I went to see the Giants play the Reds on a recent Thursday night. When we arrived, there was klezmar music playing on Willie Mays Plaza and the air was thick with the smell of knishes. Why was this night different from all other nights? Because it was Jewish Heritage Night, part of the Giants' program of ethnic heritage nights.
We had unknowingly gone to the ball park during Heritage Week - Monday was the season's second Irish Night, Tuesday was Italian Night, and the following Friday was African-American Night. Of course, none of those other ethnicities have the same legacy of baseball success as the Jews, so this was a special night.
For Mexican Heritage Night, the team provided sombreros to all fans. We hoped that they would be handing out yarmulkes with the SF logo on them, but no such luck. Sadly, that meant there would be no opportunity to turn the skullcaps inside out to make Rally Yarmulkes. It turns out that the giveaway was Giants caps written in Hebrew, but only for fans who purchased the Jewish Night package. In other words, the team was being cheap.
Randy Winn led off the bottom of the first inning with a home run into the left-field bleachers, and the Giants had the lead. The homer was an absolute rocket blast, so much that we initially thought Randy Winn was retaliating for a kidnapping. When Pedro Feliz hit a two-run shot in the bottom of the second, it looked like we might be looking at a Six-Day War against pitcher Eric Milton's unimpressive fastball. However, those would be the last runs the Giants would score this evening. It's as if their offense began fasting at sundown.
The Giants unveiled a full array of special graphics for the occasion. A digital Jackie Mason appeared with the words "Oy Vey" whenever a hitter reached base. That was OK. Mike Myers-as-Linda Richman popped up to tell the crowd, "I'm a little verklempt" after good defensive plays. One could argue about the appropriateness of "verklempt". Does a late-August battle between two .500 teams normally leave fans emotionally affected? We also got two different video clips from "Fiddler on the Roof", and an audio-only rendition of "Tradition". Was this Jewish Heritage Night or Jewish Stereotype Night?
We would have liked to see them go all the way with the scoreboard, Jewish mother style. Make announcements between innings warning fans to bundle up. Instead of the bit where fans stand and wave their VISA cards, have single doctors stand and wave their telephone numbers. And instead of flashing "NOISE", the scoreboard could simply say, "Fine, don't clap. Sit on your hands, what do I care? I'll just go sit in the dugout like a dog."
The matzo-eating contest was a bit of a disappointment, as the winner appeared to be crumbling the matzo against his face more than he was actually eating it. Kobayashi would have been disappointed, but the judges may have looked the other way because of our winner's snazzy yarmulke. Our favorite special event was the old bearded man playing the shofar, a traditional Jewish wind instrument, from behind home plate. If you have never heard "Charge!" played on the horn of a ram, you simply have not lived.
In the sixth inning, gentile Shea Hillenbrand hit a single, but he was stranded on third when the inning ended. Though Pedro Feliz hit a double with two outs, the coach inexplicably held up Hillenbrand as he rounded third. Please, third-base coach Gene Glynn, let my baserunners go!
For us, the evening peaked in the bottom of the eighth, when Cincinnati brought in the only Jewish player on either team, reliever Scott Schoeneweis. There was palpable tension in the crowd as Schoeneweis warmed up, as fans were torn between team and religious loyalties. It only got more intense as catcher Eliezer Alfonzo strode to the plate, pausing to kiss his crucifix necklace on his way to the batter's box, a direct challenge to Schoeneweis's faith. Now it was a holy war. On this night, the Torah proved mightier than the New Testament, and Alfonzo went down swinging.
The Giants eventually lost 6-3, and we resigned ourselves to wandering through the South of Market area, looking for public transportation. No trains were running, so it took about 40 years to get home. There was a lot of time to reflect on the night. The game was a victory, not only for the Reds, but for Scott Schoeneweis. Batters will have no choice but to officially recognize his existence from now on, and it proves once and for all that you can be a successful major league pitcher without a foreskin. We learned that Scott Hatteberg is not actually Jewish, that a rally rabbi is ineffective in motivating an offense, and that you can make only one java-related joke about Todd Coffey "warming up" in the bullpen before one of your companions punches you. But the main thing we learned was that baseball is even more fun when it's combined with half-assed ethnic pandering. We'll certainly be there next year for Zoroastrian Heritage Night, that's for sure.