With a New Baseball Season Comes a Chance to Start Afresh - on and Off the Field

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Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Kevin Gausman (39) throws a pitch during the fourth inning of a spring training game, Mar 13, 2014, Tampa, FL, U.S.A.Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Tonight, Sunday March 30, 2014, baseball fans America-wide will celebrate the eve of a pseudo-national holiday: Opening Day. Some of us will play hooky from work to stay at home and watch the first game of the Major Baseball League season on television, or travel to the ballpark to watch the action in person. Some will even join the movement encouraging President Obama to officially declare this day a national holiday.

We are celebrating the beginning of a new season and with it the opportunity to make a fresh start. As a lifelong fan of the Baltimore Orioles, I have spent many seasons suffering from heartache and disappointment as my underachieving team is systematically eliminated from playoff contention early on in the season. Yet by the time a new year rolls round and Opening Day is upon me yet again, I find myself decked out in regalia and apparel, ready to cheer for my favorite team. Every year, like all hopeful baseball fans, I believe that this season the Orioles will become World Series Champions; I am convinced that “this year is our year.”

Maybe that hope stems from the smell of fresh cut grass and the rays of sunshine that herald the arrival of spring. Maybe it comes from the crack of the bat. Or maybe it is a result of the constant reminders that beer, soda, peanuts and Cracker Jacks are for sale. Whatever the reason, by the time Opening Day rolls around, I am ready for a new start.

As I prepare for this new beginning as a baseball-obsessed American, I also prepare for a new beginning as a Jew. This week, we enter the Hebrew month of Nissan. During this month, self-reflection is particularly important, for it is the first month in the Torah (Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, occurs on the first day of Tishrei, which is referred to in the Torah as “the seventh month”). It is also the month in which we celebrate Passover, rejoicing in our people’s freedom and the new beginnings and opportunities that stemmed from that freedom.

With Nissan, we begin our seasonal year, leaving winter behind and celebrating spring. Buds appear on previously barren tree branches and animals awake from hibernation. Nissan is about rebirth. It gives us the opportunity to seize the future with a fresh start. Winter becomes a distant memory as we luxuriate in spring. We may remember the past, but are optimistic about the future.

How blessed we are to be able to rid ourselves of the negativity of our pasts and have a clean slate, a fresh start and a new beginning. As a baseball fan, I can put the disappointments of past seasons behind me. Previous statistics no longer matter. Win-loss records can be thrown out. The new season allows for new opportunities to prove who we are and what we can do.

The true beauty of Opening Day is that everyone starts at the same place. There are not yet winners and losers, there are not yet failed expectations or Cinderella stories. Instead, every team believes they can succeed.

Likewise, the new Hebrew month of Nissan and the ensuing celebration of freedom during Passover allow each individual to start afresh. Our failures of the past are a thing of the past. Our statistics, both positive and negative, do not matter. Instead, we begin anew. With springtime, we too come out of hibernation. With springtime, we too are reborn. With springtime, we too have the opportunity to seize the future, as long as we see ourselves as champions.

Believing in ourselves and what the future holds, we can “root, root, root for the home team.”

Rabbi Jesse Olitzky serves as part of the clergy team at the Jacksonville Jewish Center in Jacksonville, FL. You can follow more of his thoughts on his personal blog and on Twitter: @JMOlitzky

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