In Echoes of the Maggid, Rabbi Paysach Krohn tells a story of a young boy with severe learning disabilities named Shaya who was walking past a park with his father when he saw a group of boys playing baseball.
He asked his dad if he thought they’d let him play. Although Shaya couldn’t even hold a bat properly, his father asked one of the boys, who surprisingly said yes.
The boy knew Shaya and reasoned that the game was almost over with his team six runs behind. He said, “He can play the outfield, and we’ll try to put him up to bat in the last inning.”
Unexpectedly, the team rallied. With two outs, the bases loaded, and the potential winning run at the plate, it was Shaya’s turn to bat. The boys kept their word and let him come to the plate.
After a clumsy first swing, a teammate held the bat with Shaya. The pitcher moved closer and lobbed the ball in softly. With his teammate’s help, Shaya hit a slow ground ball back to the pitcher.
Although he could have easily thrown Shaya out and ended the game, the pitcher deliberately threw it over the first baseman’s head. Everyone started yelling, “Shaya, run to first! Run to first.”
Wide-eyed with excitement, Shaya ran. The right fielder saw his joy and intentionally made another bad throw. Players on both teams shouted for Shaya to keep running, and the shortstop helped by steering him in the right direction.
As everyone shouted, “Run home, Shaya!” Shaya finally reached home plate to a hero’s welcome as all 18 boys cheered him for his game-winning grand slam home run.
Shaya was deliriously happy, and his father wept, knowing he’d just experienced a perfect moment in a perfect game.
This is Michael Josephson, reminding you that character counts.
*This commentary was adapted from a story circulated on the Internet under the name “Run, Shaya, Run.” The original version was published under the name “Perfection at the Plate” in the above book by Paysach Krohn, who claimed the story was true and that he heard it from Shaya’s father, a friend of his.
An interesting critique of the incident, which says treating such children in a patronizing manner is disrespectful and unhelpful in the long term, can be found at Snopes.com.