Three Strikes and You’re a Winner — Parasha Achare Mot

Dave and Mike, both in their 90s had played professional baseball together and, after they retired, they remained close friends. Dave suddenly fell deathly ill. Mike visited Dave on his deathbed. After they talked a while and it became obvious that Dave had only a few more minutes to live, Mike said, “Listen, old friend. After you die, try and get a message back to me. I want to know if there is baseball in heaven.

With his dying breath, Dave whispers, “If G-d permits, I’ll do my best to get you an answer.”

A few days after Dave died, Mike is sleeping when he hears Dave’s voice.

Dave says, “Mike, I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that, yes, there IS baseball in heaven. The bad news is, you’re scheduled to pitch at the top of tomorrow’s double header.”(

Death is usually no laughing matter. Our parasha for this week opens with reminding us of the death of Aaron’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu. They perished on what was perhaps the greatest day of their young lives. The Tabernacle had been completed, and Aaron and his sons had been instructed on how to offer the sacrifices of the people. Seven days of consecration of the Tabernacle had been celebrated. Now, on the eight day, Aaron was to be ordained as the High Priest of Israel and his sons as priests who would serve underneath him. Everything was going according to plan, until two of his sons, Nadav and Avihu decided to offer what the Torah describes as “an alien fire” in the Tabernacle. A fire comes out from the Tabernacle and consumes them. What was to have been the happiest day of their and their parents lives ends in the bitterest of tragedies.

One of the reasons we break a glass at the conclusion of a Jewish wedding ceremony is related to this story. It was once widely believed that demons bent on mischief were particularly attracted to fortunate people – like brides and grooms. Therefore, to ward away bad luck, a glass is broken to scare away the demons. The story of Aaron’s sons reminds us that even at our happiest times, misfortune can come out of nowhere.

It is true, that sometimes life can throw you a curveball. Or, in the case of baseball player Adam Greenberg, it was a fastball. Adam was nervous and excited when he was called to the Big Leagues in July of 2005 by the Chicago Cubs. Not many Jewish kids make it to the Major Leagues. Only 1% of the players in the Major Leagues are Jewish. Since 2% of the population of the United States is Jewish, that makes us vastly underrepresented in Professional baseball. Of course, we are vastly over-represented in other areas – 22% of Nobel Prize Winners, for example, have been Jewish. On the other hand, who would you rather have batting in the bottom of the ninth inning of the World Series with the bases loaded and the tying run on third – Jewish Nobel prize winning quantum physicist Roy J. Glauber or Cubs catcher Kyle Schwarber?  Nobel Prize winning writer Bob Dylan or Cubs infielder Kris Bryant? You don’t have to be Joe Madden to figure that one out!

In any case, Adam Greenberg, Jewish kid from Connecticut, achieves his life ambition of making it to the major leagues.  The young man was a remarkable athlete. He lettered in baseball, basketball and soccer all four years of High School. He was captain of his baseball team for his junior and senior years, was a four-time All-Conference and All-Area, and was the first player in Connecticut history to be named to four All-State teams. He was team captain of his High School soccer team his Junior and Senior years in High School as well. In soccer he was a three-time All-Conference, All-Area, and All-State selection. He was a High School All-American selection in soccer in 1998. He went on to play college baseball for North Carolina. In his Junior year he batted .337, stole 35 bases, scored 80 runs, and homered 17 times. He was named to the All-Conference team and was selected by the Cubs in the 2002 baseball draft.

On July 9, 2005, Greenberg stepped into the batter’s box for his first “at bat” in the Major Leagues. It was the beginning of what he hoped would be a long career in baseball. It was one of the happiest days of Adam Greenberg’s life. His parents, his friends, his entire community back in Connecticut were so proud of him. He had achieved something special. On the mound was Marlins pitcher Valerio de Santos. The first pitch to Greenberg was a 92 mile an hour fastball. It hit him on the back of the head. As Greenberg lay sprawled at home plate the pitcher, de Santos feared that he had killed Greenberg. Greenberg was able to leave the game under his own power. For the next two years he suffered from symptoms of a concussion and vertigo. He felt, however, that he had to continue to fight through those symptoms if he were ever to get a chance to return to the Major Leagues.

Adam Greenberg continued to play baseball professionally but never made it back into the Majors. Then in 2012 he was signed to a one day contract with the Florida Marlins of the National League. Having been hit by a pitch on his only plate appearance, Greenberg had not been credited with an official “at bat” in the Majors. The Marlins would give him an opportunity to play in a game so that he might record an official “at bat”. So on October 2, 2012, Adam Greenberg once again stepped into the batter’s box at Florida’s Marlin Stadium. The atmosphere was electric. As Greenberg walked to the plate in the bottom of the sixth as a pinch hitter, the crowd gave him a standing ovation. Aerosmith’s “The Dream” played over the loudspeakers. His new teammates cheered him on. His parents and his friends were watching from box seats. He was facing the Mets knuckleballer R. A. Dickey. Dickey would go on to win the Cy Young Award for the best pitcher in the National League that year. Dickey wound up and threw the first pitch for a strike. The second pitch came in – a swing and a miss!  Greenberg was determined to swing at the next pitch wherever it was. He did not want to be called out on strikes. The pitch came. Greenberg swung for strike three. He would not get another chance to bat. He retired from baseball five months later.

Some people might have considered themselves a failure had they gone through what Adam Greenberg went through. Some people might have become bitter over their bad luck. Not Adam Greenberg. Greenberg said that he learned that it is not about accomplishing your goal that determines success or failure. It is about what you do in the process of accomplishing your goal that is important, the work you do to try to get there.

Adam Greenberg said that he drew upon the lessons of the Jewish people to help him deal with his misfortune. Jews, he said, have had to overcome many obstacles at every stage of our history. Jews have had to persevere. We see that in the story of Aaron and his surviving sons. Although their first day as priests was a tragic one, they too persevered and established a religious institution that would endure for thousands of years.

Shabbat Shalom