14 Tamuz 5781 / Thursday, June 24, 2021 | Torah Reading: Balak
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The Tougher League    

The Tougher League

Baseball fans sigh with relief that Yom Kippur is early this year, so they won't miss the World Series. One ballplayer learned about teshuva from his rise to the Major League..


Marty Cohn was offered a major-league baseball contract already at the end of his senior year in high school, where he was all-state batting champion and voted Most Valuable Player in the New York State high-school championship game during which he hit the winning homerun and made several spectacular catches as Albany High's centerfielder. Several major-league scouts attended the game, and both the Mets and the Yankees offered him contracts. With the money they were offering, it didn't pay for Marty to even think about college. He had a fabulous career ahead of him in professional baseball, especially after finishing his senior year with a remarkable batting average of .405, as if he were a high-school Ted Williams. He signed with his favorite team, the Yankees.


The Yankees moved Marty directly up to their AA League Team, Trenton Thunder. Marty played brilliantly on defense out in center field, using his height of 6'3" and his fantastic speed to rob many a batter of homeruns and sure hits. Yet, batting was a different story. Even though he hit an impressive .289 in his rookie year, he was disappointed in himself. This wasn't anywhere near his high-school batting average.

In his second year as a professional baseball player in the Yankees farm system, he was moved up to the triple-A League Team, the Scranton RailRiders. That year, his batting average again dropped to .259, 30 points lower than his rookie year in the AA League. This time, Marty was determined to do better. During the off-season, he worked out heavily with a private trainer. He became even faster and stronger than he was. The next year, his third as a professional, he hit a dazzling .313, performing marvelously in the outfield on defense and hitting the ball with much more confidence at the plate.


Marty received a wonderful gift on his 22nd birthday right before Spring Training of his fourth year. The Yankees, in need of a power hitter and better outfielder, called up Marty to the Major League tryouts in spring training. He made the team.


In mid-season of his major-league rookie year, Marty's batting average again dropped to .250, with more strikeouts than he ever had in his career. Although his outfielding was better than ever, he was down on himself. During an important game against Chicago, he hit a homerun but struck out twice. The second time he struck out, he walked dejectedly back to the Yankees dugout as if he lost his best friend. He sat down on the bench, put his head between his knees, and sobbed like a little boy.


The Yankees' renowned batting coach sat down on the bench next to Marty and poked him in the ribs. "What's with you, Marty? Snap out of it, man! Nobody knocks the ball out of the park every time at bat."


"Yeah," groaned Marty, "but we're down by two runs. Besides, I'm not doing nearly as good as I did last year in Scranton."


"You're the dumbest Jew I ever met!" quirked the coach. "You're not in the Minors anymore – you're up against Major-League pitching, the best in the world! You're getting better all the time. You gotta remember, the king frog in the little creek is not the same when he is in a raging river. Shucks, .250 in the Majors is much more impressive in than .350 in the minors. You're playing in a tougher league!"


A tougher league…


Those are the exact words of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev.


Rebbe Nachman explains that a person cannot move up to a higher spiritual level without having a setback. How does this work?


Suppose a person on a given spiritual level has already succeeded in guarding his eyes or guarding her tongue consistently, with no mishaps. All of a sudden, he or she makes a ridiculous mistake or suffers an unexpected fall. Either they were suckered into looking at something they shouldn't have or they engaged in the juicy gossiping for the first time in months. They're now devastated and down on themselves, dejected and depressed. "How could I ever have messed up like that?" they ask themselves tearfully.


Rebbe Nachman says: don't be disappointed. You were perfect at the lower level. Now, instead of being at the top of the lower level, you're at the bottom of the higher level. Strengthen yourself and move forward, because you're really better off than you were. You needed that broken heart in order to gain the required humility for moving up a rung. Rejoice and do teshuva with joy, cherished brother and sister, because you're now playing in a tougher league.  



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