Rachel Gluck

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More About: Entertainment: Sports

Remembering a Legend One Ball and One Fence at a Time

Buck O'Neil's response to his lack of induction into The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, on "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" left not only The Host, but many Americans, including me, in awe of his ability to forgive. Like many Americans, I couldn't quite wrap my head around his optimism. We all knew that it was the right thing to do, and still do. The seeming ease with which he did it is what was so astonishing.

I thought about this recently after several events from Buck's own passing to the murder-suicide in Amish country, and again over the weekend, particularly after watching "One Night With The King" yesterday afternoon. If you haven't seen this film, yet, it is not only a poignant story about the difficulties of dealing with child abuse, no matter what era, but also One Night is a biblical analogy of why choosing war, let alone unchecked outrage at injustice, over forgiveness is not always the smartest and best option. Also, it just so happens to be the first time that a Bible story from The Torah (Old Testament) centers around three women characters on one screen during the same two hours and three minutes.

I don't want to spoil the ending, nor is this piece a movie review. However, the visual and story similarities between Queen Esther's portrayal and Buck O'Neil's grace tie into an almost perfect parallel for each other. I say "almost" because I don't want you to get the wrong impression. Mr. O'Neil deserves to be in The Baseball Hall of Fame. His lack of inclusion is an injustice. Unlike the fact that us Jews are still alive and kicking on this Earth, and how miraculous this is, Buck is not yet in The Hall of Fame, and it is obvious to most of us that he deserves to be there.

A couple of months ago, I attended The Arizona Diamondback's Domestic Violence Awareness Night. Shortly after that event, a friend of mine pointed out to me, and a few of our mutual friends, that she thinks of her personal boundaries as the fence behind home plate at the ballpark. When someone hits a foul ball, it may sting, and hurt like hell. It also will bounce off the fence and land somewhere else soon enough.

To me, this is a better analogy than the simile: "Like water off a duck's back." After all, the water isn't really a bad thing hitting a duck. Baseballs hitting fences, on the other hand, could do some damage. They're hard, round, fast, and if a catcher can't go out on the field without a mitt, then the fence behind home plate must be strong enough to withstand the consistent blows and protect the fans sitting behind it.

Perhaps, as I thought last night, one of Buck O'Neil's constant motivations was that while he was occasionally hit by a ball that stuck inside the wiring of his emotional fence, he could still see the bigger picture. He knew, just like the Amish and the biblical Jews in Persia, that eventually balls that are stuck in a fence can be removed with time, tenderness, and a little forgiveness surgery, even if it seems completely irrational at that moment. After all, why forgive those who did not allow him to be inducted? Don't they symbolize the existence of something more sinister: a world that has not yet quite learned how to conquer humanity's darkest drives of vengeance and reproach, hidden underneath the cloak of prejudices? Is it really so easy to get caught up in the huffing and puffing of naysayers, of those who don't want the dreamers to succeed, those who don't want the nerds to find solutions to global warming and the human need for war, and those who don't want the athletes and entertainers to keep us going during our darkest hours?

Buck O'Neil represents the dream that, perhaps, it does not, indeed, have to be so easy to wrap ourselves in the naysayers' doubts and fears. Maybe, instead, we can visualize the fence on the field when we get hit with their baseballs and remember that, while the barbs often morph from insults into injustices, even their scars can eventually be removed. As Thomas Paine so eloquently wrote in his Dissertations on First Principles of Government in 1795, "An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws. He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself." In letting the foul balls bounce off of his mental fence, Mr. O'Neil showed us that, ultimately, time, instruction, patience, persistence, and a great visualization technique not only can help us stay sane, but also get us more than just an induction into The Hall of Fame. It will help us achieve the kind of memory that is legendary, whether it is written down in a Bible or taped during an interview on a news show.

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