Today is 20 days, which is two weeks and six days of the omer: yesod she’b’tiferet.
I got to know Boston’s Kevin Youkilis at exactly the right time, during the 2004 season. I was living in Raleigh, N.C., at the time, teaching Latin at a boarding school, and one of my fellow dorm staff was a serious Red Sox fan. We tried to get off-campus as much as possible when we weren’t working, so I ended up watching a lot of baseball that summer and fall.
The Astros had signed both Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens (who would go on to win the Cy Young that year) in the offseason; acquired Carlos Beltrán (at the time: yay!; after 2017: ugh) during the season; won 36 of their final 46 games to win the National League wild card; and then won a postseason series for the first time in the club’s history (over the Braves in the NLDS), before falling to the Cards in seven games in the NLCS. It was a natural move, then, for me to root for whoever was going to face the Cards that year in the World Series.
As it turned out, that was the Sox, who won their first World Series since 1918 by sweeping the Cards in four games. Megan and I watched Game 4 from her dorm room (I think either she was on duty that evening and we couldn’t get off-campus, or the game went later than bars were open in Raleigh, or maybe we’d already blown our beer budget that month). We both screamed silently when Rentería hit that ground ball that bounced back to Foulke, who lobbed it to Mientkiewicz at first base to end the game. And then I had to console her about not being in Boston that night.
But back to Youkilis. The most important thing about him is of course that he is Jewish: His great-great-great grandfather fled Cossacks in Romania, changing the family name in Greece from Weiner to Youkilis; he became bar mitzvah at a conservative shul in Cinncinnati; and he would in some way observe the high holidays (he used to suit up but not play on Yom Kippur). And it would be a dereliction of my rabbinic duty not to mention that on August 8, 2005, Youkilis took the field in the 9th inning along with Adam Stern and Gabe Kapler, setting a record for the most Jewish baseball players on the field at one time in American League history, and the most in Major League Baseball history since four Jewish players took the field for the New York Giants in a game in 1941. Now that’s sabermetrics.
He also had a unique batting stance — way back in the box, bat above his head, pointing back at the pitcher — which you can see in this career highlights reel (which kind of oddly includes Youkilis charging the mound after getting beaned by a 20-year-old Rick Porcello).
What makes Youkilis a perfect match for yesod she’b’tiferet, beauty that manifests as righteousness, is the sobriquet bestowed upon him by Billy Beane in 2004’s Moneyball: “Euclis, the Greek God of Walks,” for his perceived preternatural ability to get on base. I’d say being deemed a tzadik in Jewish tradition is as close as it gets to apotheosis.
Let’s count day 20 in honor of the beauty of the righteousness of getting on base.
featured image: Jim Rogash/Getty Images