for Harvard University’s radio station. A self-proclaimed “baseball fanatic,” Rosenbaum currently holds season tickets to four teams including the Nationals, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers, and at one point also had season tickets to the Toronto Blue Jays and Cleveland Indians.

Attending nearly 110 baseball games during the course of the six month season, Rosenbaum said that although he “roots hardest for the Nationals” he “holds a special place in [his] heart for the Cleveland Indians, having been born and raised in Ohio.”

With plans to go to opening day for the Red Sox, Rosenbaum attributed the years-long relationship with Jews and baseball to the rich technical side of both the religion and the game.

“Baseball has a strategy and is a tactic for every moment of the game. Jewish people who tend to enjoy intellectual challenges are appealed to by the intellectual nature of baseball, that’s the allure of the sport,” he said. “In addition, there just have been some superstar Jewish players in this history of Major League Baseball, where you can’t really point to any of the other major U.S. sports and say the same thing. Players like Hank Greenberg and Kevin Youkilis have made their mark and been a source of pride for American Jews because of their successes on the baseball diamond.”

Rosenbaum added that his entire family shares his passion for baseball.

“It’s like required. The sport is in the family blood,” he said.

David Harris, former head of the National Jewish Democratic Council

David Harris will tell you that he is a “baseball fan by marriage.”

A Washington Nationals season ticket holder who just returned from watching the team at spring training in Florida, Harris learned his love for the sport from his wife, Megan Draheim, a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan.

“We go to all of the games together,” he said. “The only awkward time is when the Cubs are playing the Nats, then we never really know exactly what to do.”

Harris and Draheim caught the Nats fever upon the team’s return to the District in 2005, a move that Harris feels has really improved the baseball scene in an area dominated by hockey and football.

“As soon as the Nationals returned to Washington after being the Montreal Expos, we started watching them regularly and were thrilled with the move to Nationals Park,” he said. “D.C. has really seen a huge boom in baseball and to have a world class, tremendous baseball team here is great, even though it may still be a long shift from the Redskins or Capitals to the Nats.”

The Jewish connection to baseball, he explained, may come from it being a “thinking game, or that statistics and numbers are so integral to the game, it’s not just a game of boot strings. Baseball is something that American Jews have always been uniquely fascinated by.”

Harris, whose favorite part of every game is the very first pitch, has his eyes set on the World Series for the Nats this year.

“I really expect them to get to the World Series and win it,” he said. “They have a really deep bench and an incredibly strong team and they’re cheered on by an incredibly strong Jewish fan base who come to the games, eat the kosher food [provided by Max’s Kosher Grill] and have a great time supporting their team.”

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