Are You Ready?
By Walter D. Levy
"Are you ready, Dad?" my son asked. "Yes, I'm ready," I replied. Just then, I looked out at all the people. I knew there were countless others I'd never see.
As I prepared to walk down the steps, I thought, " I know He wouldn't have put me here if He didn't think I was ready. I will not be held captive by past fears. I must remain confident. He will be with me."
This is what I was I was pondering just moments before I was about to be seen, and heard, by an estimated two million people. At the time, I was also thinking about Torah. More specifically, the parashah Shelach Lecha, "Send for Thyself."
That Torah reading recounts the countless anxieties that most of the ancient Israelites had about entering "The Promised Land". Even though the land had been described as one "flowing with milk and honey," the Israelites were fearful because ten of the 12 "spies" (scouts), one from each of the Tribes, had also reported back that the inhabitants of Canaan were too imposing, nephilim [giants] ("...we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we were in their sight.") Were the Israelites still held "captive" by their years of bondage as slaves in Egypt? Would they have the confidence to settle in the land of Canaan, or would they remain "prisoners" of their past? In my case, I needed find the strength to overcome my own past.
As a young boy growing up in the Dorchester-Mattapan section of Boston, I had suffered through my share of anxieties and insecurities that had, in large part, resulted from my parents' divorce. As a way of dealing with my disappointments, I had turned to sports as a salve or balm.
In fact, as a teenager, I had often dreamt about playing baseball for the Boston Red Sox. But, as the years passed, I began to realize that I just didn't possess the physical skills necessary to become a professional ballplayer. So, in what Sigmund Freud would have labeled as compensation,
I got to do, what was for me, was the next best thing: calling play-by-play of high school sports on local radio stations. My dream was to one day do a broadcast of a Major League baseball game. A Red Sox game. Yet, by the early 1990s, as I moved past my 50th birthday, I had ended
both my announcing career and my dreams of ever doing play-by-play of a Major League baseball game, or so I had thought.
It was now the spring of 2003. The baseball season had just begun. In the local newspaper I had spotted an announcement for a contest; it was called "Announcer For An Inning". It was sponsored
by a Boston beer company, the New England Sports Network (NESN) and the Boston Red Sox. Auditions for the contest were being held at bars and restaurants throughout New England. The winner
would call a portion of an inter-league game between Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals on June 10, 2003.
Initially, when I read the article, I was excited. Yet, I was also on the horns of a dilemma. Oh, I wanted so very much to compete, but I was beginning to make up excuses as to why I shouldn't. I was, after all, not the young, energetic man I had been decades earlier.
I hadn't called a football, basketball or baseball game in over a decade. I would be going up against younger, more vibrant contestants. In summary, I was mired in self-doubt. I had begun to put obstacles in the way of achieving my dream. Instead of approaching this opportunity in a rational, adult manner, I was once again regressing into my childhood. I may, at that moment, have had some of the same feelings of anxiety - yet for a different reason - that many of the ancient Israelites had in the parashah Shelach Lecha. The Torah indicates that the Israelites wailed and cried and expressed a desire to return to Egypt when they heard the troubling reports from most of the spies about what a daunting task it would be to conquer the land of Canaan. Were they ready to enter "The Promised Land?" Was I?
Yet, at this same time, I also began to think about the more positive aspects of Shelach Lecha. Yes, there were two "spies," Joshua and Caleb, who, in so many words, had said, "With G-d's help, we can do this!" They reaffirmed their belief in G-d and the miracles that He can bring forth. They counseled the ancient Israelites that despite the obstacles, they could indeed overcome the inhabitants of the land of Canaan. The Israelites were reminded that they just needed to maintain their faith in the Almighty and His ability to lead His people. The two scouts told their people not succumb to fear (that first generation, however, would not be allowed to enter Canaan; they would wander about the wilderness for forty years. Only then would their offspring be allowed to enter "The Promised Land"). I recall thinking, "I must remember Joshua and Caleb's words of faith and encouragement; their belief that with G-d's help: anything is possible."
Fast forward to the Memorial Day weekend, 2003. I had arrived at a restaurant in my own town where the auditions were being held. There was a man setting up audio-video equipment. He told me that he's going to show me a two-minute clip of a past Red Sox game versus the Toronto Blue Jays. It's a game in which the then Red Sox shortstop, Nomar Garciaparra (now an ESPN baseball analyst), hit a "walk-off" home run. The technician said he was ready. I sat in a chair behind a desk with a microphone in front of me.
There was also a TV monitor on the desk. The next thing I saw (no sound) on the TV screen was Nomar Garciparra in the batter's box. I described the action. Moments later, Garciaparra lofted a Cliff Politte fastball off the light stanchion above "The Green Monster". I continued to describe the action. About thirty seconds later, the clip ended with Garciaparra being mobbed by his teammates at home plate. How did I do? I thought I had done well - but I wasn't sure. I do recall the technician saying, "You've done this before." I replied, "A few games."
A few days later, I got a call from the PR dept. of the beer company. I'm a semi-finalist. They had whittled down the contestants from over one thousand to fifty. The PR guy mentioned that they're going to look at the auditions once again this evening and narrow the field down to five finalists. As soon as I got off the phone, I remember calling out to my wife, "Leah, I'm a semi-finalist!" I added, "I can take solace in the fact that at least I was among the top fifty who had auditioned."
I remember my wife saying, "Walter, forget about being a semi-finalist, you're going to win!" At that moment, I was thinking about a Yiddishe expression my mother often used: "Fun dayn moyl in gots oyern." [From your mouth to G-d's ears]. Privately, I had to smile. My wife's an Asher. If she had been one of the twelve scouts (I once read a commentary that said that Moses would have better served G-d's wishes if he had sent female "spies"), she probably would have come back forty days later with a glowing report based on her love of the land and her penchant for long-term solutions. She would have likely said, "We can conquer the land of Canaan!"
Well, the next day, another call. The beer company. "Congratulations! You're one of the five finalists." The PR guy goes on to say that he has my e-mail address and he'll be sending me all the particulars. I find out that the finals will be held the following evening in Boston at a sports bar in the financial district. We're going to do the audition live. It's a game between the Red Sox and the Pittsburgh Pirates. They'll be ten media judges.
That next evening, I arrived at the Boston sports bar. I met the other contestants. We drew lots. I would go last. Yet, we're not doing the live game (the previous night's game in Pittsburgh had been rained out); this evening's twi-night double-header created scheduling problems for some of the media judges. So, instead, we're doing the taped version of Roger Clemens quest for his 300th victory at New York's Yankee Stadium. One by one, the other contestants were shown videotaped clips from the game. They all, in turn, called the action. They were very good. I thought, "I've got my work cut out for me."
Now, it was my turn. I knew at that moment that I'd never get another chance like this. I thought, "This is it." Figuratively speaking, it was my chance for the "Promised Land". When I finished my audition, my scores were posted (the judges had cards with numbers ranging between 1 and 10, like judging Olympic diving or or figure skating). I knew it was going to be close. In the end, the master of ceremony says "And the winner is Walt Levy!" I did it! I won! I'm ecstatic. But it's not over. Next Tuesday evening, it's Fenway Park in Boston in the NESN announcers' booth.
Fenway Park, Boston. Tuesday evening, June 10, 2003. It's the Cardinals' half of the seventh inning. I'm waiting with my son at the top of the NESN booth. It's then that he asks if I'm ready. It's at that moment that I'm thinking that I must not allow fear to overcome me. Seconds later, I'm ushered down to a seat between the two regular announcers. We've just come out of a commercial. The centerfield camera zooms in on me. I'm introduced. I wave. My dream is about to become a reality. Decades after I had first thought about it.
Now, at the age of 60; I'm going to get my chance. A chance to do something I could have only dreamt about. I'm calling a portion of a Major League baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and the visiting St. Louis Cardinals.
Well, in my inning, the Red Sox half of the seventh, despite the fact that the first two batters, Johnny Damon and Jason Varitek, made outs, the Red Sox would go on to mount a rally and score three runs. During that inning, Manny Ramirez would hit a two-run homer into the Cardinals' bullpen ("...there's a long drive deep to right...Drew going back...back...back...back...back...gone!"). In the end, four different Red Sox batters would "hit for the cycle". Some fifteen minutes later, it was all over. As I think back, it felt like seconds.
As my son and I left Fenway Park that evening, I remember taking a deep breath. I couldn't help but think of the lyrics of a song from "Fiddler On The Roof": "Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles."
Only, I had slightly changed the lyrics: "G-d took this teacher by the hand. Turned him around - and miracle of miracles - Led him to the Promised Land!" Then, I thought: If someone had said to me at the start of the 2003 baseball season that I was going to call a Red Sox baseball game at Fenway Park, I would have said, "Stop this narishkeit, you're a groisser meshuggeneh!" Yet, there I was. Moreover, there was one other matter, a most important one:
That without Him all this would not have been possible. Although I never prayed for this opportunity (there are certainly much more important things in life), I still felt most pleased and appreciative that G-d had given me this chance.
He must have known, even at this late stage of my life, that now, at last...I'm ready.
from the January 2013 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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