We’ve reached what may be the saddest time of the year.
Not because the fervor, intensity and communal connections of the High Holidays are behind us, unlikely to be approached again for most of us until Passover, if at all before next September.
Not because the summer heat has faded and drained the relief and fun of the swimming pool.
Not because my birthday and that of my wife have come and gone, an annual reminder that we seem to get older but never wiser.
It’s because baseball season is all but over.
Sure, we’re right in the middle of the playoffs, and there’s every reason to hope for a postseason packed with thrills, drama, heroes and goats, including (as of this writing) the possibility that Cleveland could win its first World Series in almost 70 years and ease the pain of watching the Browns try to play football every Sunday.
But each playoff game takes us closer to the last strike of the year and reminds us that the season could be done as soon as Oct. 28.
And for fans of the Atlanta Braves (or my beloved Cincinnati Reds), the fun ended less than 24 hours after the shofar sounded to close Yom Kippur. For those of us who cheer on losing teams — neither the Braves nor the Reds have sniffed the playoffs the past four years, and both are riding epic postseason losing streaks anyway — the words of Unetaneh Tokef could be changed to “who shall be traded, who shall get raises, who shall be waived, who shall win awards, who shall be sent to AAA, who shall be sold to Japan, who shall retire and be heard from no more.”
I can’t express the emptiness in my life without baseball available to live-stream for six hours every night. I’m faced with the prospect of doing something productive with my time, such as reading books, catching up on the backlog of stories I have to write or even spending time with my family.
But let’s not go quietly into that darkened dugout. There’s still time to celebrate the successes of Jewish ball players with local ties and dream of the great futures that could await them.
At the top of the list is Braves left-handed pitcher Max Fried, who ended 2016 as a playoff hero for the South Atlantic League champion Rome Braves but in July found himself in the middle a miserable year at Double-A Mississippi, with an ERA approaching 6, recurring blisters and the danger of being left behind in a farm system packed with promising pitching prospects.
Then, out of the blue, the Braves promoted him to the big leagues, and the 23-year-old Californian transformed back into the former first-round draft pick who was justified in wearing No. 32 as a tribute to Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax.
Fried pitched in relief, then got his first major-league win as a starter by shutting down the defending champion Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field. His totals as a major-leaguer: a 1-1 record in nine games with a 3.81 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 26 innings.
But he’s not the only pitcher who should excite Jewish baseball fans in Atlanta:
- Brandon Gold, the Davis Academy/Johns Creek High/Georgia Tech product, worked his way up to the High-A California League in his second pro season. He ran out of gas as the summer ended, but the Colorado Rockies farmhand finished with a respectable 8-8 record and 4.37 ERA in 25 starts.
- Matthew Gorst, Gold’s teammate in high school and college, also earned a promotion to High-A. Working as a reliever in the Boston Red Sox system, he went 7-5 with four saves and a 2.75 ERA.
- Keith Weisenberg, a Braves draftee who spent the summer in rookie ball in Danville, Va., had a solid start to his pro career as a relief pitcher, compiling a 3-2 record with one save and a 3.24 ERA.
We might not see any of these four in the big leagues next year. Other than Fried, they all face long odds ever to make it. But hope springs eternal, and it’s only four months until pitchers and catchers report to spring training.