The joys of catching a baseball at the Giants’ Jewish heritage night — thrown by a Jewish player
There’s always been something special for me about Giants games.
As a kid growing up in San Francisco, I learned the ins and outs of the sport from my dad, the biggest baseball fan there ever was. I was born in April, and my dad told my mom when she was pregnant that if she went into labor on Opening Day, I needed to be delivered in the stadium.
I attended my first ballgame when I was one month old. I grew up with season tickets. I was there to cheer the Giants on as they played in the 2010, 2012, and 2014 World Series. I walked the bases on Sunday afternoons, where I smiled as I ran across home plate and received a See’s lollipop in my hand — a Giants postgame tradition for young fans.
And year after year, I attended Jewish Heritage Night — an opportunity for Giants-loving members of the tribe to schmooze, celebrate and cheer for the home team. It’s an event that’s become essential to my sense of Jewish community. And at this year’s game, I had an experience that hit home — literally! — how much this ritual, however easily dismissed as frivolous, means to me.
In my family, baseball and Judaism have always gone hand-in-hand. My younger brother’s bar mitzvah party was Giants-themed: team posters on the walls, orange suits and orange ties, and yarmulkes embroidered with the interlocking S.F. logo for party favors.
And our very Jewish love for baseball didn’t stop with the Giants. Trips to visit relatives out of state always included a stop at the local baseball stadium — no Passover at my grandparents’ in New York is complete without seeing both the Mets and the Yankees in person.
And above all, we love Jewish heritage nights at the ballpark — the pinnacle of any season. Every year leading up to the Giants’ Jewish heritage night, we wonder what creative Jewish-related tchotchke the team will give out — a precious keepsake bound to become the newest addition to the impressive (and embarrassing) collection of Giants memorabilia we have on display at our house. Already included: a rabbi bobblehead from one heritage night, an orange-and-black Giants menorah from another, and a team shirt printed in Hebrew from a third.
This year, the chosen item turned out to be a bobblehead of Gabe Kapler, the manager of the Giants, who is Jewish. Alas, that much-wished-for trinket isn’t bobbing alongside the rabbi in my family’s collection. By the time my friends and I got to the stadium for this year’s game two weeks ago, they’d already run out.
But the realmagic of Jewish Heritage Night isn’t in the souvenir, but in the scene.
As I arrived, I saw fans showcasing their Jewish pride and Giants team spirit in equal measure. A few synagogue delegations tailgated outside with Hebrew National hot dogs. (No other brand could do.) We saw one man wearing a blue Team Israel baseball cap from the Tokyo Olympics and another in a shirt that said: “Shofar So Good.”
Wandering the concourses to look for dinner, I bumped into my former BBYO regional director, whom I hadn’t seen in five years. And after my friends and I got on the video board during a mid-inning sing-along — we were so over the top with our dancing they put us up there three separate times — some long-lost friends who saw us on screen made their way over to our section to catch up.
Beyond reunions with old friends and the unfulfilled promise of a Kapler memento, the main attraction of this year’s game was Joc Pederson, the hunky Jewish outfielder whose Cali-bum swagger has made him an icon in the sport — and one of two Jewish players at the 2022 MLB All-Star Game. Our seats in the right field bleachers were right behind Pederson’s post in the outfield, which meant we could spend all game hooting and hollering in his general direction.
And hoot and holler, we did.
Either out of the goodness of his heart or fatigue from hearing us screaming “throw it here!” for several innings — we’ll never know — our Hebrew hero eventually obliged. As Joc warmed up before the bottom of the sixth, he lobbed one right to us.
Reader, we were not ready for the five-ounce cowhide-and-cork projectile flying in our direction. The ball ricocheted off my arm, and landed on the ground in front of us, knocking over our drinks in the process. And that’s how I “caught” — yes, future generations will hear that I caught it with my bare hands — my first ball at an MLB game. A Jewish heritage night miracle!
I woke up Friday morning to a black-and-blue bruise where the ball hit me. It was worth it: the official MLB baseball that caused it now has pride of place in our family Giants shrine. The bruise will fade away, but the memory won’t.
And maybe I’ll get that elusive Kapler bobblehead on eBay.