The power of prayer and baseball


Baruch atah adonai eloheinu melech ha’olam shehecheyanu v’kiy’manu v’higyanu lazman hazeh.

Blessed are You, our God, Creator of time and space, who has supported us, protected us and brought us to this moment.

– The Shehecheyanu blessing

The Jewish Virtual Library ( says the Shehecheyanu blessing “was introduced to encourage Jews to offer thanks for new and unusual experiences,” and notes that it’s “typically recited at the beginning of holidays and to celebrate special occasions.”

The definition doesn’t expand on exactly when the blessing can be recited, but it is said, for example, while lighting the candles on the first night of Hanukkah, eating the first piece of matzah at the seder and other milestone events.

There’s no mention of the appropriateness of reciting the Shehecheyanu during a World Series, but in 2004, I said the prayer, which has always been a favorite of mine, when the Red Sox went up 3-0 against the St. Louis Cardinals. (I also could have said it after the Sox defeated the Yankees 4-3 in the American League Championship Series that year, to become the first baseball team to win a best-of-seven series after trailing 3-0, but not knowing for sure whether God is a Red Sox or Yankees fan, I refrained.)

My decision to turn to the Shehecheyanu prayer at that juncture of the 2004 World Series was a no-brainer, because I felt the criteria had been met: A 3-0 lead in the World Series was a special occasion since the Sox had never been in that position in the three previous World Series in my lifetime (1967, 1975 and 1986). I also said it the next night, when they swept the Cardinals to break the 86-year-old Curse of the Bambino.

I felt my prayer choice was appropriate until I mentioned it to some others, and was met with incredulous stares as if I had just landed from a planet in the far reaches of the “Star Wars” galaxy. In their view, praying over baseball was trivial, if not sacrilegious.

I was a bit surprised at this reaction, because I viewed the outcome of the 2004 World Series as a miracle, but the non-baseball fans reacted as if I had acted blasphemously. At the time, we agreed to disagree, but years later, I conceded that they had a right to their viewpoint, since not everyone feels as passionately about the Red Sox and baseball.

For me, the Red Sox represent a form of religious-like devotion. Baseball is with us for nine months every year, and for many older fans, it’s long been a way of connecting with strangers. I have, for example, chatted with people sitting near me at Boston Red Sox and Pawtucket Red Sox games, folks with whom I was unlikely to strike up a conversation with in other settings.

In addition, baseball was a sure-fire way to connect with my father as a kid. Growing up in an Orthodox home in the late ’50s and ‘60s, it was extremely difficult to talk about religion with my parents. It was expected, for example, that I’d attend Hebrew School, which I did from age 6, go to synagogue on Shabbat and holidays, and become a Bar Mitzvah. That wasn’t a choice.

There was no free will for children then, as opposed to now, when kids think they can negotiate every parental demand. When I was growing up, parents ruled, and the expectation in most Jewish homes was that the kids would attend religious school and synagogue, even if it cut into “fun” or “leisure” time. That was non-negotiable.

Sports were a different matter, and my dad, being a huge baseball fan, instilled love for the game and the Red Sox in me. We’d spend Sunday afternoons enjoying doubleheaders at Fenway Park in the years before the 1967 Impossible Dream season, and he’d get box seats as a treat in the summer, when my sister and mother would join us.
In later years, even after I became less observant as a young adult, my dad and I never stopped talking, because baseball connected us. When I worked in Florida, he’d fly down so we could go to spring training games, and he’d get Fenway tickets whenever I flew home.

After I moved back to New England, we saw more games, and in 1986, we came close to enjoying a Shehecheyanu moment before the Sox imploded in Game 6 of the World Series against the Mets. Unfortunately, Ike died before the Red Sox returned to the Fall Classic in 2004, which made that win a bit bittersweet.

So, yes, in case you were wondering, I still found it gratifying to say the Shehecheyanu last month, after the Sox recovered from that painful 18-inning loss in Game 3 to win Games 4 and 5 and beat the Los Angeles Dodgers for their ninth World Series title. After all, older Red Sox fans – who thought we’d go to our graves without seeing any championships – have now been blessed with four of them.

LARRY KESSLER is a freelance writer based in North Attleboro who can be reached at