The following post is part three of a three-part series called “In the Big Inning: Reflections on Baseball, God and Camp.” Dreamed up one early Saturday morning on the camp baseball diamond, Rabbi Craig Marantz (Congregation Kol Haverim, Glastonbury, CT), Greg Kellner (Senior Assistant Director, URJ Crane Lake Camp), and Ben Meyers (Crane Lake Camp Counselor and Baseball Coach) offer their thoughts on America’s favorite pastime and their Jewish journies. The third part is written by Ben Meyers.
When I applied to be on the baseball staff at Crane Lake camp, I looked back on my baseball career. At first, I remembered that I have been to every Mets opening day since my birth (19 if you’re counting at home). Then I recalled the best and worst games I have had on the diamond. I remembered the diving catch I made in my first little league game and the 13 runs I gave up as the starting pitcher in the championship game. I remembered the travel, keeping score on the bench, team dinners, inter-camp tournaments, and the endless drills. After looking back on my career, I realized that these moments may have had an impact on me as a ballplayer, but it was the coaching that had the most impact on me as a person. This is why I decided to become a baseball coach.
As Rabbi Craig mentioned (In Part 1), Jewish values can be learned in any walk of life, not just in the outdoor sanctuary or under the Limud tree. Some people are drawn to music, others are drawn to art, but for me it was always baseball. As a camper at CLC, I never wanted to participate in arts and crafts, Limud, or Israeli dance. I always wanted to be on the baseball field. Despite the fact that I didn’t connect to Judaism through the normal facets of the religion, I still feel a connection to the religion today; a connection I gained partially through being on the diamond.
During specialist week, before any of the campers had arrived to camp, Calvin, Brandon, and I decided to come up with a list of goals we had for the summer. Having the most experience coaching the sport, Calvin facilitated the discussion. At the end of the discussion, we decided that our two biggest goals were to ensure that every single camper improved his or her skillset for baseball and for life and, of course, to have fun.
Although I had experience in the past, at first, being a coach at CLC was not an easy task. It was difficult to adjust to the different age groups, skillsets, and levels of experience of the campers. After our first inter-camp tournament, I remembered why I had decided to become a coach. After blowing a big lead against Camp Lenox and losing the game, Calvin brought all of the players, mostly Olim boys, to the side. Instead of making them run or do push-ups, Calvin gave a speech that hopefully resonated with the campers, but definitely resonated with me. He told the campers that win or lose, it’s important to never give up and respect the game. During our late inning collapse, campers were throwing their hats on the ground, getting upset with each other, and sulking on the bench. Calvin made it clear that when things don’t go the way that the campers want them to, it is never ok, in any walk of life, to behave in such a way. This speech brought back memories of my coaches – Danny, Mike, Phil, and Calvin. Although these coaches weren’t Jewish, I learned countless Jewish values while on the field with them.
This summer was one of my favorite summers at camp. Working with Calvin, Brandon, and eventually Eli was an awesome experience. Whether it was playing Eisner in softball, running the daily activity periods, or going out to dinner in Pittsfield, the four of us had a lot of fun, which is what camp is all about. While having a great time, we learned from each other and passed our knowledge of baseball and life down to the campers, which enhanced our experience as well as theirs. I can’t wait until next summer, as Brandon and I are eager to have an even bigger role alongside Calvin in making the baseball program at CLC as successful as possible.