A mitzvah in Fenway Park?

I realize that this is still a religion-news blog and that we have not, officially, turned into a religion and sports weblog. But, say hey, do we have any baseball fans out there? Tell me that you saw this amazing moment the other day in the baseball cathedral called Fenway Park and did not get a lump in your throat and/or a tear in your eye. No way.

As I watched it, the first word that came into my mind was -- "mitzvah."

Now, as it turns out, we are not talking about the real definition of that Hebrew term, but the unofficial definition that you hear religious and cultural Jews using in daily talk.


Mitzvah, which literally means commandment (from God), is often translated as "good deed." There are 613 commandments (365 negative mitvot and 248 positive ones), which are delineated by the rabbis from the text of the Torah. It is a mitzvah on Rosh HaShana to hear the shofar.

In other words, I am asking who, in the Red Sox, organization had the wisdom -- perhaps "grace" is the right word -- to say, "The timing is right. It's time to close the circle and ask for Bill Buckner's forgiveness and to make our fans face the fact that they need to forgive him."

Do I really need to remind anyone of the context for all of this? Do you really need to click here?

Staging this dramatic scene took nerve, but the results were spectacular. It was also crucial that they had him throw out a pitch on the day that the Red Sox honored the greatest champions in Boston sports history, in all sports. I mean, Bill Russell was out there on the field.

I have no idea if there is a drop of religion in this story, in terms of the motivations of those who put this together. But I know it is impossible to describe the scene without using religious and moral language. Here's the top of the Boston Globe story:

The pause lasted a full 13 seconds. Bill Buckner sat at a table in the Fenway Park interview room, a microphone in front of him, and pondered the question. Had he had second thoughts about throwing out the first pitch at yesterday's home opener and celebration of the 2007 World Series win?

His eyes grew wet and red. Dwight Evans, seated next to him, reached out and put his arm around Buckner.

"I really had to forgive, not the fans of Boston, per se, but I would have to say in my heart I had to forgive the media," Buckner said, after apologizing for taking so long to answer. "For what they put me and my family through. So, you know, I've done that and I'm over that."

But that hardly stopped the emotions. Not on the mound. Not in the interview room.

After all the ceremony, the handing out of rings and hoisting of the championship banner and introducing of Patriots, Bruins, and Celtics legends, there was Buckner walking out from left field to the mound. He walked slowly, perhaps a remnant of those aching ankles and knees that marred his career. And as he walked, the fans cheered.

I also have to admit that my thinking about this event -- in terms of seeing a religion ghost -- was shaped by an amazing discussion on ESPN's Mike & Mike in the Morning show. I wish you could hear that without paying an ESPN Insider fee. The focus was on this question: When does the right to heckle cross a line into conduct that is simply evil. E.V.I.L.

Take, for example, that famous moment involving Arizona University guard Steve Kerr, later of Chicago Bulls and not head of the Phoenix Suns. As Frank Deford wrote at Sports Illustrated:

Perhaps the most tasteless heckling in American sports history came in February 1988, when Steve Kerr was a senior guard at Arizona. His father, Malcolm, had been murdered by terrorists in Beirut in January 1984. Heartless Arizona State students screamed "PLO!" at the bereaved young Kerr as he manfully carried on upon the court.

They also shouted, "Where's your Daddy?" during warm-ups.

Evil. I think that is a word with religious implications for most people. But what happened in Fenway Park the other day was the opposite of that. Has anyone seen follow-up coverage that let's us know more about what was behind that?

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