All Star Tisha B'Av by Dan Butler

This is a moral tale, not of the Nineties. In fact, if you're not an observant Jew, there's a likelihood that you will find this very strange…
Passover '93: As a husky eleven-year-old, he's every parent's dream. Straight A's in his Hebrew and Secular subjects at his Jewish Day School. Living in a family rooted it the Jewish American culture, it is no conflict that he beats our all those New Yorkers at the Catskills camp he attends each summer –willing the Talmud prize –AND that he expects to earn his way through college with his baseball card collection. In fact, the dark netherworld under his bed is a virtual Library of Congress for baseball cards" He knows who the players, their records, and what their cards are worth. He's a diehard Pittsburgh Pirates fan. And, while not afflicted with the terminal disappointment that Chicago Cubs fans endure, it is unlikely that there are World Series Tickets in his immediate future.
As the only one of my offspring still awake at the end of the Seder, he had no competition in ransoming the Afikomen he had stolen earlier. And no confusion about what he wanted: TICKETS FOR THE ALL-STAR GAME! "What? What All-Star Game? When?" "In 16 months," he said. "The All-Star Game in 1994 will take place in Pittsburgh. I wan tickets!"
Rolling my eyes, and echoing my mother, some thirty years before, I said, "Hey, there's a one dollar limit on the Afikomen." Rolling his own eyes, he firmly placed the napkin-wrapped matzo under his arm and announced, "I am going to bed," "Okay, okay," I said. "Sure, no problem. All-Star tickets…"
I had no idea what I was getting into. Since we are not season ticket holders, we were not automatically offered the limited number of seats available to the local fans. Those were snapped up immediately. And something of a lottery was held: id you applied for the privilege of purchasing seats located somewhere in the ozone layer, maybe your name would get picked.
Ours didn't.
With a near-photographic memory that recalls his sibling's medical records, major league batting averages and the disputations of Talmudic Rabbis, he had no trouble remembering my commitment. It had been 20 years since the All-Star Game had come to town. It would not happen in this generation…
Late Spring '94: As one of the primary movers-and-shakers in the synagogue Youth Group, he went along when almost 100 of them went to a ballgame early in the season. By the arcane rules that govern such things, the synagogue Youth Group , having made a large ticket purchase, then became eligible to buy two of those sacred tickets. The Youth Leader, a Rabbi of considerable worldliness, decided to hold a raffle for which the prize would be the tickets. And then, on day in May terrible news came…
The Rabbi of the shul had nixed the raffle because it was inappropriate for the synagogue to be raffling off tickets to a celebratory public function during the "Nine Days." The WHAT? you ask, The Nine Days.
The first nine days of the month of Av dominates that portion of the summer known as "the Three Weeks" and lead up to the saddest day of the Jewish year: Tisha B'Av, the Ninth of Av, which commemorates a host of tragedies in the Jewish past from the destruction of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem (on the same date, 400 years apart!), to the expulsion from Spain; along with innumerable massacres, pogroms and general bad luck.
It has long been the custom that as those three weeks reach their last nine days, various mourning customs are followed in keeping with the sober sadness of the season. And a fluke in the Jewish calendar had laid the All-Star break right smack in the middle of those Nine Days.
The Law is pretty specific: It restricts pleasure bathing (e.g. swimming), eating meat (unless on a special occasion, like a Bris), haircuts and of course weddings. Understated in the law, however, are those practices that have evolved in modern times with the general availability of electronic entertainment: Most observant Jews eschew public entertainment. Even those who watch TV generally will avoid it during the Nine Days, or avoid listening to live music. Even recorded music becomes a no-no as the period progresses. After awhile, you begin to develop a feeling for whether some activity is consistent with mourning. At a certain point, it's pretty much seat of the pants. For instance, last year, our Kollel, a bastion of religiosity, held a Good-bye "party" for one of their departing members, apparently reasoning that Good-byes are sad (too many speeches can be sad, too!). Anyway, you get the idea.
So, I called the Rabbi back in May and I said, "Hey, what's the deal with the All-Star Game during the Nine Days?" He said, "Better not to ask…" "There's no music," I said. "After all, Meatloaf will be singing the National Anthem." (He thought he remembered Meatloaf form the yeshiva -where it had been a staple.) "And I know that many observant people go to ballgames during the Nine Days." "Yeah," he said. "But this is a special ballgame. More like a celebration. Better not to ask me for a specific ruling." Then he added: "I'll tell you, though, remember the Davy Crockett craze back in the Fifties? Well, a Davy Crocket movie came out during the Nine Days and I wanted to go. I was a big fan, coonskin cap and all (he has since changes hats) but my father –the rabbi– said 'no way'…"
Apparently it had turned into one of those ever-remembered Jewish character building formative experiences. "But did you eventually see the movie?" "Well, yeah," he said. "But you didn't have to wait 20 years to see it, did you?" He was silent for a moment. "Like I told you, don't ask the question and I won't answer it for you… you're on your own on this one."
So we sat down and talked –the perfect kid and his less-than-perfect father. I explained… "Well, you know about the Nine Days –it's just not something that WE do…" He looked apprehensively solemn and slowly nodded his head. "I guess you're right. We'll watch the game on TV."
Relieved of the obligation to beg, borrow, or steal this elusive tickets -or worse yet, to pay scalpers outrageous prices -I let it go at that.
Erev All-Star Day: After days of subtle announcements listing very religious people we knew who would be going to the game, that super baseball fan had just returned from the All-Star Fan Fest. There you could watch machines making baseball bats, forming gloves, construction baseballs and even sewing multi-colored t-shirts that you could buy on the spot -at grossly inflated prices, of course. His Pittsburgh Pirates knapsack full of his most valuable cards, he had spent the day haggling with dealers from all over the country. Moving from booth to booth, swapping cards with the pros while building up his medical school nest egg.
The city has hyped to a fever pitch. Even the courts were closed so that the police who would have had to testify could be on duty to control the crowds. many times we had carefully reviewed our analysis of the Nine Days question. This is a smart kid. He understood. But I couldn't help wondering if the memory he would have of this time would be the inspirational Davy Crockett kind, of the horrible missed-opportunity kind. In one of our discussions/reviews of the subject, we had come to the conclusion that mane if you got free tickets it would be all right to go because of the terrible wast that would involved. As likely an occurrence at that point as being asked to play in the Game.
We had passed up an opportunity to be at the world's largest movie premier, ever! The remake of Angels in the Outfield shown to 35,000 at the Stadium. After all, it was the Nine Days…
The Night Before the Game: A few of us had volunteered to install an air conditioner for an Israeli woman just released from the hospital after a kidney transplant. The heat was getting to her in the small apartment she and her family were sharing while she recovered. The air conditioner didn't fit the window. We had to find another air conditioner, etc., etc. By the time I got home, I found that I had missed a call front the youth leader at his summer home in the Catskills. It was too late to take him up on the offer to buy those two tickets he had left behind for "only" triple their face value (to benefit the shul, of course). By the time I reached him, he had sold them. "Well," I said, "we weren't so sure whether you can go during the Nine Days anyway." "You're kidding," said the youth leader, also a rabbi. And suddenly I was depressed.
The big day dawned. After morning services, he went to his Talmud study group. Then to his Bar Mitzvah lesson. He did not look happy. The news was full of an investigative report: One of the TV stations had filmed a stadium employee selling tickets out of his car for a thousand dollars a piece. All anybody could talk about was the game. The perfect weather. The traffic. The crowds. The scalpers. Going over it again and again in my mind, I could not understand how I had lost the opportunity to get tickets while I was out doing a good deed –a mitzvah. It just didn't seem fair…
Late in the afternoon, I had one last stop to make. As I had all day to anyone who would listen, I told my woeful tale. Not the part about the Nine Days, just about a glum 12-year-old without a ticket.
"Hey," he said. "A bunch of us who have season tickets usually go together, but some of the guys didn't want to buck the crowds –so they're not going. You may as well take their tickets so they don't go to waste. Then you and your son could to."
We got there early. Got a great parking space. Stood for the National Anthem with our caps on our heads but our hands over our hearts. )The hand on the heart neutralized the hostility of people who think you should be taking off your hat.) The National League won. They always do when the game goes into extra innings. (Nine times in a row, so far.)
Years ago I went to what might now e called an Ultra-Orthodox camp. During the Nine Days we went on outings. That made us happy. Admittedly not as happy as my husky 12-year-old at the All-Star Game. But hey, we'll be sad for the rest of the week. And we'll turn down any wedding invitations that come our way.
I did feel kind of guilty the morning after, though, when he asked me if he was allowed to tell people that we had fine to the Game...