Paul Heinz

Original Fiction, Music and Essays

When Religion and Sports Intersect

When the Packers and Bears met up for the NFC Championship last January, it was a match made in heaven: division rivals with the longest history of any two teams in the NFL.  The upcoming Brewers-Cardinals matchup for the National League Championship may have less history, but given the recent contention between these two teams and the memories of the ’82 World Series, this duel has a similar feel. 

Twenty-nine years after the Cardinals took the October Classic in seven, the teams are now in different leagues, the first time I suspect that former World Series foes have met in a league championship.  That two teams from the lowly NL Central would represent the NL Championship series is, to say the least, surprising, given that St. Louis was a full 10½ games behind the Atlanta Braves as of late August, and that only two teams in the division finished above five-hundred.  At season’s end, many remarked – with some legitimacy – that the only reason the Brewers had ninety-six wins was because of their weighted schedule against the Cubs, Astros and Pirates.

But here we are.  Friday night produced a stunning pitching outing from Carpenter and a labored pitching outing from Gallardo that was just good enough, propelling both of their teams further into the playoffs.  That’s why they play the game.

I had visions of 1965 Sandy Koufax as my family and I had to abort our baseball-watching evening to attend Yom Kippur service.  The Brewers were just about to wrap things up in the ninth, and I felt grateful that I’d get to see the entire game prior to leaving the house.  But then John Axford showed that he was in fact human, and not just a saves-producing machine, blowing his first save since April.  I rushed the family into the car in a worse mood that I’d been just an inning before.  Yes, I had thoughts of staying put, but I figured, if Koufax could miss a World Series game that he was supposed to pitch in, then perhaps I had no excuse to miss a game I was merely going to watch.

Radio 620, WTMJ Milwaukee comes in clear most evenings down in suburban Chicago, but on Friday night interference made the call by Bob Uecker shaky, and the signal pulsated as if Miller Park were revolving around an axis.  As we made our way to the synagogue, I prayed - PRAYED - that the Brewers would finish things off in time.  Miraculously, the call in the bottom of the tenth was clear as clear as God's call at Mount Sinai: a Gomez single, an advance on a stolen base, and then a game-winning signal by Morgan, the player everyone outside of Milwaukee watches with a degree of disgust. 

I high-fived my daughter and wife, and many at service congratulated me when they heard the news.  Even more people congratulated me the next day after Cubs fans learned that the Brewers would face the Cardinals.  That two division rivals are battling it out in the NL Championship must sting for Cubs fans, but for most, a Brewer victory at this point would be welcome.  In the World Series?  Perhaps not.

Though there should be no more religious-related conflicts for the remainder of the playoffs, this is of little comfort to the Jews of Philadelphia.  Not only did the service start prior to the beginning of the Phillies/Cardinals game, by the time it was over, the Phillies were about to be bounced out of the playoffs.

A fine how-do-you-do to ring in a New Year.

It makes me wonder if Bud Selig managed to scoot out of Miller Park on Friday to attend services, and if so, whether he smuggled in a smart-phone for the occasional update.

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