By Joel Swedlove, JCC Maccabi Sports Camp Program Manager
Editor’s Note: This article was written before the World Series
There are obviously important physical skills to be gained by participating in sports but what you learn about yourself, others, and life that truly makes sports a meaningful endeavor. How to be a person of strong character, one of the core values of JCC Maccabi Sports Camp, is frequently on display in youth sports and in the professional ranks. My journey as a Giants fan has enabled me to witness the good and the bad of what strong character looks like.
I was born in 1987, which for a San Francisco Giants fan is the baseball equivalent of being born under a bad sign. That year the Cardinals beat the Giants in 7 games, after the Giants led the series 3-1, but failed to score a run over the last 22 innings. It was a brutal defeat, but if you grow up a Giants fan you get used to them quickly.
I attended my first baseball game on April 12,1993. Walking through the tunnel to my seats at Candlestick Park I was in awe of the colors of the ballpark, as the orange seats shimmered in the spring sun while the green grass glistened like the Emerald City of Oz. That day marked not only my first baseball game, but also the first home game for the newest Giant, Barry Bonds. The prodigal son did not disappoint and by the time his second inning home run had cleared the right field fence I had found my favorite baseball player. Over the next 15 years I idolized Barry Bonds. I tried to learn how to hit left-handed (that didn’t go well). I wanted to play left field (that too didn’t go well). I wanted to hit home runs (you get the idea).
As I grew up, I started to take notice of how Barry’s teammates responded to him. They gave him perfunctory congratulations as he shattered records, but it was clear he was a man apart. Barry was the proverbial “I” in team. When he retired in 2007 it felt as though a great cloud had been lifted. For the first time in my life the Giants began to become a team, not Barry and 24 other guys. After winning titles in 2010 and 2012, I was sure those teams had been the definition of a “team” — no amazing superstars just 25 guys working together.
The past few weeks, however my mind has changed. After every single Giants win, members of the team fall over themselves to deliver genuine congratulatory handshakes and heap praise on their teammates. When the Giants beat the Nationals in the NLDS every player mentioned how much they wanted to win for Tim Hudson, a 16 year veteran who had never advanced past the first round and was now that much closer to the career-long dream of pitching in a World Series. When Travis Ishikawa sent the Giants into the World Series this year, every post-game interview featured a variation of “so happy for Travis” or “we know how much this means to him”.
At JCC Maccabi Sports Camp one of our core values is Tikkun Middot, hebrew for Building Character. We instill in every camper that win or lose, the game should be played the right way and you should put your teammates first. It is easy to be gracious and share praise when things are going well, but the moment for me this postseason was after the Game 3 loss to the Washington Nationals. Pitcher Madison Bumgarner had a costly error during the game. Afterwards reporters asked both him and catcher Buster Posey about the error. Both men could have justifiably blamed the other for the mistake, but instead they both took responsibility. In the face of defeat what mattered most to them was that they would stand up for their teammates.
I am envious of the young Giant fans who are growing up with this team. Not because of the Championships, but because they are learning to love the game from guys who play it the right way. The Babylonian Talmud says “Kol Yisrael Aravim Zeh Bazeh — All of Israel is responsible for one another.” No team represents that attitude more than this group of baseball players as indicated by the sign on the door of the Giants clubhouse that says “25 Guys…One Common Goal”
This week as the Giants play in the World Series let’s all take a moment to really appreciate what it looks like when a player cares more about the person next to them, than they do themselves.